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Colorado vs. Arizona: A first look at the Buffaloes

The Wildcats take on the top team in the division this weekend

NCAA Football: UCLA at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After another forgettable road trip, the Arizona Wildcats return home to play host to the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday. The Buffaloes enter this contest riding a three-game winning streak while UA is still looking for its first conference win. This matchup felt like a surefire win for the Cats in the beginning of the season, but that feeling is long gone at this point.

Colorado’s 2016 Record – 7-2 (5-1 Pac-12)

Key Games – Week three loss at Michigan (45-28), Week four win at Oregon (41-38), Week six loss at USC (21-17), Week seven win vs. ASU (40-16), Week eight win at Stanford (10-5)

Key Offensive Players – Sefo Liufau (QB), Phillip Lindsay (RB), Shay Fields (WR), Devin Ross (WR), Steven Montez (QB)

Key Defensive Players – Chidobe Awuzie (CB), Josh Tupou (DT), Kenneth Olugbode (LB), Tedric Thompson (SS), Samson Kafovalu (DE)

Coming into the 2016 season, there probably wasn’t a coach on a hotter seat than Mike MacIntyre. During his first three seasons at Colorado, the Buffaloes finished dead last each season, and possessed a 2-25 conference record. That conference record in itself is enough for most coaches to lose their job. However, Athletic Director Rick George decided to stay the course, and it’s finally paying off.

Thus far, Colorado is one of the better stories in college football as they currently sit at a 7-2 overall record, including a 5-1 conference mark. As of week 10, the Buffaloes find themselves ranked as the #15 team in the country according the College Football Playoff rankings. I would love to meet the person who predicted this in the preseason.

Their two losses were competitive games. In fact, their game in the Big House was extremely close until Sefo Liufau left with an injury. The Buffs were actually leading 28-24 in the third quarter on the road against now-third-ranked Michigan. Liufau missed the next two games against the Oregon schools, and briefly played in the second quarter of the USC loss.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Montez has filled in admirably during Liufau’s absence. He holds a 2-1 record as a starter which came during the pivotal beginning stretch of conference play. Liufau has since returned as the starter during Colorado’s current three game winning streak.

The offense has been very productive throughout the season, averaging nearly 34 points per game. But lately, it has been the defense that has really carried the load. They have allowed just over 17 points per game, which is good for 12th-best in the country. However, they’re trending better than that mark of late. Over the last three games, Colorado is allowing an average slightly over 10 points per game.

They have plenty of senior leadership on defense, but arguably the biggest is Chidobe Awuzie. He had flashes of greatness last season that was awarded with Second Team All-Pac-12 honors. This season he is just as effective, and is very dangerous in a few facets of the scheme. He is a solid pass defender in spite of a low interception count. He is also very good with disrupting plays in blitz packages. UA will have to keep an eye on him at all times.

Tucson can be a trap for teams who are riding high and have their minds set on conference championships or even New Year’s Six games. With postseason aspirations gone (even though 5-7 could still earn a bowl bid), it’ll be interesting to see what Arizona team shows up for this contest. Will we see more of a relaxed back to having fun team, or will it again be a tense team that is feeling the heavy pressure for a win? Either way, the odds don’t appear to favor the Wildcats (opened as two touchdown underdogs). Though, you still have to play the game and we see every week that anything can happen.