Updated: June 18, 2014 at 7:01 pm
Troy Calhoun offered some curious words to reporters before being whisked away to speak before a conference room filled with Colorado Springs football fans.
The Air Force football coach, assessing the difficulties awaiting his team after a 2-10 season, offered this: "I'll say this, I think just in general, our guys have the toughest challenge in the history of college football. But they're capable. They are. But they'll have to be the most mentally tough that the sapien species has ever been. But they can be."
Calhoun was gone before a follow-up could be asked, but his tone softened as he and coaches from the state's other top programs addressed the crowd Wednesday at the Colorado Springs Sports Corp.'s annual Football Kickoff Lunch at the Hotel Elegante.
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre shared Calhoun's message of trying to turn around a program's fortunes, while Colorado State assistant Tim Skipper - filling in for coach Jim McElwain, who had a scheduling conflict - talked about how the Rams hope to build on momentum from a New Mexico Bowl victory over Washington State.
CSU-Pueblo's John Wristen, who has built a Division II power, and Northern Colorado's Earnest Collins Jr. also participated in a Q&A panel moderated by the Sports Corp's Mike Moran.
"When we start walking out there now, you're going to look at our guys and say, 'We look different. We look different in our uniforms,'" second-year CU coach MacIntyre said. "That's the first part of the process."
MacIntyre, whose Buffaloes went 4-8 (1-8 in the Pac-12) and haven't been to a bowl game since 2007, said his team has also added speed, which he said is necessary to compete in the Pac-12.
He'll know if the Buffaloes have turned the corner by the reception he gets from opposing coaches during pregame discussions.
"When they're really nice to me and are smiling all the time, I know they think we're not any good," MacIntyre said. "When they stop talking to me and start kind of getting nervous, I can see that. I can always tell the pulse by the head coach."
For Calhoun, the answer to an on-field turnaround for a team that saw a six-year run of bowl appearances snapped last year lies in experience.
The Falcons featured one of the youngest teams in college football last year and suffered through a rash of injuries. Now, with everybody healthy, there will be position battles between players who have been on the field and are a year older.
"I think it's a good problem to have," Calhoun said. "We have some guys who have been exposed to college football. They may not have the experience you would like, but I think it makes for a very, very competitive situation not just at the quarterback spot, but at a good number of positions.
"We'll have some competitive spots, and I can't wait to see the battles."
As for CSU, the state's lone Division I team to play in a bowl game last year, the key is improving upon a season that saw the Rams win seven of their final 10 games to go 8-6.
"When you're working out at 6 a.m., guys have smiles on their face, knowing that what they're doing is working," Skipper said. "That's the main thing, is just enjoying the grind. That's the main things bowl games do."