The Buffaloes open Pac-12 play against the winless Bruins on Friday night
The Buffaloes (3-0) look like a potential Pac-12 South title contender after rolling to wins over rivals Nebraska and Colorado State (and FCS opponent New Hampshire). Colorado is playing sharp on offense and seems vastly improved on defense from a season ago. With other Pac-12 South teams struggling early, making a second title run in three years suddenly doesn't seem that improbable for the Buffaloes.
UCLA (0-3) is one of four FBS teams left who still haven't won a game this season. The Bruins are off to their worst start since 1971. They have played uninspired football in all three phases in losses to Cincinnati, Oklahoma and Fresno State. Chip Kelly hasn't been able to work his offensive magic yet and the defense seems unable to get any stops when it actually matters.
UCLA leads the all-time series 10-3. The Bruins have won seven of their last eight games against the Buffaloes. Colorado's lone win in that stretch, a 20-10 result, came in 2016.
UCLA at Colorado
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. ET
Spread: Colorado -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Colorado's defense stay disruptive in Pac-12 play?
A strong defense powered Colorado's unexpected divisional title run in 2016. After struggles on that side of the ball last season, it appears that the Buffaloes have regained their defensive edge this fall.
Disruptive plays were the norm for Colorado against their non-conference opponents. The Buffaloes produced seven takeaways in their first three games. They produced 14 total takeaways a season ago. Colorado ranks second in the Pac-12 in turnovers gained, trailing only Stanford.
Not only are the Buffaloes making opponents cough up the ball, they are doing a good job of turning turnovers into points. Colorado's offense has scored four touchdowns following turnovers. The Buffaloes scored their first two touchdowns against Nebraska as a result of fumble recoveries. Their first score against FCS opponent New Hampshire was set up by an interception.
Nate Landman and Davion Taylor have led the way in takeaways. Landman has a pair of interceptions to his credit while Taylor has a pair of fumble recoveries.
2. Can UCLA resurrect its offense?
One reason why UCLA is still searching for a win is the lack of punch on offense. The Bruins have struggled with being one-dimensional in recent seasons, relying on passing while struggling with rushing. It has flipped flopped in the early stages of this season.
UCLA ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing offense, totaling just 189.0 yards per game through the air. As a result, the Bruins also find themselves last in the league in scoring offense. They are generating just 17.3 points per contest.
Michigan graduate transfer Wilton Speight was expected to keep UCLA's offense on steady ground following Josh Rosen's departure to the NFL. Speight, however, suffered a back injury in the opener against Cincinnati.
True freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson started at quarterback against Oklahoma and Fresno State. Thompson-Robinson showed promise against the Sooners, throwing for 256 yards and a touchdown while completing 62 percent of his passes. He took a step back against the Bulldogs, throwing for 151 yards and a pair of interceptions while completing just 42 percent of his passes.
3. Can the Bruins contain Steven Montez?
Several things are going right with Colorado's offense early in the season. The Buffaloes are moving down the field with equal doses of speed and efficiency. Thus far, they are averaging 494 yards and 41 points per game – ranking third in the Pac-12 in both categories.
Montez is a big reason for it. He has blossomed into an efficient passer early in the season. He has thrown for 855 yards, eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. The junior is completing a Pac-12-best 73 percent of his passes and has a QB rating of 173.64 through three games.
Montez is moving the offense quickly. More than 50 percent of Colorado's scoring drives have taken fewer than two minutes to reach the end zone. The Buffaloes are averaging 6.6 yards per play on first down and have produced 11 plays of 30 or more yards through three games.
UCLA has lost 10 straight road games against Pac-12 opponents. Given the disarray that the Bruins are experiencing on both sides of the ball, it doesn't seem like Colorado will be the team that will allow that streak to end. The Buffaloes are melding explosive offense and disruptive defense together with favorable results. Avoiding a fourth straight loss is going to be too difficult for UCLA to accomplish.
Prediction: Colorado 38, UCLA 20
— 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.