Colorado has a chance to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2007 on Saturday, in just week 8 of the 2016 season. That will be no easy task heading to Palo Alto, and playing a Stanford team that has manhandled the Buffaloes since the transition to the PAC-12 conference, going 3-0 and winning by an average score of 46-6 in those meetings.
Colorado comes into the game with a lot of confidence, after crushing Arizona State at home 40-16 on Homecoming weekend last Saturday night at Folsom Field. Sefo Liufau made his return behind center for the Buffaloes, and the increase in pace quickened considerably from the USC game a couple of weeks before. CU ran wild against a blitzing Arizona State defense, one that led the PAC-12 in rushing defense, amassing 315 yards on the ground, highlighted by a career day by Phillip Lindsay. Liufau’s return cannot be overstated, as he was an efficient 23/31 for 265 yards, and added a rushing touchdown as well.
The Buffaloes defense was stifling, harassing returning starting quarterback Manny Wilkins all game long. Colorado only gave up 7 first downs, and 199 yards of total offense. The most impressive thing the Buffs defense did was limit the ASU running attack. Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, who went off for an 8-touchdown performance against Texas Tech were held to 73 yards on 17 carries. This forced the Sun Devils to throw the ball, something they weren’t able to do on Colorado’s big and talented secondary. Wilkins finished 13/35 for 149 yards, and was pressure all game, taking huge hits and being sacked 5 times. Linebacker Addison Gillam looked like the player he was his freshman year, where he earned Freshman All-American honors, and senior linebacker Jimmie Gilbert was all over the field, recording 6 tackles, including two sacks and forcing a fumble. The defense also extended its streak of forcing a turnover to 20 games.
Stanford hasn’t been the rough and tough Stanford that everyone is used to seeing this year. A couple of weeks ago, they were dominated up front by a very talented Washington team. They have struggled at quarterback, and there are still questions as to whether or not injured star Christian McCaffrey will be able to play. Colorado will look to bottle up the running game, and force Stanford to try and test the Buffaloes secondary. On offense, expect CU to push the pace, force the banged up Stanford secondary to cover and make tackles, ultimately tiring them out in the fourth quarter.
McCaffrey or no McCaffrey, Stanford hasn’t been an explosive team on offense. Colorado is going to push the pace, and try to get the Cardinal to play from behind. If the Buffaloes can neutralize the run game, and force Stanford to win the game through the air, CU will come away with a huge road win. The biggest key to the game again comes down to special teams, CU has to be able to kick the ball away from McCaffrey, and make field goals when the opportunities are there. With that being said, the Buffaloes are rumbling toward a PAC-12 South Title. Give me Colorado 23-17.