USATodaySports/Snook Q&A with Colorado expert Adam Munsterteiger with No. 20 Washington State squaring off against No. 12 Colorado

THE COLORADO DEFENSE ranks No. 9 in the land in scoring defense. For an in-depth look at what Luke Falk and the Cougars will face on Saturday in Boulder (12:30 pm, Fox) we asked Colorado expert Adam Munsterteiger of Buff Stampede to break it all down. Pick the No. 1 on-the-field aspect responsible for Colorado's head-turning turnaround this year.

Staff upgrades the last two years -- CU bringing in Jim Leavitt as the new defensive coordinator in 2015, and the hiring of Darrin Chiaverini as co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach this past off-season have helped a lot.  But the biggest factor in the Buffs' improvement this fall: this is a more experienced football team.

That experience shows up on the field every week. The 412 combined starts on Colorado's roster entering the 2016 season were the most in school history.

Mike MacIntyre came in and resurrected this program the right way, and his first important task was fixing the attrition issue. For far too long, there seemed to be a revolving door with players transferring out at the first sign of adversity. MacIntyre kept the players in the program and his staff developed them over time.

Ten of the 11 starters on the defensive side of the ball are upperclassmen and, offensively, the new up-tempo pace at altitude has helped Colorado become a really tough team to play in Boulder. The Colorado defense has been among the nation's best, and most casual fans have heard a lot about its linebackers and defensive backs. But talk about the CU defensive line and the overall scheme, drop some X's and O's on our readers. For starters, how much does Colorado like to blitz?

The fact Colorado has two senior cover corners and a talented sophomore corner allows Jim Leavitt to be fairly aggressive as a defensive coordinator in terms of blitzing.

And senior outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert has been able to get pressure in one-on-one situations off the edge. He has 8 1/2 sacks.

The Buffaloes run a 3-4 base where those big bodies up front are required to take on blockers and let the linebackers be the stars. Senior Josh Tupou is kind of the unsung hero of a Colorado defense that has improved 70 spots nationally in rushing defense and 73 spots in total defense over 2015.

Tupou is a space-eating 325-pound nose tackle. He helps make inside linebacker Kenneth Olugbode look like an all-conference player.  What is the most important matchup on offense, and defense, in your mind for WSU-Colorado -- the ones that on paper should have the most impact on which teams gets the W. Or is it something to do with special teams?

It is the Pac-12's best passing offense versus the conference's top pass defense so that is a matchup that should be a real treat to watch. Colorado is giving up an average of just 176.9 yards per contest through the air, while the Cougars are racking up 385.5 passing yards a game. I expect that to be a back-and-forth battle with Luke Falk (pictured above vs. Colorado in 2015) making some plays with his arm, but this will be the toughest test he has faced this season.

On the other side, the play of Colorado's offensive line against a scrappy, athletic Washington State defensive line is a key matchup I look to when previewing this game. Starting left guard Gerrad Kough, one of the Buffs' best offensive linemen, is likely to be out this Saturday due to an ankle injury. Colorado's offense is ranked highly (in the 30s nationally) for running, passing and total offense. But until last week vs. Arizona, it had sputtered in the prior two games. How do Colorado fans feel about the O headed into Saturday vs. Wazzu and who are the players on offense CougFans should watch for?

Yeah, quarterback Sefo Liufau's production took a step back in those previous two games against Stanford and UCLA, which featured two formidable defensive backfields. And the Cardinal got healthy in their defensive backfield for that game. Liufau was missing some easy throws but seemed to get back on track a little bit last week.

It has been a little hard to predict which Liufau is going to show up throughout his college career in terms of  accuracy but he is a good field general as a four-year starter and three-year captain.

Junior Phillip Lindsay is just 63 yards away from reaching 1,000 rushing yards this season, which would mark the first time since 2010 that Colorado has had a 1,000-yard back. He is only 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, but Lindsay's nickname is the Tasmanian Devil because he runs with reckless abandon.

Colorado has three talented receivers in Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross. They almost seem to take turns in having breakout games. All three have between 514 and 710 receiving yards through 10 contests.  What players that you haven't already talked about on D merit mention and that Cougar fans need to know about.

The strength of Colorado's defense is its cover corners, seniors Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon.

Awuzie is a versatile, consistent, sure-tackling senior that will projects to be drafted by some NFL team around the third round. Witherspoon leads the conference in passes defended.

Senior safety Tedric Thompson also has the propensity to make big plays. Earlier this season he became the 13th player in program history to intercept 10 or more career passes. What's your WSU-Colorado prediction, including score.

While I could see either team coming out with a win on Saturday, I'd be surprised if either team won in blowout fashion. Washington State's strength matches up with Colorado's strength, so I expect it to be like two heavyweight fighters trading blows. The tiebreaker for me is the Buffaloes' home field advantage. MacIntyre's squad has played stellar football in its home state this season. I'll say Colorado 38, Washington State 35.

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