When the Colorado Buffaloes joined the Pac-12 for the 2011 season, they did so after a mediocre Big 12 season that saw them finish 5-7 overall and only 2-6 in conference. Since arriving in the Pac-12, things have gone downhill.
Last year the Buffs managed just two conference wins over Arizona and Utah and finished at 3-10 overall, and it's gotten worse this year. Were it not for a miraculous 4th-quarter comeback against Washington State (the Buffaloes trailed 31-14 before scoring three touchdowns in the final 7:06 to steal a 35-34 win), Colorado would be winless this year, and their losses haven't been close.
For the most part, it's the defense that has been the problem. In their seven defeats they've been outscored by an average of 32 points, and they've let opposing teams break out in spectacular fashion. How spectacular? Take a look:
- Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse racked up 144 yards on just nine carries, and the Bulldogs scored on two plays of more than 90 yards, the first time a team had done this in one game since 2004. Fresno State 69, Colorado 14.
- UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 281 yards while passing for two touchdowns and running for two more. UCLA 42, Colorado 14.
- Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for 308 yards and five touchdowns. Arizona State 51, Colorado 17.
- USC quarterback Matt Barkley completed 19 of 20 passes, including six touchdowns. USC 50, Colorado 6.
- The Oregon Ducks scored 56 points in the first half, including two touchdowns each from Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. Oregon 70, Colorado 14.
What does all that portend for this week's matchup with the Cardinal? With the recent struggles the Stanford offense has been having, this might be just what the doctor ordered. Most fans were expecting a relaxing win over Washington State last weekend, and when that didn't materialize, even Coach Shaw was forced to consider different options. Kevin Hogan has been promised 15 to 20 plays, and this week seems like the ideal time to open up the Hogan Package.
For more on the Buffs, here's some deeper insight from Jon Woods of the Ralphie Report. (You can view my side of the Q&A over at his site, and you can also read a few quick hitters from me over at Pacific Takes.) Anyway, here you go...
I read someplace recently that Colorado's recent string of big losses shows that the Pac-12 expansion was a mistake. It was only six years ago that Stanford fielded a team that was amongst the worst in the nation, so I understand how quickly things can turn around, but I'm wondering about how the Colorado fan base is feeling about things. Has the Pac-12 been good for Colorado football? Can we expect to see the Buffaloes turn things around in the next few years?
The Ralphie Report:
I think that's a pretty ridiculous statement. The expansion was about a lot more than football (the Pac-10/12 calls itself the "Conference of Champions," and it certainly isn't because of football) and Colorado has more than competed in plenty of other sports (multiple Pac-12 championships in cross-country, success in the basketball tournament). The basketball program is one of (if not the) fastest rising programs in the country and should be battling for a top spot as long as Tad Boyle is in Boulder.
The football program is in shambles right now, but as you mentioned, outside of five or six programs in the country, all teams are at some point. This team would have been terrible anywhere. I don't know that they would be bowl eligible in the Mountain West right now. It will get turned around, and playing so many freshmen and sophomores this year will pay off in the long run, but it won't be a quick fix, and most fans realize that.
The Stanford defense has had trouble with high-paced offenses with athletic quarterbacks. What can we expect to see from the Colorado offense? What type of quarterback is Jordan Webb, and who are the other headliners on offense?
High-paced offenses? Yeah, not these Buffs. Colorado's strength (if you can call it that) is on the ground. Christian Powell, the true freshman converted fullback, has wowed in his first year and is continuing to improve. That offensive line has gotten better every week and is finally rounding into form. But CU does not match up well with Stanford AT ALL. There aren't the weapons on this team to take advantage of the struggles in the Cardinal secondary. Freshmen receivers Gerald Thomas and Nelson Spruce have shown flashes but haven't been able to find any sort of consistency. If the Buffs can move the ball through the air, it will most likely be tight ends Nick Kasa and Vincent Hobbs that are doing the most damage.
The Colorado defense has gieven up some big numbers this season, but so has Washington State, and the Cardinal struggled against them last weekend. What type of defense to the Buffaloes play, and who are the best playmakers on that side of the ball?
Going into the season we knew that the Colorado secondary would struggle. You don't start two or three true freshmen and a true sophomore every week and expect instant success. We thought that the linebackers would be great, but they have been pretty awful. We expected that the defensive line would be average at best, but it has been easily the best unit on the defensive side of the ball. Will Pericak has had a breakout season and has likely earned himself a gresta opportunity at being drafted next spring. Between Pericak, Chidera Uzo-Diribe, and Kirk Poston, the Buffaloes have been able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but it still hasn't been enough to keep points off the board.
All signs point towards a Cardinal win, but so far Stanford has shown that there is no such thing as a sure thing. What has to happen for the Buffs to pull the upset?
As I mentioned above, Stanford is a terrible matchup for Colorado all over the board. It's hard to imagine the Buffaloes all of a sudden being able to sling the ball all over the field, but they have had some success in spurts. It would be huge if Colorado can find some level of success on the ground against a terrific rush defense, but that might be asking a lot. The Buffs can't turn the ball over, and they have to keep the Stanford defense on the field as much as possible. Special teams are a strength for this CU team and could make a difference if it remains close on Saturday.
Finally, what's your prediction for the game?
I'll go 35-14 Cardinal here. Cover!