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Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, left, who lead the country in all-purpose yards (244.2 per game), will be playing in his home state for the first time as a college player.
Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, left, who lead the country in all-purpose yards (244.2 per game), will be playing in his home state for the first time as a college player.

Key matchup

CU linemen vs. Stanford linemen

Stanford is wellknown for its tough, physical style of play, especially in the trenches. For several years, the Cardinal have worn opponents out with their offensive and defensive lines. CU has to match Stanford’s effort up front, on both sides of the ball. If Stanford dominates up front, CU has no shot to win this game. If the Buffs hold their own, they could find themselves in position for an upset when the fourth quarter rolls around.

Buffaloes at a glance

Record: 4-5 (1-4 Pac-12); lost at UCLA, 35-31, last week.

Statistical leaders

Passing — Sefo Liufau, Jr.: 198 of 319, 2,199 yards, 9 TD, 5 INT.

Rushing — Phillip Lindsay, So.: 102 carries, 489 yards, 5 TD.

Receiving — Nelson Spruce, Sr.: 62 catches, 653 yards, 2 TD.

Tackles — Rick Gamboa, Fr.: 59 tackles (32 solo).

3 questions facing CU

1. How will the Buffs hold up in the trenches?

The Buffs have been very inconsistent up front, both with the offensive and defensive lines. At times, such as last week at UCLA, they look much more physical than the opponent. At other times, they’ve been manhandled. Both lines have to be strong against Stanford, which is known for its strength up front.

2. Can the defense limit big plays?

For the most part, CU was the better team against UCLA last week. A big reason the Bruins won was their ability to deliver big plays. CU gave up seven plays of 24 yards or more, including an 82-yard touchdown run. Stanford has the ability to burn the Buffs on the big plays, too, and CU has to keep those plays to a minimum.

3. Will the Buffs avoid self-inflicted wounds?

The theme in most of CU’s losses this year is the high number of unforced mistakes it has made. From costly turnovers to blown assignments to penalties, CU has piled up a bunch of mistakes in just about every loss. Stanford is capable of burying the Buffs if those mistakes pile up this week.

Bottom line: CU players and coaches still believe they can achieve bowl eligibility, but to do that, they’ve got to win three of the next four games. That means pulling off a couple of upsets, and this would be the biggest upset of them all. Stanford is probably the best team on CU’s schedule this season, which means the Buffs likely have to play their best game of the season.

Cardinal at a glance

Record: 7-1 (6-0 Pac-12); beat Washington State, 30-28, last week.

Statistical leaders

Passing — Kevin Hogan, Sr.: 116 of 178, 1,662 yards, 14 TD, 5 INT.

Rushing — Christian McCaffrey, So.: 175 rushes, 1,060 yards, 6 TD.

Receiving — McCaffrey: 25 catches, 310 yards, 2 TD.

Tackles — Blake Martinez, Sr.: 91 tackles (46 solo), 4.5 TFL.

3 questions facing Stanford

1. Can the defense get CU off the field?

Only five teams in the country run more plays per game than Colorado, but Stanford’s game is to limit the snaps by the opposition. Forcing three-and-outs, and limiting CU’s success on third downs will be key for the Cardinal. Stanford also has to play well in the red zone. Stanford ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in red zone defense, but CU is 12th in red zone offense.

2. How will Christian McCaffrey handle his homecoming?

McCaffrey leads the country in all-purpose yards (244.2 per game) and is on the short list of Heisman Trophy candidates because of his ability as a runner, receiver and returner. The sophomore will be playing in his home state for the first time, though, and will have a lot of family and friends in attendance. For some, the excitement of being home can be a negative. McCaffrey needs to make sure it’s a positive.

3. Will the Cardinal be focused?

Next week, Stanford will face its main Pac-12 competition from recent years, Oregon. That’s followed by a game with traditional rival California. And that’s followed by a game with another rival, Notre Dame — a game that could have national title implications. This game against Colorado is probably the only one left in which Stanford has to manufacture its energy. CU is becoming good enough to burn the Cardinal if they aren’t focused.

Bottom line: Stanford is a better football team than Colorado at this point. In fact, the Cardinal are better than most teams in the country. If they simply take care of business and do what they’ve done over the past seven weeks, there’s no reason they shouldn’t walk out of Boulder with a victory.

— Brian Howell

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