What's the biggest reason for Colorado's turnaround?
Adam Munsterteiger: Staff upgrades the last two years -- bringing in Jim Leavitt as the new defensive coordinator in 2015 and the hiring of Darrin Chiaverini as co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach this past off-season -- have helped a lot, but the biggest factor in the Buffs' improvement this fall is the fact this is a more experienced football team.
The 412 combined starts on Colorado's roster entering the 2016 season were the most in school history. Mike MacIntyre came in and resurrected this program the right way, and his first important task was fixing the attrition issue.
For far too long there seemed to be a revolving door with players transferring out at the first sign of adversity. MacIntyre kept the players in the program and his staff developed them over time.
Ten of the 11 starters on the defensive side of the ball are upperclassmen and, offensively, the new up-tempo pace at altitude has helped Colorado become a really tough team to play in Boulder.
Who are Colorado's top playmakers on both sides of the ball?
Junior running back Phillip Lindsay has come into his own this season and currently ranks third in the conference in rushing yards behind Christian McCaffrey and Myles Gaskin. He is only 5-foot-8, 180-pounds, but Lindsay's nicknamed the Tasmanian Devil because he runs with reckless abandon.
Colorado has three talented receivers in Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross. They almost seem to take turns in having breakout games. All three have between 495 and 602 receiving yards through nine games.
The strength of Colorado's defense is its cover corners, seniors Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon. Being able to put them on an island and play man-to-man coverage allows Leavitt to be more aggressive with his calls.
Senior Josh Tupou is kind of the unsung hero of the Buffaloes' defense, which has improved from 10th in the conference in rushing yards allowed in 2015 to second in that category this fall. Tupou is a space-eating 325-pounder that mans the nose tackle role on Colorado's three-man defensive line.
He has been playing at an all-conference level this season, as has senior inside linebacker Kenneth Olugbode, who leads the team in tackles by a fairly wide margin.
How has Sefo Liufau progressed as a quarterback?
Liufau was playing fantastic football early on this season, and is still in the top five in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency, but he has regressed the last two games against Stanford and UCLA. He has been having accuracy issues, which he wasn't earlier in the season, and he turned the ball over three times against the Bruins last Thursday.
One area of Liufau's game that has been consistent has been his ability to gain yards on the ground. He is not the type of dual-threat that will break off 20-plus yard runs or have 100 rushing yards for a game, but he'll consistently pick up 5-15 yards when he decides to take off.
As a fourth-year starter, Liufau has a lot of experience and that allows him to diagnose things at the line of scrimmage that not many college quarterbacks can. He is the first third-year captain in the program in over 100 years.
How has the offense changed since last season?
As I mentioned briefly earlier, Darrin Chiaverini was hired away from Lubbock as the new co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach this past winter and he brought with him some of the concepts of the Texas Tech air-raid offense, including the up-tempo aspect of the Red Raiders' offense.
In the past under co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Lindgren, who still calls the plays from the press box on game days, the Buffs would be primarily in three-receiver sets. Now they play a lot with four-receivers out on the field at the same time.
Are there any injuries of note?
The Buffs lost two starters earlier in the season – outside linebacker Derek McCartney (torn ACL) and place kicker Diego Gonzalez (ruptured Achilles tendon) – but they are relatively healthy going into this Saturday's game. Junior Sam Kronshage, one of two players that rotates at right tackle, has been dealing with a shoulder injury and might not play against the Wildcats.
What is your prediction and why?
I thought this was going to be a much better Wildcats team this season. The combination of Arizona's struggles with red zone offense, creating takeaways, and on third down both offensively and defensively, has kind of created a perfect negative storm for a team with some talent.
I still think the Wildcats find a way to win a conference game or two down the stretch. That said, Colorado controls its own destiny and has a good chance to win the Pac-12 South division. This is a veteran group that is really focused on achieving that goal.
The Buffs' defense is so good it allows them to make mistakes and struggle at times on offense, like in the last two games, and still come out with a win. I will actually take the Wildcats to slightly cover the 16-point spread. I'll say Colorado 31, Arizona 17.