This team could be 5-0 right now, staring at a bowl berth on Saturday. Alas, it was not meant to be, and that is what's so frustrating and encouraging about this team. They are the closest to success than any recent CU team thus far, but they just can't seem to finish. A bowl berth is still possible, however unlikely, and a win against Oregon State is key, not just for the bowl, but for confidence and perception of the program. Let's see how we stack up against this Beaver squad.
I've already recapped some of my more philosophical thoughts after the Cal game here, and Mr. Jon Woods took on the unenviable task of the post game wrap-up. That ending was hard to swallow, and the post-game conference will show you as much. It has been a long time since a conference game was that exciting for the Buffaloes, and a lot of good can be taken from that game. I don't want to run the risk of repeating myself, so I'll focus on the game in terms of the conference rather than present and future Colorado teams. As a whole, the PAC-12 has raised its competitiveness. There is a clear Number One (Oregon), but the rest after that gets kinda mushy. Stanford, USC, UCLA make up a "second tier", and I would put the rest of the teams into a "third tier". I think any given week, Washington, WSU, Utah, OSU, Cal, Zona, ASU, and our Buffs could play a competitive game (Kelly coming back to ASU changes things a bit). That is a MASSIVE improvement over previous seasons, where it was considered lucky for CU to be within a score at the half. While it may not show up in the record, CU has resigned from its position as conference doormat and is now a bottom tier team. While still not great. it's a notable accomplishment for the Buffs to be competitive consistently, and it has been noted.
Usually, this offense revolves around Sean Mannion, all-everything QB for the Beavers. Mannion has been a force in the PAC-12 for three years now, and his senior year should be no different. He needs 866 yards to break Matt Barkley's passing record and 4 more completions to have 1000 for his career. He's really good. However, coming into this game, I expect Oregon State to keep it on the ground more than usual. Their previous game was an offensive disaster, and more specifically, a passing disaster. Mannion went 15/32 for 123 yards and 2 interceptions. While CU's defense doesn't exactly stack up to the Trojans, that stat line is enough to worry any coach, and as such, I bet they try to use Storm Woods a bit more than usual. He averaged 6.8 yards a carry against USC, and he's had a good season thus far. The Buffs' struggles against the rushing attack are well documented, and the defensive line will have to step up their game for this matchup. The Beavers are packing some beef up front, with their starting LT weighing 340 pounds (!!!) alone. Storm Woods is no slouch either, being 6' and 214 pounds, he can truck some tacklers who aren't trying hard enough. Colorado might catch a break, as Victor Bolden, the unquestioned best receiver for OSU, is questionable (read: doubtful) to play on Saturday. This may give an already pretty good secondary and even larger advantage against this passing offense. Look for OSU to attack us like ASU did, with a lot of RB draws and outside runs. Use CU's weak and overagressive edges against them. Olugbode has to play out of his mind for this team to stop the run consistently if they do that.
This is the stoutest defense the Buffs will have faced this year. They are 44th in scoring defense (against some subpar competition, but not worse than ours), and 54th in overall defensive S+P. They have size up front and some nice cover guys in the back, plus one of the best linebacking units in the PAC-12. Up front, the Beavers have some big bodies. The smallest starter, at left end, weighs around 260 pounds, and their main tackle, Siale Hautau, comes in at 350. Again, CU might not have to face Hautau, as in the latest injury report, he was listed as questionable, but returned to practice. This team holds the edge well and is hard to run against, so the Buffs are going to have to slog for every yard here. If they get past the first level, a great LB corps is waiting for them, lead by Michael Doctor. In this 4-3 alignment, the three starters are exactly what some CU fans have been clamoring for. All are over 6', and all weigh over 230 pounds. They fit the run well, and get downfield quick, but they aren't all conference coverage 'backers. This leaves the secondary alone a lot of the time, and so far, they have performed admirably. Steven Nelson is playing like the high draft pick he should be, and he held Nelson Agholor (2nd best Nelson in the conference) to 3 catches for 27 yards. Now, I doubt that Nelson Spruce gets numbers that low, but it's a good sign for OSU that Nelson is capable of playing with top talent. The other difference maker in the secondary, Ty Zimmerman, is returning from injury this week, and could be limited a bit. The safety is a fantastic centerfielder, and he makes a lot of plays for this team. CU should and will spread this team out. Go spread for most of the game, get a safety or a linebacker one-on-one with a slot guy (preferably Shay Fields), and let Sefo Liufau hit the slants all game long. It was easy to move the ball against Cal, and while this defense is much better, expect Liufau to have a nice stat line after this one.
CU's Oline vs. OSU's Dline - Advantage: Push. Colorado's O-line had a fantastic game against Cal, giving Sefo plenty of time to go off. This test is slightly harder, with a lot more size up front for OSU. Let's hope that CU keeps improving and wins this one outright. Watch for Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer, two undersized guards, going against the biggest players they've faced all season. This might get ugly quick.
OSU's Oline vs. CU's Dline - Advantage: Slightly CU. Mannion was harassed all game against USC, and while there are no Leanord Williams' on this team, they've proven the ability to get after the quarterback.Derek McCartney has gotten better each week, and that trend shouldn't stop here. Another underrated CU pass-rusher: the CB's. The Buffs have had success with players coming off the edge.
CU's QB vs. OSU's DB's - Advantage: Push. Liufau has been as inconsistent as it gets these past two weeks, but he was good when it mattered. Hopefully that trend continues, but expect a slight drop in play. The Beavers have experience in the back 4, as well as some pretty good talent, so they will make it hard on the Throwin' Samoan 2.0.
OSU's QB vs. CU's DB's - Advantage: Slightly CU. The secondary, despite Jared Goff's ridiculous numbers, played very well last Saturday, especially when Tedric Thompson was in. With Tedric expected to play, look for another great performance. Kenneth Crawley looks like and NFL player out there. Sean Mannion struggled mightily last week, and this may set him up for a revenge game. With no security blanket like Cooks, however, he may find it hard to move the ball.
CU's Skill Players (WR, TE, RB) vs. OSU's Back 7 (LB's and DB's) - Advantage: Slightly OSU. The linebackers won this matchup for the Beavers. They are too experienced and too talented for CU's rushing attack. Nelson Spruce should have a big day, and the Earth should spin. It's automatic. I'm not convinced that the rest of the Buffs' skill players can step up enough to win this matchup. Another underrated improvement from the Cal game was the tight ends. Sean Irwin got involved and caught a touchdown on a beautiful play design. Let's hope that trend continues.
OSU's Skill Players vs. CU's Back 7 - Advantage: Slightly CU. Storm Woods is the only real skill player that could gash the Buffs if Victor Bolden is unavailable. I have complete trust in the defensive backfield, but Woods could run over, around, or through these linebackers right now. Olugbode should at least be able to cover their tight end, but the run defense might get ugly. '
Special Teams - Advantage: OSU. This will always be the other team until proven otherwise. Hawaii was a pretty good special teams day, but the Cal game was awful, especially kickoff coverage. #TobyNeinasHotSeat