It's Colorado's 3rd year in the Pac-12, but thanks to the conference's inter-division rotation, Oregon St. hasn't encountered the Buffs yet in football. Indeed, the Beavers and Buffs have only ever met 5 times, and not since 1988, when Eric Bienemy and Eric Wilhelm were the dueling stars.
So not surprisingly, the teams and their fans know less about each other than any other matchup in the conference.
Compounding the problem, the Buffs haven't played since Sept. 7, after a flood in the Boulder area and on campus washed away their scheduled game against Fresno St. With a bye already on the Colorado schedule before they kick off their 2013 conference campaign, new head coach Mike MacIntyre, who took over this year after successfully turning the San Jose St. program around, is in about the same boat, unsure of how the Buffs will bolt out of the gate into Reser Stadium Saturday at noon.
Thanks, Jon, for helping illuminate Beaver Nation about the Buffs!
Here's what Jon had to ask, and our thoughts in response.
Now lets get down to the nitty gritty about the Buffs!
BTD: The flooding that forced the cancellation of the Fresno St. game immediately before Colorado had a bye created an unusual situation of 20 days between games. The Buffs were coming off back to back 2 touchdown wins, and regardless of the competition, that translates to momentum, so the double bye has to really be the last thing anyone in Boulder wanted. Will the Buffs be "barn sour" after the long layoff? What has head coach Mike MacIntyre and his staff done to deal with it?
RR: The number one question Buffs fans have heading into Saturday's game is how will this team perform on the road after so much time off. It's certainly shorter than some of the breaks before bowl games but we haven't exactly been able to see the Buffs in a whole lot of those lately. Coach Mac and the staff have been doing everything they can to keep the team "game ready" while preparing them for the Beavers, but there's only so much you can do to simulate actual game speed, especially with a team that doesn't quite have the quality depth that other Pac-12 schools may have.
The one area that CU has definitely benefited is health. The Buffs have had time to heal from some of the bumps and bruises from weeks one and two and head into this game nearly 100%.
BTD: Looking at the Buffs first two games, and the NCAA stats, it appears we have 2 teams that are actually strikingly similar; a hot quarterback that's throwing surprisingly well given their recent history, on a team that would like to run the ball, but hasn't really been able to. (Oregon St. is 3rd in the country in passing yards per game, and Colorado is 7th, and the Buffs are 110th in rushing yards per game, and the Beavs 121st.) Is there any reason to believe either team will bother to run the ball very much, or will it just be a gunfight between Connor Wood and Sean Mannion from the get go?
RR: While the Buffs are definitely going to continue trying to move the ball through the air, they absolutely will put some effort into getting the ground game going. The offensive line hasn't been great at creating space, especially at the second level, but one would have to assume that it has been a huge emphasis over the past three weeks of practice. Christian Powell has had time to recover from some bumps and bruises and has to be considered as close to 100% as he's going to get.
BTD: When Colorado does run the ball, it appears that they are splitting the carries between Tony Jones and Christian Powell. Compare and contrast what the two bring to the game, and when we are likely to see each.
RR: They're night and day different. Powell is a big, bruising fullback-type with decent speed and surprisingly quick feet while Jones is a small, speedster type who has had inconsistent success catching the ball on screens. Because the run game hasn't worked very well so far we're still a bit in the dark as to how the coaching staff would really like to interchange the two.
BTD: Wood, not unlike Mannion, has gone in short order from being in a competition to figure out who would play to being the obvious leader of the offense. What did Wood do to bring about his relatively sudden emergence? Are you satisfied with him as the quarterback?
RR: Wood has talked at length about the difference that this coaching staff has made for his confidence on the field and his understanding of the offense. On top of that, the return of Paul Richardson coupled with the maturation of Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch have given him (and any other quarterback that may have taken the reins) infinitely better options than Jordan Webb and company had to work with last year. Wood and Richardson have formed some nice chemistry together and it's opening up space for the rest of the receivers.
Through the first two games I would assume that most Buff fans are very happy with what they have seen.
BTD: Those who had seen Paul Richardson before were expecting him to have a huge season, and a huge impact on the Colorado offense. But between the relative isolation of the 2 schools, and the fact that they missed each other in the first 2 years of the Buffs being in the Pac, most members of Beaver Nation aren't very aware of him. Has he really made as huge a difference in the Buffs' offense as it appears? If so, how? Is it that much about his speed? Or are there other factors?
RR: The speed is huge and it's what made Paul so special two years ago, but it's his other skills as a receiver that have made the difference for Paul. Looking at how he has improved during his season off it's pretty clear that he is beginning to learn and do the things that make receivers move from good to great. The fact that he has a quarterback that can consistently get him the ball doesn't hurt either...
BTD: Turning to the defense, what kind of schemes do the Buffs run? Who should Oregon St. fans be watching for Saturday?
RR: Addison Gillam, the true freshman middle linebacker, has been something of a revelation early on, racking up 21 total tackles in 2 games (highest per game average in the Pac-12), and cornerbacks Greg Henderson and Kenneth Crawley have been fantastic so far. How the secondary performs against Mannion and the Beavers is going to decide the outcome of this game. On the defensive line, Chidera Uzo-Diribe will be the guy who keeps Mannion from having the time he wants to throw. At least we hope...
BTD: Is there anything or anyone on Colorado's special teams opponents must watch and account for?
RR: Punter Darragh O'Neill was probably Colorado's best player last season and can make a big impact in the game if given the opportunity. But with the way these two teams have played so far he may not get too many opportunities.
BTD: It's still very early, but do you sense coach MacIntyre is the right guy to turn things around in Boudler? What concerns remain? What does he have to do, and when, to have a successful turn-around?
RR: Personally, I do. I feel very good about Coach Mac from everything that I have seen and heard from him to date. As far as concerns it's pretty hard to say two games into the season.
BTD: We've heard about facilities improvements, like an indoor practice field, are in the works, which should help Colorado with both recruiting and preparation. Coming from the Big XII though, it was surprising to hear so much still needed to be done. Is (or was) revenue sharing that inequitable in the Big XII? Or were there other reasons Colorado fell behind? How are things looking at this point?
RR: There's a laundry list of reasons that this athletic department has struggled like it has, and I won't bore you with a 5,000-word dissertation on what has led to this point. The Hawkins and Embree hires were huge misses and it hurt (after recruiting was already hurting).
The resurgence of the men's basketball program has been big for the University but they need the football team to pull their weight as well. It's getting better in Boulder, but there's still a long road ahead.
BTD: I presume Ralphie isn't making the trip, but will Beaver Nation see many Buff fans in town or at the game this week? Will most be alumni living in the northwest (there was a decent contingent that showed up for last winter's basketball game), or do Buff fans travel pretty well, even given the rough couple of recent seasons?
RR: To be completely honest I'd be rather surprised if there was a big contingent of Buffs fans in town. We have a decent amount that travel for most road games, but I'd imagine the numbers for this one will be below average. It's because of the large number of alums in California that there are usually really good numbers for any of the games in Southern or Northern Cali.
Thanks a lot Jon! That takes a lot of the mystery out of things!
It should be an interesting day Saturday, and an interesting trip to Boulder next year, as Oregon St. gets to know Colorado better.