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Colorado Buffaloes vs. California Golden Bears: Week 13 Preview

Colorado’s bowl hopes will be decided in their regular season finale.

NCAA Football: California at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

One more game remains for the Colorado Buffaloes (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) to become the eighth conference team to punch their tickets into the postseason. The Buffaloes surged to a 5-0 record as the last undefeated team west of the Mississippi, but have dropped six in a row against conference foes including blowing a four touchdown lead in the 41-34 overtime loss to Oregon State.

It’s been a rough week for the Buffs as they attempt to overcome their losing woes with interim coach Kurt Roper. Mike MacIntyre’s dismissal by CU athletic director Rick George came as no surprise following the Buffs 30-7 loss to No. 19 Utah. MacIntyre took Colorado on “The Rise” to a No. 8 ranking at the end of the 2016 regular season but fell back to last in the Pac-12 South standings each of the past two seasons.

CU owes MacIntyre the $10.3 million remaining on his contract which can be reduced if he’s hired in the NFL or as a college head coach. In an effort to find the best option, George and the university have hired a firm to help find CU football’s next head coach. “There’s no doubt that the 2016 season was magical, and it appeared we were headed back to taking our place among the nation’s elite,” George said. “However, analyzing the direction of the program over the last two years, I felt this is the necessary time to make a change.”

Colorado goes to California (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) for a rare season-ending meeting in Berkeley., the first season finale in eight seasons that isn’t vs. Utah. It’s the first time the Buffs finish a regular season schedule in the Golden State, and just the second time in CU’s 128-year history to square off against a pacific coast opponent in a finale. The first was a pre-Thanksgiving matchup on Nov. 25, 1904 with Stanford in Denver, that resulted in a 33-0 shutout of the Silver and Gold by the Indians of El Palo Alto.

It’s been a pretty good season for Cal under second-year head coach Justin Wilcox. The Golden Bears are bowl bound for the second time in six seasons and the first since 2015, pulling off an incredible upset of No. 15 Washington, playing No. 8 Washington State close and ending a 14-game losing streak to USC in the process.

The three consecutive losses Cal suffered earlier this season came against conference teams with up and down seasons. Oregon was ranked No. 19 in the week four matchup and have lost three of the last five contests since. Arizona lost their first two games of the season against BYU and Houston before managing to be beat Cal in week five. And UCLA came back from one of their worst starts in school history to pick up their first win over the Bears in week six.

It’s been two weeks since Cal has played a game. “The Big Game” between Cal and Stanford was postponed last week due to poor air quality brought on by the California wildfires. A Dec. 1 makeup date was scheduled for the 121st edition of the rivalry, one day after the Pac-12 Championship game in Santa Clara, Calif.

Steven Montez lead Colorado to a 44-28 win over Cal last year. He threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns, but it was Nick Fisher’s 100-yard return for a touchdown that sealed the Buffs only conference home win of the season. Phillip Lindsay added 33 carries for 161 yards against the Bear’s lousy defense in Colorado’s last win of the 2017 season after going winless in the month of November.

It’s been a much improved defensive effort this year for Cal under defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. The Broyles Award semifinalist has guided the 12th-ranked Bears to allowing 319 yards per game and 21.1 points per game in total defense. Add that to being second among Pac-12 teams against the run by allowing ten touchdowns on the ground.

The matchup to watch on Saturday is Montez facing his biggest test of the season vs Cal’s secondary. The Bears are one of the best teams in the nation against the pass, ranking tenth and leading the Pac-12 with an average of 183.3 yards per game. They’re also tied for 13th in the nation (1st in Pac-12) with 14 interceptions.

Colorado’s 67th ranked defense goes up against California’s 121st ranked offense. Overall, the Buffs give up an average of 396 yards per game which is well above the 364-yard average the Golden Bears have produced on offense. Although, the Colorado defense has been stomped on by Pac-12 opponents as of late. A stout unit at the beginning of the season has been worn down, giving up an average of 473 yards and 36 points in the past four contests. On the other hand, Cal can be thankful their defense has played outstanding this season, otherwise they would largely be struggling.

News and Notes

The CU-Cal game will be part of the Pac-12’s pilot program to reduce game times. The halftime period will be reduced to 15 minutes; as opposed to the usual 20 minutes, along with shorter commercial breaks.

Record watch (By the Numbers)

Laviska Shenault Jr. needs 46 receiving yards for his first 1,000-yard season.

After missing four games due to injury, Shenault would become the 10th receiver in CU history to reach 1,000 yards in a season. Nelson Spruce last did it in 2015 with 1,053 yards.

Travon McMillian needs 49 rushing yards to break the 1,000-yard mark on the season.

McMillian would become the 17th rusher to reach 1,000 in CU history, joining Phillip Lindsay to do so in consecutive seasons for the Buffs.

Steven Montez needs 321 passing yards for a total of 3,000 yards on the season

Montez would become the only quarterback in CU history with back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons.

Uncharted Territory

If Colorado drops to 5-7 this season, they’ll join the 2009 Kansas Jayhawks as the only two teams in college football history to start 5-0 and lose seven in a row in end a season.

A Change in Direction

Colorado is looking to turn around a bad November. With last week’s loss vs. Utah, CU is 11-32 (34.3%) in the second-to-last month of the year since 2008. They’ve earned a total of two road wins during that time, with four of the seven Pac-12 wins coming in 2016. Outside of 2016, Colorado’s last November win came vs. Cal— a 41-24 victory on Nov. 16, 2013 in Boulder.

From the desk of Dave Plati

“STAT OF THE WEEK: 2-2. Kurt Roper will officially be considered a head coach in the NCAA roll call of all-time CU head coaches (he’ll be listed on CU’s list as well – CU has had 25 full-time head coaches and now three interim). Mike Hankwitz was the first with the tag, replacing Gary Barnett and going 0-1 as Clemson defeated CU, 19-10, in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. Brian Cabral relieved Dan Hawkins in 2010 for the final three games, with Colorado needing wins in all three to become bowl eligible; he came close, going 2-1: the Buffs topped Iowa State (34-14) and Kansas State (44-36) at home before losing at Nebraska (45- 17). As a result, interim head coaches at Colorado are 2-1.”

“OBSCURE NOTE OF THE WEEK: The Unnoticed. A couple of things have gone unnoticed in recent weeks. When PK James Stefanou was sidelined with an injury, his replacements were two walk-ons: PK Evan Price and then PK Tyler Francis. The holder replacing an injured P Alex Kinney was QB Josh Goldin, a walk-on and former football manager. And the snapper was J.T. Bale, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship last year. Thus, all three key positions on the FG/PAT unit were manned by current or one-time walk-ons. OLB Carson Wells has been practicing some on offense (fullback, H-back), and he got into the Utah game on offense, providing a block on Travon McMillian’s 13-yard touchdown run.”

Drew Litton/ University of Colorado

Colorado travels to Cal on Saturday, Nov. 24 at 5 p.m. MT. The Bears lead 5-4 in the all-time series going back to 1968, and the Buffs are 0-3 in Berkeley during that time. The air quality index (AQI) around California Memorial Stadium has improved over the past week. A reading on Wednesday afternoon showed a level of 29. To put that into reference, the Denver Metro Area was showing a level of 55 during the same time.

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: 850 KOA

Odds: -11 Cal

Weather: 57° Rain