The Cardinal (4-4, 3-3 Pac-12) come to Boulder on Saturday winners of three of their last four, after an uncharacteristic 1-3 start. When it appeared as though injuries and the most brutal schedule in college football would deny Stanford a bowl game for the first time since 2008, the Cardinal now need only to go .500 down the stretch to return to the postseason. Getting back one of their injured players, quarterback K.J. Costello, certainly helps.
Colorado (3-6, 1-5), meanwhile, opened the season 3-1, with two wins over then-ranked opponents. While Top 25 wins over Nebraska and Arizona State have lost some of their luster in the weeks since, the Buffs are left clamoring for any win. They've lost five straight, and the bowl game that once looked like a certainty under first-year coach Mel Tucker now hinges on a perfect 3-0 finish.
Stanford at Colorado
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 9 at 3 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Stanford -3.5
When Stanford Has the Ball
With Costello sidelined at various points in the season, backup quarterback Davis Mills showed flashes of brilliance, most notably in a marquee win over Washington. Both were sidelined in a blowout loss to UCLA, however, as both the inexperience of third-string quarterback Jack West and the historic lack of depth on the offensive line were all too evident.
Head coach David Shaw got creative to find some more bodies for the front five, including moving over defensive end Dylan Boles and recruiting Cardinal track & field team member Jake Koffman. With Costello returning to the lineup on Oct. 26, Stanford's offense came to life in a 41-31 defeat of Arizona. Costello worked nicely with receiver Simi Fehoko, who had his breakout game in the Washington win.
Stanford's previously struggling run game has also found some legs. Cameron Scarlett's two best performances of the season came in the month of October.
While Arizona's defensive struggles should temper some exuberance about the resurgent Stanford offense, Colorado has struggled almost as mightily to slow opponents. The Buffs are giving up 37.3 points per game, with every opponent they've faced on the year notching at least 30.
When Colorado Has the Ball
Although its defense has struggled, Colorado's offense has electrified this season. Wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. has dealt with nagging injuries, but he still ranks in the conference's top 10 in receiving yardage. Tony Brown and K.D. Nixon have both been reliable and explosive. Veteran quarterback Steven Montez's up-and-down play has been mostly up, but an offensively anemic performance against UCLA prompted quarterback questions. Tucker told reporters this week that Montez would remain the man behind center, but it will be interesting to see how long his slack is with young, dual-threat quarterback Blake Stenstrom waiting in the wings.
Stanford's defense isn't the behemoth it once was, but the Cardinal do feature one of the most aggressive pass-rushers in the Pac-12 in Casey Toohill. If he can get into the backfield and rattle Montez early, it could be a long afternoon for the Buffs offense.
To lead USC for 42 minutes and lose, as it did on Oct. 25, could be a deflating moment in Colorado's season. That certainly appeared to be the case with a lackluster effort last week against UCLA. Returning home could provide a boost, but the Buffs will face a Stanford team, fresh from its bye week, that is on the opposite trajectory.
Prediction: Stanford 38, Colorado 28
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.