Things haven't gone well for the Buffaloes (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) in league play thus far. Colorado suffered back-to-back losses to Washington and UCLA after winning eight of nine regular-season contests in the Pac-12 a year ago. The Buffaloes struggled on offense in both losses, averaging just 16.5 points and 372.5 total yards.
The Wildcats (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) are improved on defense from a year ago but have been inconsistent on offense. Arizona moved the ball well in wins over FCS opponent Northern Arizona and UTEP. The Wildcats struggled to finish drives in losses to Houston and Utah. They also coughed up tons of turnovers against a tough Utes defense in a 30-24 loss two weeks ago.
Colorado leads the all-time series 14-5 and snapped a four-game losing streak to the Wildcats with a 49-24 victory last season. Arizona owns a two-game winning streak in Boulder, beating the Buffaloes in 2013 and '15.
Arizona at Colorado
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Colorado – 6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Colorado solve its red-zone issues?
Finishing off drives has turned into a struggle for Colorado this season. The Buffaloes simply aren't getting it done once they move inside the 20. Colorado has scored only eight touchdowns in 18 red zone trips this season. The one saving grace is that the Buffaloes' defense has yielded just five touchdowns to opponents in 13 red-zone possessions.
Offensive struggles are a baffling development for Colorado. Steven Montez ranks sixth among Pac-12 quarterbacks both in total passing yards (1,272) and completion percentage (.652). Phillip Lindsay ranks third in the league in total rushing yards (529).
Montez's struggles over the past two games account for some issues. The sophomore threw three interceptions against Washington and then followed up by completing just 47.2 percent of his passes in a 27-23 loss to UCLA.
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre feels like Montez shouldn't shoulder all the blame, though, for the team's offensive shortcomings.
“The quarterback has to play well and then everybody else around him has to play well,” MacIntyre said. “In the UCLA game, he played well enough for us to win. Could he have made more plays? Yes, but you can always say that.”
2. Can Brandon Dawkins find some consistency?
When Dawkins plays to his full potential, the Arizona offense runs like an efficient machine. The only problem is that Dawkins has shown some Jekyll and Hyde tendencies early in the season.
In losses to Houston and Utah, Dawkins struggled with poor decision making. He forced a late third quarter pass that the Utes turned into to a pick-six. Dawkins totaled three interceptions and a fumble in the six-point loss to Utah. Against the Cougars, he mishandled a snap and gave Houston its only second-half points on a safety. Dawkins also struggled on the ground, gaining 26 yards on 13 carries.
“He’s made some big plays, but he’s also had some turnovers as well. It’s been uneven," Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez said. "It’s been frustrating for him as well. It’s the big mistakes that have been hurting us, but he’s not the only one making mistakes. We’ve all made them."
Dawkins has the mobility to make Arizona's offense potent if he can be a more consistent passer. He has tallied at least 90 rushing yards in all but one game. The junior quarterback has totaled 1,464 career rushing yards, which is the most by an Arizona quarterback since 1958. He also has 16 career rushing touchdowns and a career average of 7.0 yards per carry.
3. Defensive battle looming?
Games between Arizona and Colorado are typically high-scoring affairs. Dating back to 2011, the Wildcats have averaged 38.2 points in six games between the two teams. The Buffaloes have averaged 33.2 points. It's likely to be a much different story this time around.
Both Colorado and Arizona rank in the top half of the Pac-12 in several defensive categories. The Buffaloes are third in scoring defense (18.2 ppg) and the Wildcats are fifth (22.3 ppg). The teams are almost even on total defense, with Colorado surrendering 366.8 yards per game and Arizona yielding 376.0 yards per contest.
The Buffaloes were also stout on defense a year ago, while Arizona's numbers reflect major defensive improvement from last season. The Wildcats allow 16.0 fewer points than a year ago, an improvement that is second best among FBS teams. They are also allowing 93.3 fewer yards, 5.2 fewer first downs and 16 percent fewer third-down conversions per game.
This seems like the perfect opponent to help Colorado get back on track. Arizona has lost 13 of its last 15 games against Pac-12 opponents dating back to 2015. The Wildcats have impressed against bad teams and looked mediocre against good teams. Colorado isn't at the same level as a year ago, but the Buffaloes still have enough talent on both sides of the ball to make it two in a row over Arizona.
Prediction: Colorado 24, Arizona 21
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.