After a 5-0 start, the Colorado Buffaloes have dropped their last three heading into a Friday night game against the Arizona Wildcats. The line currently sits at -3 in favor of Arizona, making this game almost evenly matched when taking out home-field advantage.
With such a close game being expected, here are five players who will make or break Colorado on Friday.
Travon McMillian, RB
A Virginia Tech graduate transfer, McMillian has been vital in keeping the CU attack balanced.
McMillian came to Boulder after a solid career in Blacksburg, where he was one of Frank Beamer’s last recruits. He rushed for just over 2,000 yards in his three years as a Hokie, and now McMillian is currently leading the Buffaloes in rushing by more than 500 yards. He currently has 778 yards on 147 attempts, for a solid 5.3 yards per carry. That includes rushing for 100 yards five times in eight games, including 132 of them in last week’s stunning loss to Oregon State. I
f there is one knock against him, his performances are sometimes hit-or-miss, with the five 100-yard games being joined by two games where he rushed for just 57 yards combined.
If McMillian is clicking in Tucson, the Buffaloes offense will be even more dangerous than usual, and Colorado will have a chance for the slight upset.
Laviska Shenault, WR
Despite an injury that has sidelined him in two of Colorado’s recent losses, Shenault could play against Arizona, and if he does, the defense will face a steep challenge.
A high school and now college teammate of the much-more highly touted K.D. Nixon, Shenault has been in the shadows his whole career until this season. With only seven receptions in 2017, few knew about Shenault before this fall. Now, he’s close to a household name in the Pac-12 and would probably be the front-runner for the Biletnikoff Award if not for his injury.
In his first four games against FBS competition this year, Shenault gained an astonishing 641 yards through the air, adding 41 on the ground. His most amazing feat was in the Arizona State game, where he accounted for all four of the Buffs’ touchdowns in a 28-21 win.
Shenault injured his toe against USC, and it is not currently known if he will play on Friday. It seems that Colorado believes he’ll be on the field, and that presents a major problem, especially with depth issues in the secondary.
Nate Landman, LB
Another sophomore who has exploded onto the scene for Colorado this year, Landman will be one of the leaders in the effort to stop Khalil Tate.
Much like Shenault, Landman only played in a few games as a freshman, and was never a huge impact player when he was on the field. That has all changed in 2018. Landman leads the team with 75 tackles, a shocking 13 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage and three being sacks. On top of all those stops, Landman has two interceptions and a forced fumble to his name, and has proven himself one of the most versatile defenders in the conference. He’s wise beyond his years, and will be leading the Colorado defense in a hostile environment on Friday.
Rick Gamboa, LB
Landman’s partner in crime may not have the gaudy numbers, but his impact is undeniable for the Buffaloes.
While Landman is just a sophomore, Gamboa is a senior who has yet to miss a game in his Colorado career. He’s also one of the very few starters remaining from the 2016 Pac-12 South title team, and he’s proven that experience is invaluable in helping lead the defense. He’s second to Landman in tackles, with a still solid 43. He hasn’t been used in pressure as much as Landman, but he does have an interception as well.
Anytime you have a four-year starter patrolling the middle of the defense, and he’s only the second best linebacker on the field, it’s a problem for the offense.
Evan Price, K
In the early part of the season, Colorado had a different kicker; one who’s 12 years older than Price. Nevertheless, Price is ready to take up the mantle.
James Stefanou is the oldest player in FBS, at age 31. He’d performed quite well in the first few games of the season, but a hip injury has sidelined him during the Colorado losing streak. Enter Evan Price, who just recently turned 19, and is a true freshman out of Evergreen, Colo.. While there his been obvious pressure replacing Stefanou, Price has performed very well, making of four of five field goals, and he’s yet to miss an extra point.
It is unclear if Stefanou will be playing on Friday, but Price will be ready no matter what, and it’s clear he’ll be an asset to Colorado’s special teams in the future.