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Colorado Buffaloes vs. UCLA Bruins: 2020 Week 1 Preview

Buffs look to continue the home streak over the Bruins on Saturday

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Colorado at UCLA Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After cancellations and delays that have seemed like a common theme in 2020, the Pac-12 football season is finally here.

The Colorado Buffaloes have won four straight season openers, but all of those were against Colorado State in Denver. A rare opener versus a conference opponent and the latest on the schedule in 102 years for the Colorado Buffaloes, who welcome the UCLA Bruins into Boulder on Saturday night (5:00 p.m., ESPN2).

The two teams have exchanged wins in their past five meetings — the home team coming away victorious each time. Last year, UCLA jumped out to a lead and didn’t look back, cruising to a 31-14 one-sided win on Nov. 2. The Buffs easily handled UCLA in their past two visits to Folsom Field, but this meeting is likely to be a much closer contest.

It’s the first-ever meeting for Karl Dorrell against his former team after leading the Bruins to a 35-27 record over five seasons in Westwood from 2003-07. He’s facing his old team with his old old team, however, as Dorrell is now in his third tenure with the Buffs. He started as a receiver coach during the McCartney era, then moved into an offensive coordinator role under Rick Neuheisel.

This is a much different look for Dorrell and the Buffs going into this year, most notably at the quarterback position with Sam Noyer being named the week one starter. The fifth-year senior beat out Tyler Lytle in a close competition in fall camp, but neither one has a lot of game experience in their respective careers. The players on the CU roster who have thrown passes in college are 28-of-51 for 283 yards (2 TD/3 INT), and neither of the two touchdowns came from Noyer or Lytle. (For what it’s worth, K.D. Nixon has thrown more TD passes (1) than any of the QBs on the roster (0).)

The Buffaloes offense is still evolving with a spread-type hybrid, but don’t expect any big changes with an emphasis on the passing game. Dorrell is a great evaluator of talent and the decision with bringing Noyer out of the secondary and back into the fold as a quarterback. How to replace the production of Steven Montez, Laviska Shenault Jr. and Co. from last year will be the question going forward for Dorrell.

Receiver K.D. Nixon came back after to Colorado after initially declaring for the NFL Draft. The DeSoto star athlete is joined by Dimitri Stanley, who enters his sophomore season with high hopes. Nixon will be the best go-to option for Noyer, but CU’s offense will rely heavily on the production of their running backs. Behind an experienced offensive line led by junior Will Sherman, the Buffs will rotate a number of talented backs, any of whom could break out in 2020.

The Bruins’ defense suffered through a bad season in 2019. The banged up unit allowed 34.8 points per game and was one of the worst in the nation against opposing passers. Hopes for the upcoming season remains strong in Westwood, but not much is expected to change as a they’re expected to improve to being a middle-of-the-pack defense in the Pac-12.

On the other end of things for UCLA, Dorian Thompson-Robinson took a giant step forward in his progression last season. The dual-threat QB doubled his passing yards and tripled his touchdowns compared to 2018 (2,701 yards/ 25 total TD’s), but took a hit with 12 interceptions. A younger offensive line for the Bruins means Thompson-Robinson must continue to improve mechanically by timing his throws better and becoming more instinctual in the pocket.

There are a lot of unknowns for the Bruins rushing attack going into the season. Joshua Kelley now gone to the NFL with playmaker Demetric Felton now stepping into a primary role. Felton’s production is expected to up to about 20 carries per game or so for offensive coordinator Justin Frye.

The Buffs kept defensive coordinator Tyson Summers after Karl Dorrell took over in Boulder. He stays to improve a group that was one of the worst nationally statistically, allowing an average of 31.8 points and 441.9 yards per game. CU’s secondary is experienced and up to take on a good lineup of prolific Pac-12 QB’s. No doubt that linebacker Nate Landman returns as the leader of CU’s defense. The “Hammer” was named pre-season First Team All-Pac-12.

News and Notes

This will be Colorado’s latest season opener in 102 years, or since Nov. 16, 1918; that year the start of the season was also delayed to an influenza pandemic, CU lost at home to Colorado State Teachers College (now Northern Colorado), 9-0. The only other season that started later was CU’s first in 1890 (a 20-0 loss at the Denver Athletic Club on Nov. 15). The last time a conference opponent was the foe in a season opener was in 1961, when CU defeated Oklahoma State in Boulder, 24-0.

The first-ever meeting between CU’s Karl Dorrell and UCLA’s Chip Kelly.

From the desk of Dave Plati:

“Colorado is 81-44-5 in 130 season openers, with a 53-20-1 record at home, 18-19-3 on the road and 10-5-1 at neutral sites (10-5 in Denver, 0-0-1 in Anaheim). This is CU’s first season opener on the road since 2015 (at Hawai’i), with its next season opener at home in 2021 against Northern Colorado. The Buffs have started a season just four times at home since 1997, those coming in 2004, 2005 and 2009 against Colorado State and in 2001 when the Buffs dropped a 24- 22 decision to Fresno State in the Jim Thorpe Association Classic. CU was 9-6 in openers as a member of the Big 12 Conference and is 5-4 since joining the Pac-12.”

Colorado opens the 2020 season vs. UCLA on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 5:00 p.m. MT. The ‘Pac-12 After Dusk’ affair with both teams looking to start off right.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 850 KOA (Mark Johnson, Gary Barnett)

Odds: -6 UCLA

Weather: 62° partly cloudy at kickoff