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UCLA Bruins vs. Colorado Buffaloes Preview and Prediction

Author:
Sefo Liufau

Sefo Liufau

Bowl eligibility never felt so sweet for Colorado.

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The No. 15 Buffaloes (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) clinched their first bowl appearance since 2007 with a 10-5 victory over Stanford two weeks ago and have a half-game lead over Utah and USC atop the Pac-12 South. Now Colorado can clinch its first winning season 2005 with a victory over UCLA on Thursday. It represents a radical turn from the Buffaloes' past fortunes since joining the league in 2011.

It is a much different story for the Bruins. UCLA (3-5, 1-4) finds itself mired in a three-game losing streak and desperate circumstances. The Bruins must win three of their next four games to avoid missing a bowl game for the first time since 2010.

UCLA leads the all-time series 9-2. The Bruins have won five straight games against Colorado, last falling to the Buffaloes 16-14 in 2003. Their last two victories over Colorado have come by a total of seven points.

UCLA at Colorado

Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 3 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Colorado -12

Three Things to Watch

1. Can UCLA find better offensive balance?
Josh Rosen is not walking through the door for UCLA again this season. The sophomore quarterback will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. This means that the Bruins will need to take some pressure off of senior Mike Fafaul if they hope to scratch out six wins and reach a bowl game this season.

Fafaul has been a capable passer in Rosen's absence. Against Utah, he set multiple single-game passing records. Fafaul threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns on 40-of-70 passing. The senior also threw four costly interceptions that helped the Utes walk away with a 52-45 victory.

UCLA's running game has gone into hibernation this season. The Bruins average just 85.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks last among all FBS teams. Utah limited UCLA to just 46 yards on 16 carries two weeks ago. In their last three games, the Bruins have totaled just 88 rushing yards.

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If UCLA can't find balance, it could prove costly. Colorado ranks first in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense (97.9 rating) and is second in pass defense (178.7 yards per game).

2. Will Phillip Lindsay produce a third straight 100-yard rushing game?
Over the last two games, Lindsay has taken a major leap forward for the Buffaloes. The junior rushed for 219 yards on 26 carries against Arizona State. He followed it up a week later with 131 yards on 12 carries against Stanford.

Through eight games, Lindsay has rushed for 745 yards and is averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He totaled just 653 yards over his entire sophomore season. His emergence has brought balance to Colorado's offense and is a catalyst for success. The Buffaloes are 5-0 when Lindsay gains 60 or more yards on the ground this season.

Lindsay is on pace to finish as Colorado's first 1,000-yard rusher since Rodney Stewart totaled 1,318 yards during his junior season in 2010. He would be just the fourth running back to hit 1,000 rushing yards for the Buffaloes since Rashaan Salaam's Heisman Trophy-winning season two decades ago.

3. Can Sefo Liufau regain his pre-injury form?
Injuries have limited Liufau's time on the field this season. He has appeared in six games and made five starts. When Liufau is on the field, however, the senior has proven to be an efficient and effective playmaker.

Liufau is the only current starting quarterback in the Pac-12 who has yet to throw an interception. The senior has totaled 1,179 passing yards while completing 67.4 percent of his passes. Liufau boasts a 157.9 passer rating, trailing only Washington’s Jake Browning and USC’s Sam Darnold in this category.

He has struggled a bit since coming back from injury. Liufau passed for only 135 yards and a touchdown on 12-of-25 passing after throwing for at least 200 yards in each of his other four starts this season. If Liufau can eclipse that 200-yard threshold on Thursday, Colorado's offense could surge back to its high-scoring ways again.

Final Analysis

UCLA finds itself in a desperate situation. The Bruins' one-dimensional offense has turned a promising season sour and they are now on the fringes of bowl eligibility. Colorado offers no real hope of relief from this dilemma. The Buffaloes no longer inhabit the Pac-12 cellar. They are a tough team on both sides of the ball and are in serious contention for a division title. Beating Colorado feels like too tall of an order for UCLA this season.

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Prediction: Colorado 30, UCLA 23

— 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.