September 24th, 1994. There were six seconds left, and Colorado trailed 26-21. The Big House was slammed full of screaming fans in maize and yellow, probably deciding where they were going to celebrate Michigan’s huge win over the 7th ranked Colorado Buffaloes. Colorado quarterback Kordell Stewart took the snap from his own 36 yard line, dropped back, and threw up a prayer. The ball went over 70 yards in the air, was tipped, and fell right into the hands of wide receiver Michael Westbrook in the end zone. Touchdown. The entire Buffaloes team stampeded to the end zone and dog piled, Colorado won 27-26.
I was 5 years old on September 24th, 1994, and I still remember that day like it was yesterday. I was in Golden, Colorado, heading home from watching my cousin play a fall high school baseball game with my uncle Bill in his 1970’s brown, Ford truck. We stopped at a 7/11, and decided to listen to the final play of the game on the radio as a formality. As the play unfolded, and the radio explained that somehow, against all odds, CU was victorious, my uncle and I started screaming and dancing around in the 7/11 parking lot in disbelief. I called my dad, but there was no answer. (I found out later that their entire Buffaloes watch party spilled out into the street in celebration after the play.)
On Saturday, Colorado returns to the Big House for the first time since 1994. They’re 20 point underdogs, and nobody is giving them a chance to win. Colorado comes into the game with statistically the best defense in the country, and a different aura about the program. Michigan is coming off of 2 blowout wins at home, with this Saturday being their last tune up before Big 10 play and Penn State next week. For the Buffaloes to have any chance, they need to get out of the gates early, like they have in their first two games of the year. Colorado outscored Colorado State and Idaho State 80-0 in the first half of their games this year.
The biggest matchup to watch is in the trenches. Colorado’s offensive line will have to hold up to give Sefo time to run the offense, and methodically move the ball. Expect to see a lot of screens early, to get Liufau settled in and comfortable in a hostile environment. The Buffaloes will open up the playbook for the first time this year to try and get their playmakers in space as the game goes on.
Defensively, Colorado needs to get pressure on Wilton Speight, who hasn’t been tested in his first two games. If the defensive line can get pressure, and the secondary can hold up, the Buffaloes will keep the game close by making Michigan drive the length of the field without giving up big plays.
This is the biggest test for the Buffaloes this year, but winning isn’t necessary to have a successful season. Colorado hasn’t been on stage like this in a long time, and if they can stay competitive, their confidence level should be high heading into PAC-12 play. The Big House is the toughest atmosphere Colorado will face all year, but they’ll surprise some people this week. In the end, Michigan’s depth makes the difference in the 4th quarter, but the Buffaloes will cover the 20-point spread. Michigan 35-20.