By Mitch Light
Utah and Colorado are two proud programs that were both welcomed with open arms to the new-look Pac-12. With two BCS Bowl appearances in the past seven years, Utah was regarded as one of the elite non-AQ conference teams in the nation. And while Colorado has fallen on hard times in recent years, the Buffaloes won four Big 12 North Division titles from 2001 through 2005 and won a national title as recently as 1990. Clearly, this is a program that has proven it can win at a high level.
The transition to a new league, however, has not been kind for Colorado or Utah, which are a combined 0–8 in the Pac-12. Utah has some solid wins in non-conference action, most notably a 54–10 victory at rival BYU and a 26–14 win at Pittsburgh, but the Utes have been alarmingly uncompetitive against Pac-12 teams. They are getting outscored by 17.8 points and outgained by 117.7 yards per game. It’s been worse for Colorado, which is really struggling under first-year coach Jon Embree. The Buffs have lost their four league games by an average of 29.0 points have been outgained by a staggering 244.3 yards per game.
“It is hard,” said Embree, a 1986 CU alum, after the Buffs’ 45–2 loss vs. Oregon last week. “I’m smiling because you have to smile to keep from crying. It is hard because I feel that we have missed opportunities.”
Colorado missed a huge opportunity back in early October in its first Pac-12 game. The Buffs led Washington State in Boulder, 27–17, late in the fourth quarter but gave up two touchdowns in the final 2:35 of the game en route to a 31–27 loss.
CU plays the top two teams in the North Division, Arizona State and USC, the next two weeks, but the schedule softens a bit down the stretch, with Arizona, UCLA and Utah over the final three weeks.
Utah, despite its struggles, is still in position to reach a bowl game for the ninth straight season. The Utes, at 3–4 overall, will need to go 3–2 against the following slate: Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA, Washington State and Colorado, and three of the games (OSU, UCLA, CU) are in Salt Lake City. The key will be the play of quarterback Jon Hays, who was inserted into the starting lineup three weeks ago after Jordan Wynn went down with an injury. Hays played well in the win over Utah, but has a 1-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio in his other two starts, losses to Arizona State and California. If Hays can limit his mistakes, which he should against weaker competition, the Utes should be able to win at least three of their remaining five games and end their first season in their new league with yet another trip to a bowl game.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• True freshman Malcolm Agnew has only played in three games this season but still leads Oregon State in rushing by more than 200 yards. Agnew has rushed for 375 yards on 66 attempts for a healthy 5.7-yard average.
• Prior to last week, Arizona had given up at least 37 points in every game vs. a FBS opponent. The Cats, however, held UCLA to 12 in their 36-point win over the Bruins in the first game under interim coach Tim Kish.
• Only one of Stanford’s seven wins have come against a team with a winning record. The Cardinal, however, did beat that one team (Washington) by 44 points.
• Colorado has punted 52 times. Stanford has punted 16 times.
• Stanford is 9-of-9 on fourth down this season.
• Washington State and Oregon share the Pac-12 lead with five plays from scrimmage of at least 60 yards. Oregon is one of only four teams nationally that has two plays of at least 80 yards.
• Arizona’s Nick Foles leads the Pac-12 and ranks third nationally with 45.7 pass attempts per game.
• Andrew Luck has completed 80 percent of his passes on first down this season.