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Colorado 101: Underrated no longer as the top two feel good stories in the Pac-12, the Cougs and Buffs, are on collision course

THE TWO FEEL GOOD STORIES of the Pac-12 are on a collision course. No. 20 Washington State and No. 12 Colorado square off in Boulder for the rights to conference supremacy. Here's Matt Moore's analysis and breakdown of WSU vs. Colorado.

While both the Cougs and Buffaloes sit alone atop their respective divisions, the odds are against them meeting again in the conference title game. WSU's fate in the North likely rests entirely on beating UW, while Colorado is in a position where they basically need to win out. The Buffs holds a precarious one game lead on USC and Utah, but they face the Utes next week and USC already owns the tiebreaker over CU. That makes Wazzu close to a must-win game for the Colorado. It is difficult to envision any scenario where Colorado wins the South if they don't beat the Cougs this week.
 
AT A GLANCE: No. 20 Cougars (8-2) at No. 12 Buffaloes (8-2)

KICKOFF:
12:30 p.m. PT

WHERE:
Folsom Field (50,183)

TV:
Fox

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Colorado by 4 1/2

LAST MEETING:
Washington State won 27-3 in Pullman in 2015.

THE SERIES:
Colorado leads 5-4.

MATT MOORE's PREDICTION:
Cougs 35, Buffaloes 30

THE BUFFALOES ON OFFENSE:
QB Sefo Liufau: It is a testament to the resiliency of this team they were able to lose Liufau to injury for a month and still hold onto first place. Steven Montez filled in admirably, but Liufau is the heart of the team. The senior from Tacoma has thrown for 1,535 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, but those numbers really don't do him justice. Liufau ranks No. 26 nationally in passing efficiency, and has also run for another 316 yards and three scores. He is the kind of player that just finds a way to beat you.

RB Phillip Lindsay: With two games to go, Lindsay is chasing only Christian McCaffrey and Myles Gaskin for the league rushing title. He has 937 ground yards and 13 scores. Lindsay is also a solid receiver out of the backfield with 37 catches for 311 yards and another touchdown.

WR Shay Fields: Fields is one of the better deep threats in the conference. He combines with Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross to give Liufau a solid array of targets. Fields leads the team with 710 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns.

Overview
Colorado doesn't have any truly elite playmakers, but what they lack in talent they more than make up for in effort and execution. Lindsay is a solid workhorse, and Liufau is one of the most experienced QBs in the country. CU runs a very balanced offense that averages 261 passing yards and 205 rushing yards per game.

Strategy
Shutting down the Colorado run game is key, but to do that the Cougs have to account for Liufau as a runner while still not getting burned on play action. Disciplined defenses have effectively held the Buffaloes in check, but once they get you off balance you are in trouble.

Key Stat
32 ppg in conference play: Colorado's offensive production has been solid but inconsistent, varying greatly depending on the quality of opponent. This is partly because there is such a huge gap this year between the good defenses and bad defenses in the Pac-12. The Buffalo offense has averaged 44 points per game against defenses ranked No. 8 in the conference or below. When the Buffs have faced defense ranked seventh or higher, that production has dropped to just 16 points per game.  WSu ranks No. 7 in total defense and No. 6 in scoring defense.

THE BUFFALOES ON DEFENSE:
OLB Jimmy Gilbert: An outstanding edge rusher who has nine sacks this season. At 6-5, 230 pounds, he is fairly lanky for a linebacker but Colorado's beef on the interior line has allowed him to keep his focus more on pass defense.

CB Chidobe Awuzie: Awuzie is one of the premiere cornerbacks in the country. He has only one of CU's 12 interceptions this year, but quarterbacks don't test him that often.

Overview
Coordinator Jim Leavitt's defense is one of the better coached units in the conference. They know their assignments and rarely miss tackles. Their base defense is a 3-4 with an enormous defensive front averaging 310 pounds. It makes them stout against the run (No. 29 nationally) but they also have some outstanding cornerbacks which has kept them ranked No. 4 nationally in pass efficiency defense.

Strategy
The Buffs’ defense has been outstanding against the pass, but they also really have not faced an elite quarterback this year. Awuzie will likely be guarding Gabe Marks (pictured above) putting a lot of pressure on the Cougs other receivers in the absence of River Cracraft. Cougar QB Luke Falk will have his hands full, and protecting him will be key. Colorado ranks third in the conference in sacks and as most Coug fans remember, CU was the team that knocked out Falk last season before the Apple Cup.

Key Stat
17.9 ppg: Colorado is tied with Washington for the top scoring defense in the conference. The Buffs don't give up points easily -- but they have had the luxury of having faced only one of the top five offenses in the Pac-12. That team was No. 4 Oregon, and the Ducks racked up 41 points on them.

THE BUFFALOES ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Starting kicker Diego Gonzales was lost for the year to injury. Davis Price and Chris Graham have filled in adequately in his place, going 10-15 on field goals, but the Buffs are not particularly confident in their kicking game.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
-Nobody was more surprised by CU’s turnaround season than the oddsmakers. CU is 9-1 against the spread this year.

-On the surface, this game means less to WSU than CU, as the Cougs’ Rose Bowl fortunes appear to ride on the Apple Cup. But in a conference where the bowl selection committees have a ton of flexibility on their invitations, a loss in the Apple Cup, but a win against Colorado, could well be the difference between a great bowl and a bowl that would be seen as less than ideal given WSU’s season that includes, to date, eight straight wins.

RELATED STORY: CF.C practice report, who fills Cracraft's spot?


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