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Colorado vs. UCLA Preview: Three factors to watch in Buffaloes’ upset bid

Travis Hunter will be tested in his second game back from injury.

Stanford v Colorado

CU’s disastrous 43-40 loss to Stanford feels so long ago, it’s almost like it didn’t happen. And really, who’s to say that it even did happen? The Buffs are back on the road this week, and a cushy 5:30 PM time slot in the Rose Bowl is The Good Stuff. Saturday’s game starts a five-game run to end the season, and it’s not unreasonable to think that the Buffs won’t be favored in any of them. A bowl game sure doesn’t feel like the certainty it was a month ago, either.

At the very least, whether good or bad, they’ve found a way to keep things interesting for most of the season, minus those four quarters in Eugene. UCLA’s favored by three scores, which I’m sure every player on the Buffs’ practice field has been made acutely aware of for the last two weeks. So while we all wait for the world’s longest bye week to finally wrap up, here’s what I’m thinking about until it does.

1. So who’s going to, uh, [checks notes] play QB for UCLA.

The Bruins have the classic 3-QB situation happening right now. It never works for anyone else, but it just may work for them. And do you want to know a fun wrinkle? No one even knows who’s starting! And UCLA is a Top-25 team!

Chip Kelly won’t tell anyone who’s starting, though most people seem to think it’s going to be fourth-year junior Ethan Garbers, who played well in the Bruin’s big win over Stanford. But Kelly also hasn’t shied away from the idea of Dante Moore or Collin Schlee (who played for CU offensive coordinator at Kent State last year), so who really knows.

UCLA’s offense is sorta meh – Moore leads the Pac-12 in interceptions this season (7), and as a whole, their offense ranks eighth in points per game. The Bruins are, statistically speaking, the worst offense CU’s going to play for the rest of the year, so if the Buffs have a low-scoring upset in them this season, this may be the week.

2. How can the Buffs’ offense play against an elite defense?

If there was any sole reason to be really worried this weekend, it’d be UCLA’s defense. They’re sick. Nationally, on a per-game basis, they rank seventh in points allowed (14.9), 2nd in rushing yards allowed (68.6), and 12th in total yards allowed (282.6). They have three of the Pac-12’s top 10 leaders in sacks, and DB Alex Johnson is tied for first in interceptions.

The Buffs’ only game against a defense that’s even slightly-comparable was Oregon, and well, yeah. Shedeur Sanders keeps them in games they probably wouldn’t have any business being in otherwise, but this may be the toughest one yet. Two weeks of Travis Hunter practicing certainly doesn’t hurt. And speaking of …

3. How does Travis Hunter look with two more weeks under his belt?

In some ways, the Travis Hunter experience has been confusing this year. When healthy and on the field, he’s clearly as advertised – before getting hurt against CSU, he was consistently the most electric player on the field. That midfield cutback against Nebraska is still burned into my brain. But the snap count concerns aren’t going away, and he takes a bunch of hits that make you wonder how long everyone can keep this up.

He also didn’t exactly have a game to remember against Stanford, at least on the defensive side of the ball. Maybe that was a conditioning issue since he played almost immediately after rejoining practices. Still, it’s curious if he’s able to handle this seemingly unlimited snap court that the coaches have been adamant about. We should find out more on Saturday as the Buffs try to pull off the road upset.