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Colorado takes on Stanford McCardinal

The game could be dependent on Christian McCaffrey’s health.

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

The Rise is real, evidently. The Buffs are 5-2 (3-1) and the season is just halfway over. That overall win total is already their highest since 2010 and those three conference wins is only two less than CU had had total since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.

Colorado has a 99.8% chance of winning another game and becoming bowl eligible. They haven’t bowled since 2007. They also have a 58.8% chance of winning the Pac-12 South, which is just bonkers if you think about how much this program has gone through.

Perhaps even more impressively, Colorado is favored to win every game left on their schedule, per SB Nation’s S&P+. That includes Stanford, Saturday’s opponent. CU is an underdog in Vegas, but they’re shown to have a 66% chance of winning. Combine this with CU’s 7-0 record against the spread this season, this looks promising.

So, to preview the Stanford game, we can answer some questions.

Who is Stanford’s key player?

There’s only one answer and one answer only: it’s Christian McCaffrey. This Barry Sanders mo-fo can win games single-handedly and is by far the most important player in this game, CU players included. He didn’t play in Stanford’s last game and hasn’t practiced all week, so it’s somewhat likely that he doesn’t play. But if he does play and CU is unable to contain him, the defense could be in trouble.

How will the defense contain Christian McCaffrey?

This question hinges entirely upon the health of McCaffrey, first off. If McCaffrey doesn’t play, you don’t have to contain him. Simple enough.

Without McCaffrey, Stanford’s offense would have to rely on one of the worst passing attacks in the country to score on one of the nation’s best secondaries. This could be death on Stanford if Colorado gets an early lead, as they’re wont to do.

If McCaffrey plays and isn’t hobbled — assuming he’s 100% is a sizable assumption — Stanford’s offense becomes threatening just like that. The Buffs would have to secure the edges to have any hope of stopping McCaffrey in the ground game, and this would mean big games from Jimmie Gilbert and N.J. Falo on the outside with Kenneth Olugbode and Tedric Thompson patrolling the middle of the field.

To stop McCaffrey in the passing game and to help on the edge, the Buffs could move Chidobe Awuzie to the inside (Isaiah Oliver would then start outside) and act as a spy. If there’s any one player in college football who can win a one-on-one matchup with McCaffrey, it’s Jabrill Peppers Awuzie.

Will Colorado defeat Stanford?

A month ago, I wrote about CU’s College Football Playoff chances and noted that Stanford was nigh unwinnable. My solution was this:

Here’s how Colorado can beat Stanford:

1. Kidnap Christian McCaffrey.

2. Replace him with Dylan McCaffrey.

3. Say no, I have no idea where Christian is or why I’m wearing his game-worn cleats.

4. Blame Cal and say it’s a weird rivalry tradition the two schools have, how weird?

5. Offer to replace Christian with any one of these state-of-the-art backup offensive linemen.

6. Air it out and take advantage of CU’s speed advantage.

It’s not impossible.

Things have changed quite a bit since then. Stanford was No. 7 in the country and looked capable of making the College Football Playoff. Now, they’re trying their hardest to not collapse in a heap of despair.

Also, Christian McCaffrey might not even play, so if you replace him with Dylan McCaffrey (Colorado’s top-rated quarterback prospect), Stanford could actually stand to benefit from that, considering how bad their passing offense is.

Meanwhile, Colorado might want to test out their new smashmouth success against the masters of smashmouth football, but they need to avoid getting caught in a slog. Stanford can’t keep pace in a high-scoring game, especially if McCaffrey doesn’t play, so CU should try their darndest to air it out and outrun these brutes. Easier said than done, yes, but this Liufau-led passing attack is one of the best in the nation.

So if Colorado has success through the air and are able to contain McCaffrey, they should roll, maybe decisively.