The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Buffs

THE PREMIER GAME on the Pac-12 schedule this week, No. 20 Washington State at No. 12 Colorado, will be fiercely contested before the clock even starts. Cougar RB Jamal Morrow has won 19 coin tosses over his WSU career. Colorado is 9-1 on coin tosses this season. Something's gotta give.

This game could also be the first of a two-game series. The same two could square off again 13 days later -- Dec. 2  in the Pac-12 title game.

COLORADO's SEASON:  Wins over Colorado State, Idaho State, Oregon, OSU, ASU, Stanford, UCLA, Arizona. Losses to Michigan, USC. ESPN pegs the Buffs at No. 2 in its Pac-12 power rankings, just ahead of UW.  WSU is No. 1.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.  The media focus will be on a trio of Colorado offensive playmakers: QB Sefo Liufau (now healthy) RB Phillip Lindsay and WR Shay Fields, all of whom are having impressive seasons. But make no mistake: its defense is what has Colorado soaring this season. Linebackers Jimmie Gilbert (sack machine) and Kenneth Olugbode (tackling machine) might keep Cougar DC Alex Grinch up nights this week. But Chidobe Awuzie is CU's lockdown corner and that's led to opponents trying to attack Witherspoon, who in turn has won the majority of the battles. Saturday's tilt promises a fascinating chess match between the Cougar receiving corps and the CU defensive backs, and it could turn on who wins or loses the battles with Witherspoon.

• KICKOFF: Saturday, 12:30 pm Pacific
• THE LINE: Buffs by 4 (CU opened as 4 1/2 point favorite)
• THE RECORDS: Cougs 8-2/7-0; Buffaloes 8-2/6-1
• THE SERIES: Colorado leads 5-4
• THE RANKINGS: Cougs No. 20 in AP, Coaches polls.  Colorado No. 12 in both polls.

THE COACHES: Mike MacIntyre entered the season on the hot seat, he might end it on a throne Boulder builds for him.  After going 10-27 his first three seasons at CU, with just two Pac-12 wins, he's led the Buffs to an 8-2 mark in Year Four.  Prior to CU, MacIntyre was 16-21 in three seasons at San Jose State. Mike Leach is in his fifth year at WSU and has the Cougars in line for a Pac-12 title game berth if the Cougs win the Apple Cup. The Cougars will play in their third bowl invitation under his direction. Over the last two seasons, WSU is 13-3 in Pac-12 play under Leach.

LAST SEASON: No. 24 Washington State beat Colorado 27-3 but it was a painful win. Luke Falk was carted off the field in the third quarter after suffering a concussion and subsequently missed the Apple Cup.  Gerard Wicks rushed for 123 yards against the Buffs last year -- and that was a national headline grabber back then. Wicks against CU in '15 became the Cougs' first 100-yard rusher under Mike Leach, and the first Cougar since James Montgomery in 2010 against Montana State.  Meanwhile, the Cougar D picked off the Buffs' backup QB twice in the win, with Liufau out injured. 

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Colorado nationally ranks t-9th in scoring defense and No. 12 in total defense. The Buffs are No. 2 nationally in red zone defense, No. 4 nationally in passing efficiency defense and 18th in turnover margin.  CU ranks 29th nationally against the run.

In total offense, Colorado ranks 33rd in total offense, 37th in rushing offense and 39th in passing offense.  Colorado ranks 116th in net punting.

The Cougs rank No. 2 nationally in passing offense and first downs, and No. 8 in scoring offense.  WSU is t-7th in turnover margin, 13th in passing efficiency and 46th in red zone offense.

On defense, Wazzu is No. 43 in scoring defense and No. 50 in total defense.  Its rushing defense is No. 19 in the land, and 114th in passing yards allowed (271.6).  WSU ranks 96th in net punting.

FAMILIAR FACES:  The most notable is Liufau, a senior out of Tacoma's Bellarmine Prep.  The only other state of Washington player listed on CU's roster is LB Drew Lewis/Sammamish.  On the coaching staff, Brian Lindgren (co-OC/QBs) is from Walla Walla and set the state prep passing record for most touchdown passes in a game (9) while at DeSales Catholic High.

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