1) What does Colorado's offense look like without Liufau? Will he be able to go? What do they do if he can't?
Sefo Liufau will definitely be out of action this Saturday. He is actually sidelined for six-to-eight months with a mid-foot injury, which he had surgery to repair last week. His replacement is redshirt freshman Cade Apsay, who has made some nice throws in the last seven quarters, but the Buffs definitely miss Liufau's experience behind center and his ability to pick up yards on the ground in short yardage situations. In Apsay's first start last weekend, the Buffs only managed to score three points against a Washington State defense that had been giving up nearly 30 points per contest. Now, not all of that is on Apsay. Missed field-goals, dropped passes and untimely penalties on the offensive line plagued the Buffs in their most recent game. Apsay's strengths are his accuracy with short to intermediate throws. He quickly developed strong chemistry with Buffs receiver Nelson Spruce, the Pac-12's all-time receptions leader, as they connected 10 times in Pullman.
2) The Buffs have come up short a ton the last two seasons. How do they turn that around and get over the hump with a big win?
It is pretty simple: the Buffs need to make winning plays down the stretch. The last two seasons, Colorado has lost a total of seven Pac-12 games by one score or less. Aside from a road win against a terrible Oregon State team this season, the Buffs have shot themselves in the foot whenever they are on the cusp of closing out a conference game. Liufau had not proven the ability to close games at quarterback before getting hurt and Apsay is now just getting his feet wet and he has not yet shown the leadership ability to truly take charge of this offense.
3) Defensively, what does Colorado like to do? How will they try to slow the Utah rushing attack?
While the Buffaloes' defense is still very much a work in progress, it is a group that has shown marked improvement in its first year under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who came in with an impressive resume. The Buffs switched from a 4-3 base to more of a hybrid look that features three down linemen and a rush end. Junior nickel back Chidobe Awuzie is the Buffs' best defensive player and his versatility has allowed Leavitt to make calls that he otherwise wouldn't. You'll see Awuzie used both in coverage and as a pass rusher on Saturday. Run defense has been Colorado's Achilles heel on defense. They are giving up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground and rank 100th nationally in run defense. Last Saturday, Washington State running back Gerard Hicks became the Cougars first 100-yard rusher since 2010. So I'd imagine Joe Williams is licking his chops watching film this week.
4) Utah has forced a lot of turnovers this year. Can Colorado win if they lose the turnover battle?
Great question. Colorado has not proven it can win if it loses the turnover battle this season. The Buffs are 4-0 when they win the turnover battle and they are 0-8 when they tie or lose it. It was early in the season when they were creating more turnovers and taking care of the ball that they had their most success. Apsay threw two interceptions with no touchdowns against Washington State. If he does that again against the Utes, the Buffs have no shot at pulling off the upset in my opinion.
5) Is this an actual rivalry? How do the Colorado faithful view Utah?
No, while the Rumble in the Rockies is a catchy title, there is seemingly no real animosity between the Buffs and Utes, and their respective fan bases. Now, there have been some close contests between these two teams since they both joined the Pac-12. Colorado ruined Utah's chances of playing in the Pac-12 title game back in 2011 and in the Utes' last three victories over the Buffs, the average margin of victory has been just six points. But until the Buffs start closing out more of these Pac-12 games and earning some respect, I can't imagine Utah fans are going to be too fearful of the team from Boulder.