Ron Chenoy/USA Today

Stanford-Colorado Preview with the Boulder Daily Camera's Brian Howell

Brian Howell of the Boulder Daily Camera stops by to discuss Stanford's tilt with the Buffaloes on Saturday.

In a half-season of Pac-12 breakthroughs, no team has made bigger strides than Stanford's next opponent.

South Division-leading Colorado hasn't played in a bowl since 2007. Coming into this season, The Buffaloes owned a mere five Pac-12 wins, by far the fewest of any team since the 2011 expansion year (Cal's 13 was the next worst).

Colorado's 2016 success has surprised many, even those who follow the team for a living. Boulder Daily Camera beat writer Brian Howell admitted as much in his second straight visit to Opposing Views.

1. As someone who's watched this team grow over the last several years, how much does Colorado's progress this year surprise you? I remember last year you said the biggest difference in the team from Mike McIntyre's first season (2013) was its attitude. What factors have contributed to this team's hot start this season?

The fact that they are winning more games does not surprise me at all. I predicted this team to go 7-5 and reach a bowl game for the first time in nine years. What does surprise me is how well they’ve played well week in and week out. They’ve had chances to win both games they lost and they’ve been fairly dominant in most of their wins. They are much more confident – although not arrogant – than they’ve ever been and they have an amazing drive to succeed. Certainly, they are bigger, stronger and faster than they’ve been in the past, but the most impressive aspect of this team is how they’ve relied on their experience and maturity to focus week to week on the task at hand.

2. Talk about how Colorado fits into the "breakthrough" theme of the Pac-12 so far this year. The Buffs (no bowl since 2007) look very impressive, much like Washington (first Top 5 rank since 2001) and Washington State (first 3-0 start in conference play since 2003). How long has it been since Colorado has played at this high a level at this point of the season? How confident are you they can keep it going and win the South?

To me, Colorado is the biggest surprise in the Pac-12 this year. Everybody expected Washington and Washington State to be good, but outside of Boulder, almost nobody saw this coming from Colorado. This is the best football they’ve played the first part of the 2005 season. They started that year 7-2 and actually won the Big 12 North division that year, but lost their last four in ugly fashion. I don’t see that happening with this team. I don’t know if they will win the South, but they will certainly be in the race. I really think the South could come down to the final weekend when Utah visits Boulder.

3. Defensively, the pass rush (19 sacks, one sack fewer than Stanford, good for third in the Pac-12, is a far cry from a group that was so lacking just recently. How would you rate it among the CU defense's biggest strengths? How big a factor has it been to the team's 5-2 start?

Their pass rush is hit and miss, really. They had five of those sacks last week against ASU, in part because Manny Wilkins couldn’t move. It’s a better pass rush than CU has had in the past, though, and it’s been a key to the 5-2 start. I think the secondary is right up there with Washington as the best in the Pac-12. With a strong secondary and a solid pass rush, they complement each other very well.

4. Washington State exploited Stanford with an armada of sure-handed receivers and the consistent accuracy of Luke Falk. For Washington, Jake Browning had virtually all day to throw. How do you compare Sefo Liufau's the Colorado passing game/pass protection to what those teams offered?

I haven’t watched Washington a ton, but I know they were dominant against Stanford. I’m not sure CU will give Liufau that much time, but they have done a really good job most of the season with their pass protection. They had a bad game up front against USC and could never get in a rhythm with the passing game, but then responded with their best game of the year against ASU’s relentless pass rush. If Liufau has time, I think he can have a huge day, because the CU receivers are exceptional and he’s been sharp on his throws all season.

5. Care for a prediction?

Stanford hasn’t played well lately, but I think the Cardinal know they have five very winnable games to finish the conference season, and they  might look at this as a chance to get on a roll. Something tells me Stanford will play well. It’ll be a great game, but I think CU falls in this one, 27-23.

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