Looking ahead to Colorado

IT'S BEEN A while since Colorado and Washington State played a football game, a seven-year period of time when so much has changed for the two programs. That all changes this Saturday at 12:30 pm (TV: FCS, Line: Colorado by 3.)

It's a stretch to say Colorado used to be a national power, but it's hard to deny the Buffaloes were once considered a perennial top-20 program. They were regular Big 12 title contenders, won the 1990 national championship and played in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl.

And, it should be noted, that the Buffaloes are sort of a Cougar favorite in a twisted way…they allowed Washington to steal coach Rick Neuheisel, who after a fast start in Seattle, helped lead the Huskies to the lowest point in their program's history.

Since that 2004 game, Colorado has gone through three coaches, changed leagues and went into the 2011 Pac-12 season in contention for worst team in the league.

Meanwhile seven years ago, Washington State was coming off its best run in school history, three consecutive 10-win seasons. It was an easy time to get excited about Cougar football.

I probably don't need to remind you where the WSU program has been since 2004. Let's just say it now looks like there's promise for the future.

What's also changed is that Colorado-Washington State has gone from an interesting non-conference game to the Pac-12 opener for both schools. The last time the Cougars played a first-time league opponent was 1978, when WSU pounded Arizona State 51-26 in Spokane.

Welcome to the Pac-12, Sun Devils. The Cougars wouldn't mind a similar inaugural party Saturday in Boulder.

WIN OR LOSE, what's impossible for Washington State is to feel worse about a game than the Cougars did the last time they played Colorado. To say the Buffaloes were s bad team that September day in Seattle is a compliment. At times Colorado looked like the worst D-1 team on the planet, yet somehow escaped Qwest Field with a 20-12 win over Washington State.

Colorado scored its points on a blocked punt and an interception for touchdowns, and Mason Crosby field goals of 41 and 52 yards. The Buffaloes offense couldn't have been more inept, managing seven first downs and 125 yards of offense against the Cougars.

Washington State outgained Colorado by almost 300 yards, but its offense wasn't without misery, either, as Josh Swogger completed 6-of-27 passes before being replaced by Alex Brink. It wasn't just Swogger, as his receivers dropped passes at an alarming rate. Still, when you hold an opponent to 125 yards, you expect the first stringers to be able to join the tailgaters out in the parking lot by the third quarter.

Instead, everyone stuck around until the bitter end. And I mean bitter end: the Brink fumble at the Colorado 1 with 17 seconds remaining.

WHAT CAN WE expect this time around?

For starters, if the Cougars outgain Colorado by nearly 300 yards, they'll win this time. What WSU has in 2011 that it didn't have in 2004 is experience at quarterback. But that sort of dominance on the road is unlikely. Colorado (1-3) is a team the Cougars can beat, but the Buffaloes seem to play much better in Boulder than on the road.

In two home games this season, Colorado took California to overtime before losing -- then beat rival Colorado State 28-14. Even last year, a season that cost Dan Hawkins his job, the Buffaloes were formidable in Boulder, going 4-2, which included a win over Georgia and Hawaii. Even in defeat, Colorado lost by less than a touchdown to Baylor and Texas Tech.

Through four games, Colorado isn't among the country's top 20 in any major statistical category, although the Buffaloes are close in passing offense at No. 25, averaging 288 yards a game. So far, Colorado has proven to be a one-dimensional offense, with a running game that ranks 105th in the country. Quarterback Tyler Hansen has completed 83 of 150 passes for 1,150 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

Both teams have a prolific sophomore receiver. Colorado's Paul Richardson lit up California, catching 11 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns. For WSU, Marquess Wilson leads the country with an average of 143 receiving yards per game.

Washington State is 2-4 all time against Colorado, the two wins coming in 1981 (14-10) and 2003 (47-26).

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

Cougfan Top Stories