As Utah visits No. 21 Colorado on big stage Saturday, how did Buffaloes become the surprise team of Pac-12?
Entering the final weekend of the regular season, the No. 21 Buffaloes are 4-0 and have a shot at winning the Pac-12 South and playing in the Pac-12 championship game. One of the things standing in their way is Utah, the two-time defending Pac-12 South champs
One of the many surprises of this college football season has been Colorado’s unexpected rise.
Going into the final weekend of the regular season, the No. 21 Buffaloes are 4-0 and have a shot at winning the Pac-12 South and playing in the Pac-12 championship game.
One of the things standing in their way is Utah, the two-time defending Pac-12 South champs. Colorado hosts the Utes Saturday (10 a.m., MST, Fox) at Folsom Field.
Yet another surprise? The Pac-12 announced Wednesday afternoon that this game, originally scheduled for Friday night on FS1, has been pushed back one day and to a bigger stage — Fox. The 10 a.m. MST TV window on Fox was originally set to broadcast the annual Michigan-Ohio State game that was canceled Tuesday due to COVID-19 issues at Michigan. So the Utah-Colorado contest has moved into the slot.
The Buffaloes made their first appearance in The Associated Press poll this week — for the first time since the 2018 season — after beating Arizona 24-13 in Tucson on Saturday night.
Part of what makes this resurgence surprising is the fact Colorado is on its third coach in three years.
After the 2018 season, Mike MacIntyre, who led CU to its first and only Pac-12 South title in 2016, was fired and replaced by Mel Tucker.
After a 5-7 campaign a year ago, Tucker bolted Boulder for the head coaching job at Michigan State and was replaced by Karl Dorrell.
Entering the season, expectations were low for Colorado, which was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South.
But here are the stakes for the Buffaloes — if they defeat Utah and USC falls to UCLA, they would win the South Division and host the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 18.
How does Colorado find itself in this position?
“In their situation, the cupboard was not left bare. They had a lot of good players when the last coach moved on,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “And the last coach moved on on his own accord. He wasn’t let go because of lack of success.
“They’re just building upon what was started last year. Their players are playing hard. It’s all lined up for them so far. They’ve done a good job. They’ve got a lot of things going for them right now. They’re 4-0. So what can you say? They’ve been taking care of business.”
Dorrell gives credit to the players for building a winning attitude.
“I’m pleased with the foundation we’ve been able to start and establish this year. We put a lot of work into it in the offseason, teaching the culture in our program,” said Dorrell, who coached at UCLA from 2003-07. “The players have done a nice job of making some positive steps in creating that foundation. It’s not completely done but it is progressing.”
Last week, Colorado running back Jarek Broussard rushed for a career-high 301 yards, though he didn’t score a touchdown. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound sophomore tore up Arizona’s defense. He recorded runs of 75, 72 and 59 yards and the Buffaloes accumulated a total of 407 rushing yards.
Broussard was sidelined last season due to a knee injury and he wears a brace on the knee.
“He’s a dynamite player. We’re just fortunate that he’s healthy and doing the things he’s natural at doing, which is running the football with great vision,” Dorrell said. “He knows seams, he hits it and makes the most of his opportunities.”
Dorrell said his offense needs “good balance” this week against a Utah defense that leads the Pac-12 and ranks No. 12 nationally in rush defense, allowing 104.7 yards per game. The Utes are limiting opponents to 3.6 yards per carry.
The Buffaloes will be without offensive lineman Chance Lytle, who suffered a season-ending leg injury last week.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Sam Noyer is starting for the first time in his career after playing safety last season.
Noyer has completed 64 of 103 yards for 742 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He has also run 38 times for 179 yards and five TDs. Noyer was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after leading Colorado past Stanford on Nov. 14.
CU is enjoying one of its best seasons in decades. The Buffs are 4-0 for just the second time since 1998.
“We’ve gotten some recognition, we’ve got a ranking. All those things are real positives from the work that we put into the season,” Dorrell said. “Definitely stuff that’s deserving for them. But we still have so much work to go. We still want to compete for a conference championship.
“The magnitude of this week for us is vitally important for us to be in that picture. We’re in pretty good shape and we need to take advantage of this opportunity that we’re in. That’s the goal this week in our preparation. We’re still trying to prove to each other the kind of program we have. We’re getting some notice from that with our play.”
With a win Friday, coupled with a USC loss Saturday, Colorado would be in a spot nobody saw coming — playing for a Pac-12 title.