Colorado and Oregon State meet Saturday in Boulder in a pivotal Pac-12 matchup. The Buffaloes are 3-1 following blowout victories over rival Colorado State and FCS opponent Idaho State, a hard-fought loss at Michigan and last week’s dramatic 41-38 victory over Oregon at Autzen Stadium.
The win over Oregon was only the third conference victory for the Buffaloes since head coach Mike MacIntyre took over in 2013 and the first for Colorado since last year’s 17-13 win over Oregon State in Corvallis. Colorado has now won six Pac-12 games in six years since joining the league with last week’s victory arguably the most important of its tenure.
Meanwhile, Oregon State has lost 11 straight Pac-12 contests and enters Saturday’s game 1-2 with losses to Minnesota and Boise State sandwiching a victory over FCS member Idaho State. A loss to Colorado could foreshadow a second consecutive winless campaign in conference play.
Oregon State at Colorado
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct, 1, at 2:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Colorado -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Colorado Quarterback Situation
Colorado upset Oregon a week ago without its starting quarterback. Senior signal-caller Sefo Liufau completed 54 of 76 pass attempts (71.1 percent) for 768 yards and six touchdowns without an interception and added 124 rushing yards and another TD in three starts to begin the season, but was injured in the loss to Michigan and sat out against the Ducks.
No matter, as freshman Steven Montez became the first Colorado quarterback ever to throw for more than 300 yards and run for more than 100 in the same game. He was 23-for-32 passing (71.9 percent) for 333 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, and gained 135 yards with a score on the ground. The performance earned Montez Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, which was a nice surprise given how much he struggled against the Wolverines (0-for-7 passing, -4 rushing yards).
Reports out of Colorado this week indicate that Liufau’s injured ankle is still not 100 percent and he is questionable to play against Oregon State. While the Buffaloes would miss the leadership Liufau brings to the huddle, Montez has already proven capable of leading the unit in his absence.
2. Multi-Purpose Weapon Victor Bolden Jr.
Despite posting a Pac-12-worst 4.78 yards per play through its first three games, Oregon State will have opportunities to score thanks to Bolden. The 5-foot-9, 183-pound wide receiver is one of the most exciting players in the Pac-12 and is capable of taking it the distance any time he touches the ball.
Bolden has 13 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown so far this season. He is the only player in the nation with two scores of more than 90 yards. Against Idaho State, the senior took a handoff 92 yards to the end zone, and then scored on a 99-yard kickoff return against Boise State last week. Bolden also is one of only five FBS players to score touchdowns rushing, receiving and on a kick return thus far.
3. An Unfamiliar Role for Colorado
College football fans of a certain age remember when Colorado was an annual conference and national championship contender, but the Buffaloes have had it rough for several years. In fact, Colorado is looking to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2007. However, a 3-1 start means the Buffs are halfway there and the strong start has led to another unfamiliar role: Colorado is favored in a Pac-12 matchup.
It is just the third time in 47 games since joining the league that the Buffs have been favored to win by Las Vegas and offshore oddsmakers, and it is the first time Colorado has been favored by more than three points since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. Going back to their Big 12 days, the Buffaloes have been a favorite in just four of their last 65 conference games.
Colorado looks much improved in 2016. With both Sefo Liufau and Steven Montez at the helm, the Buffaloes have averaged 42.3 points and 523.3 total yards per game this year, both of which rank among the top 25 teams in the country. Wide receivers Devin Ross (25 receptions, 355 yards, 5 TDs); Shay Fields (14, 291, 2); and Bryce Bobo (13, 228, TD) are big reasons why Colorado has averaged an impressive 6.38 yards per play.
Perhaps most impressive is that the Buffaloes lead the Pac-12 and rank in the top 25 nationally in total defense (306.5 ypg) and yards allowed per play (4.57). The unit also has forced seven turnovers and recorded nine sacks.
Oregon State, meanwhile, has played tough against two quality non-conference opponents, yet still ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in total offense (340.7 ypg). The Beavers have averaged just 3.92 rushing yards per attempt and 197.0 passing yards per game – both of which rank next to last among conference teams – and have posted the league’s worst QB rating (114.96).
While the hangover effect of last week’s huge win could make Colorado a little groggy early, the Buffaloes are for once an undoubtedly superior team heading into an important Pac-12 battle. Expect the Buffs to move to 2-0 in the conference for the first time and take another step towards bowl eligibility.
Prediction: Colorado 35, Oregon State 17
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.