Andy Cross / The Denver Post
CU vs. USC
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Folsom Field
TV/radio: PAC12 / 850 AM, 94.1 FM
Trying to balance playing time at running back or right tackle is one thing.
Trying to balance time at quarterback is more of a challenge, though, and while excitement continues to build around the Colorado football team, it’s a challenge facing the 21st-ranked Buffaloes (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) as they prepare for Saturday’s visit to Southern California (2-3, 1-2).
Senior Sefo Liufau is still recovering from a right ankle sprain he sustained on Sept. 17 at Michigan, but on Monday, head coach Mike MacIntyre said, “Sefo practiced today a little bit more and did well.”
When Liufau is healthy — and it could be in time for Saturday’s game — the Buffs must decide whether he returns to the starting role, or whether they continue to run with redshirt freshman Steven Montez, who has been stellar in directing back-to-back wins.
“It’s an interesting situation,” said Brian Lindgren, CU’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “We have to be able to determine as a staff who gives us the best chance. Who is the best guy and who gives us the best chance to win each Saturday?
“We have to evaluate the health of Sefo and see if he’s 100 percent, and if he is 100 percent we’ve got to make that decision.”
It won’t be an easy decision to make, because both players have been sensational this season.
Liufau, the program’s all-time leading passer and one of five captains, was in the midst of his best season before the injury and ranks among the most efficient quarterbacks in the country.
Montez shook off a poor game at Michigan, when he went 0-for-7 in relief of Liufau, and has led CU to wins against Oregon and Oregon State.
Both have been named Pac-12 offensive player of the week this season.
“I don’t call it a problem. I call it a great thing,” MacIntyre said. “You’ve got two quarterbacks that you know you can win with, and to me that’s really good. There’s a lot of schools that don’t know that, or wish they did.”
CU didn’t know it, either, until two weeks ago when Montez played lights out at Oregon.
With two talented quarterbacks, coaches have to look at every aspect of each one before making a decision.
The two are similar in stature — Liufau is 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, while Montez is 6-foot-5, 225 — and both are capable of beating teams with the run or pass.
“The biggest difference is I think Sefo has more game experience and is a little bit more consistent as a decision maker,” Lindgren said.
Montez, on the other hand, has proven to be better at improvising, in part because of his inexperience in decision making.
“He brings a play-making aspect a little bit when things break down,” Lindgren said. “He’s done some things where either it’s not open or he made the wrong read and then he goes and makes a play off it. That’s been pretty nice to see from him.”
When Liufau is ready to go, Lindgren said the chances are the Buffs will roll with one quarterback, rather than rotating the two.
“I wouldn’t foresee (a rotation),” Lindgren said. “The QB in particular, you want that guy to get rhythm.”
As has been the case the past two weeks, the decision is one that might not be made public until game time.
Pac-12 honors Price
Freshman walk-on kicker Davis Price was named the Pac-12 special teams player of the week after his performance in the Buffs’ 47-6 win against Oregon State.
Despite starting the game as the backup, Price went 2-for-2 on field goals — including a 54-yarder that was the longest ever for a CU kicker on his first kick — and 5-for-5 on extra points. Four of his eight kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Price is the third CU player to earn conference player of the week honors this season — joining Liufau and Montez — and he’s the first Buff to earn special teams player of the week honors since Aric Goodman on Sept. 18, 2008.
CU has had as many conference player of the week honors this season as it had the previous four seasons combined.
Ranked, but focused
On Sunday, the Buffs entered the national Top 25 rankings for the first time in 11 years — No. 21 in the Associated Press poll, No. 23 in the Amway Coaches’ poll — but don’t view that as a cause for celebration.
“It’s always nice to be recognized, but our focus is today, tomorrow and all the work that we’ve done,” MacIntyre said.
Montez said the players thought it was cool to get into the rankings, but, “We still have so much to go. When you step on the field, nobody cares if you’re ranked or not.”
CU’s Oct. 15 game against Arizona State will kick off at 6 p.m. at Folsom Field. It will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks. … The Buffs will wear gray helmets and pants and white jerseys this week at USC. … CU is hoping tight end Sean Irwin, who missed Saturday’s game with a concussion, will be able to play Saturday.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.