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Colorado hopes for season finale upset over No. 19 Utah: Rumble in the Rockies Preview

The Buffs haven’t won in Salt Lake in ten years.

NCAA Football: Utah at Colorado Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A Friday in Salt Lake City might not be the preferred backdrop for an upset, but in the case of the Colorado Buffaloes season finale, they’ll take whatever luck they can get.

The Buffs (4-7, 3-5 Pac-12) square-off with their closest conference rival for the 67th edition of the Rumble in the Rockies— a series tied at 32-32-3 all-time going back to the turn of the century in 1903. Colorado has 699 wins against Top 25 opponents. To make it No. 700, they’ll face an uphill battle trying to upend 19th-ranked Utah on the road.

Yet again, stranger things have happened in the valley of the Beehive State. CU looks for its first win over the Utes since 2016 and their first in SLC in a decade. Overall, Utah holds a commanding 8-2 advantage since both schools migrated to the Pac-12 in 2010, including the past four being decided by 17 points or more.

However, there’s not a lot left to decide for either team going into the postseason. Utah (8-3, 7-1 Pac-12) secured their spot in next week’s Pac-12 Championship with a 38-7 thumping of No. 3 Oregon last Saturday. It’s likely, but not ensured, that the Ducks and Utes will have a second crack at each other next Friday night in Las Vegas.

All that stands in the way of Oregon heading south for a championship bid next week is their most hated rival— the Oregon State Beavers. If OSU wins and Washington beats Washington State, then they’ll hold the tiebreaker in a 2-team tie with Oregon because of their head-to-head victory, according to the Pac-12. The Civil War from Autzen Stadium in Eugene is scheduled for Saturday afternoon (1:30 PM/TV:ESPN).

Colorado is eliminated from postseason contention and can’t be used as a fill-in team because of a Pac-12 rule passed a few years ago. It would also put an exclamation point on a difficult season for Karl Dorrell and one of the youngest Buff teams in recent memory.

Believe it or not, Colorado beat Washington last week despite being held to 183 yards of total offense, and it was their first win with less than 200 yards since 2004. It was a low point for UW after head coach Jimmy Lake was fired two weeks ago for a sideline altercation with a player. The third conference win for the Buffs eliminated the Huskies from any subsequent bowl appearance for the first time since 2009, not taking into account last year’s cancellations due to COVID.

Buffs passer Brendon Lewis hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers to start his collegiate career. But the Melissa, Texas native has played mistake-free lately and is an improving dual threat. Lewis has thrown 108 consecutive passes without a pick over the past four games, the most ever by a CU freshman. It’s a major reason why Colorado has won two of the past three games.

The Buffs are tasked with figuring out ways to slow down the Utes and have a bit of momentum heading into the matchup. They came up big defensively against Washington and will need to carry that energy into the game if they expect to be within striking distance for a win.

Quarterback Cameron Rising was rather pedestrian against Oregon, but was still effective to the tune of 10-of-18 for 178 yards. He has taken Utah on a four-game winning streak behind an average of nearly 200 yards per game and has no interceptions in all but one game this season. Rising has completed 63 percent of his pass attempts, along with 14 touchdowns to the aformentioned pair of interceptions that he surrendered to Arizona State. He has also gone 7-1 since being named the starter earlier in the year.

Utah welcomed Tavion Thomas back after a one-game absence. The sophomore rusher’s production was missed as he has carried a majority of the load out of the backfield with 143 carries for 836 yards and 17 touchdowns. Thomas ran for 94 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon. His 17 scores on the season is also a single-season school record. He can break the 1,000-yard mark with a spectacular day against the Buffs. The only problem for Thomas will be going up against CU’s stout defensive front who will make him work to chip away for extra yards.

From the desk of Dave Plati:

Stat of the week- “Scoring Percentage Inside-the-20 (Red Zone) Offense. Though the offense has had its struggles at times, the 2021 Buffaloes are in position to have the best percentage of scoring once it cracks the opponent 20. CU has scored on 30-of-32 possessions into the red zone, including 20 touchdowns. That works to a 93.8 percentage, which is also the seventh best figure in the nation (third in the Pac-12). The current school record is 90.6, set in both 1985 and 1994; Oklahoma leads the nation with a 96.2 mark (USC is fourth, 95.1, Washington sixth, 94.3; the Huskies were perfect until going 2-of-4 against the Buffs).

“Scoring Percentage Inside-the-20 (Red Zone) Defense. Colorado’s defense has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks, but has still held its own in

red zone defense; opponents have scored 29-of-39 penetrations beyond the Buffalo 20 (23 touchdowns). That works to a 74.4 percentage, which is 18th in the nation; it’s also the 19th-best in school history (research was done back to 1953, so it’s over 69 seasons).”

Colorado goes west for the final time in 2021 for a meeting with Utah. Kickoff from Rice-Ecclles Stadium is scheduled at 2 p.m. MST on Friday, Nov. 26. The series is tied for the first time since 1952.

TV: FOX (National)

Radio: 850 KOA (Mark Johnson & Gary Barnett)

Odds: -24 Utah

Weather: 42°, partly cloudy