Bad news for Buffs fans: This season’s schedule is brutal.
ESPN’s Football Power Index says it’s the sixth most difficult in the country.
Phil Steele calls it the fifth-toughest and adds that Colorado will square off against six of the top 15 quarterbacks in the nation. Essentially every other game will be against a future NFL gunslinger.
The Buffs take on the toughest teams in the Pac-12 North this year (Oregon, Washington, Stanford, Washington State) while missing out on the weaker programs (Cal, Oregon State).
If things don’t break Colorado’s way early in the season, just remember that it’s a transitional year and the Buffs will have some stability in their coaching staff and less on their plate in 2020.
But if the Buffs can get rolling against the cream of the Pac-12, as well as a pair of tough non-conference opponents (sorry Rams fans), that will speak volumes to where this football program is headed under Mel Tucker.
Here’s a breakdown of every game on the first half of the Buffs schedule:
Week 1: Fri., Aug. 30 vs. Colorado State, 8 p.m. (Broncos Stadium)
The Buffs’ rivalry with the Rams is an odd one. Colorado State should be the worst team Colorado sees all season, but the spectacle of the Rocky Mountain Showdown adds some unpredictability to what would otherwise be an open-and-shut matchup. This year is the last edition of the rivalry at Broncos Stadium, so things could get even weirder.
Remember, this will be Mel Tucker’s first game as head coach, as well.
All that said, the Buffs shouldn’t have too much trouble opening the season with a win. It’s tough to imagine Tucker not getting his guys hyped up to start the season, and there are just too many Buffs returning from last year’s squad — which beat CSU 45-13 —to expect them to flop. There will be some hitches, but Colorado’s talent will win out.
This is a must-win game for Colorado. A loss could end the season in August. I know that sounds like a BCS-era take on a national title contender, but if the goal for the Buffs is to gain bowl eligibility, they really can’t afford to blow this one. It’s just too difficult to find six more wins on the schedule.
Buffs open 1-0.
Week 2: Sat., Sep. 7 vs. Nebraska, 1:30 p.m.
This game scares me.
It’s easy to look at the Buffs’ 33-28 win in Lincoln in 2018 and think, “If they can do it on the road, they can get it done at home.” It’s too bad football isn’t that simple.
Colorado caught a lot of breaks when the rivalry re-opened last fall. Scott Frost was in his first season as head coach at Nebraska. The offense was transitioning back into the option after three years of a more pass-heavy scheme. Adrian Martinez was the first true freshman ever to top the quarterback depth chart for the Huskers.
And Nebraska’s first game was canceled, so it opened the season against a Colorado team that had already warmed up against CSU.
Nebraska fumbled on both of its first two drives and Colorado took advantage of both turnovers to take a flukey 14-0 lead. Then the Huskers scored three straight touchdowns of their own. 21-14.
Nebraska outgained the Buffs 565-395 and Colorado was embarrassed in the trenches.
Now Martinez is getting Heisman hype as a true sophomore. Yikes.
I have a feeling this game is going to be another classic. Nothing would surprise me, but I think it’ll be tight. That said, if I had to bet a case of Strawberry Sky on this one today, I’d say the Buffs fall to 1-1.
Week 3: Sat., Sep. 14 vs. Air Force, 11 a.m.
This is the game that could get overlooked. It’s easy to get hyped up to play your in-state rivals. It’s even easier to get hyped up for your true rivals. Pac-12 play is what Colorado will be graded on.
But this morning matchup with Air Force is snuck inside of all of that. It’s probably the least intriguing game on the schedule. Technically this is a rivalry game as well, as the Falcons go to school just 100 miles south on I-25, but it won’t be anything like the Nebraska game. Despite their proximity, Colorado and Airforce haven’t played a football game since 1974.
According to CU’s Associate AD of Sports Information Dave Plati, this is the first time ever that an FBS team has opened the season with three consecutive rivalries.
I’m picking the Buffs here, but I’m doing it against my better judgment. Air Force only lost three starters on offense from last year; two receivers and a fullback. In the Falcons’ triple-option offense, receivers are primarily blockers. The two projected to step up into the lineup are both 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds, so blocking shouldn’t be an issue. The new fullback, one of the Falcons’ featured ball-carriers, will be a senior.
On defense, Air Force will likely start four juniors and seven seniors.
This is another must-win game for the Buffs on their trek to bowl eligibility. I expect they’ll get the job done, but don’t underestimate this Air Force squad, which will be coming off a bye.
Buffs improve to 2-1.
Week 4: Sat., Sep. 21 @ Arizona State, TBD
After CU beat Arizona State 28-21 to get to 5-0 last season, Steven Montez invited his entire offensive line to come to the podium with him for the post-game press conference.
They deserved the recognition, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sun Devils linemen use that as motivation this season.
ASU’s offensive line was one of 10 semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award last season, which is given to the best line in college football. The Devils lost two starters, but return 78 starts along the line in 2019. There shouldn’t be a dropoff.
They’re blocking for Eno Benjamin, who ran for over 1600 yards in his second-team All-American campaign a year ago.
And this year ASU will likely start true freshman Jayden Daniels at quarterback, ESPN’s No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 class.
This game will be a test for a Buffs front seven that will be equal parts star power and inexperience. Luckily for Colorado, the Devils will be coming off a matchup with Michigan State in East Lansing and should be a little beat up in the trenches after facing my favorite non-Alabama front seven in the country.
I’m calling this game another toss-up, but giving the slight edge to Colorado since the Spartans should loosen the Devils up a bit.
Buffs improve to 3-1.
Week 5: Bye
This is a tough spot for a bye.
We don’t know exactly what the Buffs’ circumstances will be at this point in the season — maybe Colorado will be a little banged up and need a breather — but 10 weeks out, I’m not in love with it.
The Buffs open the season with four of their six most winnable games, so they could be on a bit of a hot streak at this point. On the other hand, if they haven’t won at least three out of four, they’ll be facing a pretty extreme uphill battle and the odds of bowl eligibility will be slim.
I would have liked to see the bye come before a tougher contest than Arizona.
Week 6: Sat., Oct. 5 vs. Arizona, TBD
There are four teams at the bottom of the Pac-12 South that I could see finishing in almost any order: Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA. I expect most of these games between these teams to be fairly competitive, but I’d probably put Arizona at the bottom of the group.
Even Arizona has a quarterback-running back duo that could carry the team into bowl contention. (I’m quickly learning that this is just how Pac-12 football works.)
Colorado fans know the name Khalil Tate. He burst onto the scene in 2017 with a 327 rushing yard performance against Colorado. Even though he missed the first four games, Tate still became the first Pac-12 quarterback to run for over 1,000 yards in a season. And he blew that mark out of the water.
Last year was a down year for Tate, primarily due to injuries, but he still did enough to beat the Buffs. He threw for 350 yards and 5 touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 42-34 win.
Now, Tate is a senior and the Buffs need to find an answer.
If only there was a blue-chip coaching prospect, who had spent the last four years designing some of the best defenses in college football, who could step in and draw something up.
Oh yeah, Mel Tucker. And his defense helped Georgia jump out to a 45-7 lead over Georgia Tech, another triple-option offense, last season.
Outside of Tate and first-team All-Pac-12 running back JJ Taylor, the Wildcats aren’t too intimidating. Arizona has a couple of pro prospects in its front seven, but if the best the Buffs can come up with is to beat this team by pounding the pigskin up the gut, then their season probably ended in September anyway. Colorado will have some serious mismatches outside.
This one should be a shootout, but I’m comfortable giving the win to Colorado at Folsom.
Buffs improve to 4-1.
Week 7: Fri., Oct. 11 @ Oregon, 8 p.m.
I’m willing to listen to arguments against Justin Herbert being the top quarterback in the Pac-12. His 63-17 touchdown to interception ratio sparkles but he hasn’t won a whole lot of football games. There’s some extra hype because he’s a 6-foot-6 quarterback with great tools.
But listen to some of these stats (shoutout to Phil Steele):
- In 2017, the Ducks offense scored 52.1 points per game when he started and 15 points per game when he was hurt.
- He’s thrown a touchdown in 28 consecutive starts.
- His receivers dropped 50 passes last season.
Is he a top-three pick in the draft? I don’t know.
Is he a first-rounder? Dude. Of course.
Herbert is one of 10 starters returning to the Ducks’ offense. (The one newcomer is wide receiver Bryan Addison, who is not related in any way to former Duck receiver and Bronco training camp body Bralon Addison. We’re thorough here at BSN Denver.)
Oregon will win this game. My only question is how long Colorado can hang with them. This is a golden opportunity for Laviska Shenault to make a name for himself. Colorado-Oregon will start during the second half of the Virginia-Miami game, which will be the only other college football game drawing a national audience on this Friday night. (Again, sorry Rams fans…)
It’s rare that a receiver is dominant enough to keep a football team in a game, but if anybody can do it, Shenault can. If he puts up big numbers and keeps the Buffs in the game through the third quarter — let’s be honest, that’s when the East Coasters will be turning their TVs off — it would go a long way toward his postseason award resume. That won’t be easy against this secondary though.
Buffs fall to 4-2.
Check back tomorrow to see my expectations for the second half of the season!