Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera
Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera
Photo from Delrick Abrams' Twitter
It’s October and the Colorado football team is 4-0. Yet, I still have no idea how good the Buffaloes really are this season.
Certainly, there’s nothing CU can do to control how good the teams are on its schedule. The Buffs’ job is just to show up on game day and beat those teams, and they’ve done that.
Still, it’s really difficult to judge a squad that’s routed four lousy teams with a combined record of 1-16.
Congrats to Colorado State (1-4) for somehow rallying from an 18-point deficit with 18 minutes to play to beat Arkansas on Sept. 8, but the Rams are awful this season.
I still want to give CU a lot of credit for handling the pressure of going to Lincoln on Sept. 8 and rallying to beat Nebraska (0-4). That was a great win for CU – which heard from fans about that game for the past couple of years. But, like CSU, Nebraska is lousy, and falling apart.
New Hampshire has the longest current streak of FCS playoff appearances, at 14, but that sure looks to be ending with a thud. The Wildcats (0-4) offense has three touchdowns in four games – one against the CU backups.
Then there’s UCLA (0-4). Last week, CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said the Bruins were the best 0-3 team in the country. I guess he’d know since he’s faced a few of them. But, at 0-4, the Bruins are arguably the worst team in the Pac-12. They, unfortunately, don’t even get a chance to play Oregon State this year to settle that debate.
Despite all of that, I ranked the Buffaloes at No. 20 in my Associated Press Top 25 ballot this week. They got that spot in large part because they have taken care of business, while others have not.
Truth is, I don’t know if Colorado is one of the 20 best teams in the country, but there are several things that indicate to me that the Buffs’ are for real and might actually be a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 South division:
1. This team is close. I’ve heard about CU’s “brotherhood” since the summer, and it’s showing up on game day. Certainly execution is critical, but team chemistry is huge, too. The 2017 Buffs didn’t have it. The 2018 Buffs do.
2. There are playmakers on both sides of the ball. Outside of Phillip Lindsay on offense and Isaiah Oliver and Evan Worthington on defense, the Buffs didn’t have play-makers last year. You could maybe throw Steven Montez into that mix. But, this year, Montez has been sensational, Laviska Shenault has been one of the best receivers in the country, Travon McMillian has been really good at running back and KD Nixon has shown flashes when given the ball. Defensively, Nate Landman is a star; Mustafa Johnson is a stud up front; Javier Edwards is vastly improved at nose tackle; Drew Lewis and Worthington are making plays; Davion Taylor continues to get better. There’s just more guys making plays than we saw last year.
3. Montez is the real deal. Shenault is the best player on the team, but the quarterback is the most important. Montez was up and down last year, even against CU’s weaker opponents. He’s been brilliant this season. With all due to respect to Shenault, Montez’s poise and command of the offense has been the No. 1 key to CU’s success on offense.
4. MacIntyre is in a better place. He may never admit it publicly, but 2017 was a difficult year for the CU head coach – on and off the field – and it showed quite often. This year has been different. He’s been loose since the spring and seems to be enjoying life a lot more these days. Being 4-0 helps, but he’s been mentally healthier all year. Former CU coach Bill McCartney often says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Starting from the top, the Buffs have better leadership in 2018.
Over the next three weeks, we’re going to find out a lot more about Colorado. Arizona State (3-2), Southern California (3-2) and No. 10 Washington (4-1) are all much better than anyone CU has faced to this point. I’m not sure how many of those three the Buffs win, but I feel confident this team is better prepared to handle that set of games than they would have been a year ago.
A few random thoughts from the weekend:
1. Last weekend, I had a chance to run into several of the players’ parents, including parents for Ronnie Blackmon, Derrion Rakestraw and Carson Wells. The best parent moment of the weekend, however, was one I didn’t see in person. Cornerback Delrick Abrams, a junior college transfer who grew up in rural Louisiana, posted a picture on social media of he and his mom, writing, “Mama came see me play last night First time in 2 years Be patient mama I’m going to get you out of the hood soon.” It had to have been an amazing week for Abrams and his mom.
2. A week after being named player of the game, my 8-year-old son wasn’t quite as good as his flag football team lost. But, he did have a 40-yard touchdown run. Not sure where he got his moves and speed, but it wasn’t from me!
3. It’s awesome to see the Colorado Rockies back in the playoffs. I had a chance to cover them for the Longmont Times-Call in 2007 and that playoff run was at the top of my career highlights. The tie-breaker game against the Padres that year may have been the most enjoyable, exhilarating and nerve-racking game I’ve ever covered. Going to Fenway Park for the World Series was amazing. I even got to meet my childhood celebrity crush, Alyssa Milano, during that run, chatting with her on the field before the start of the NLCS in Arizona (I believe she was writing a blog for MLB.com that year). I remember asking her for a prediction for that series with the Diamondbacks and she said, “Rockies in a sweep.” She was right. So, yeah, that was an awesome month. I’m hoping those covering the Rockies now can enjoy a nice, long playoff run this year.
4. I know the Denver media doesn’t pay much attention to CU anyway, but as long as the Rockies are playing, the now-No. 21 Buffaloes will fly under the radar. By November, however, CU might be the only football team in the state still playing meaningful games.
The week’s best Buffs
From the win against UCLA, here are the Buffs that really stood out to me:
1. WR Laviska Shenault: He’s going to be at the top of this list a lot. Every week, he does something impressive, and he was once against the best player on the field.
2. LB Drew Lewis: Although still getting used to playing outside, Lewis had his best game of the season by far. He had two sacks early in the game and nearly got a third. He also finished with eight tackles and nearly picked off a pass.
3. QB Steven Montez: The junior continues to put together a brilliant season. He was incredibly accurate again, threw a deep touchdown to Shenault and ran for two scores.
4. NT Javier Edwards: This is the second time in four games I’ve thought Edwards was absolutely dominant in the trenches. He made just two tackles, but he created a lot of others.
5. RB Travon McMillian: His yardage total (102 yards) was only his third-best of the season, and he didn’t have the long TD run we’ve seen out of him. However, it was impressive in that he showed, for the first time, the ability to gain tough yards and break some tackles.
Stat of the week
Let’s have a little fun with Laviska Shenault’s numbers, shall we? Currently, the sophomore has 38 catches for 581 yards and four touchdowns. At his current pace, Shenault would land in some very elite company and shatter some records.
1. If he keeps it up, he would finish the 12-game regular season with 114 catches for 1,743 yards and 12 TD. Current CU single-season records: 106 catches (Nelson Spruce in 2014), 1,343 yards (Paul Richardson in 2013) and 12 TD (Spruce in 2014). Only 16 players in FBS history have had more than 1,743 receiving yards in a season.
2. Let’s say CU gets to the Pac-12 title game and, obviously a bowl game; that would be 14 games. CU doesn’t recognize bowl stats for its season totals (one of the few teams in the country that doesn’t), but the NCAA does. At his current pace, Shenault would finish those 14 games with 133 catches (11th in NCAA history) and 2,034 yards (2nd in NCAA history). The FBS record for receiving yards in a season is 2,060, by Nevada’s Trevor Insley in 1999.
Pac-12 players of the week
Colorado’s Steven Montez and Drew Lewis were nominated. Here’s who I voted for this week:
Offense – Eno Benjamin, Arizona State: Several players in the Pac-12 were sensational, including Montez, but it’s tough to beat a 300-yard rushing day. Benjamin set an ASU record with 312 rushing yards and accounted for four touchdowns.
Defense – Ugochukwu Amadi, Oregon: CU’s Drew Lewis made a strong case, but Amadi had two interceptions, including a pick-six in the fourth quarter against Cal. He was also in on seven solo tackles.
Special teams – JJ Molson, UCLA: Although the Bruins lost in Boulder, Molson went 3-for-3 on field goals, including a career-best 50 yarder. He’s made nine field goals in a row.
Pac-12 Team of the Week
Oregon Ducks (4-1). The loss to Stanford a week earlier was brutal for the Ducks, who had the lead in the final moments, only to fumble it away – literally. But, they bounced back in a big way last weekend, routing No. 24 California, 42-24, on the road. They are going to be a factor in the race for the Pac-12 title.
National Team of the Week
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-0). Ohio State’s 27-26 win at Penn State was the best game I saw all weekend, but Notre Dame’s 37-17 whipping of Stanford was the most impressive game I saw. QB Ian Book is a game-changer for that team, which had a dominating 550-229 advantage in total yards against a team that was ranked No. 7 and had beaten them three times in a row.
A few thoughts on the Pac-12 after Week 5:
1. College football can be wacky sometimes, so it’s too early to declare the Pac-12 out of the picture for the College Football Playoff, but Stanford’s loss to Notre Dame was a big blow to those hopes. The two best teams in the conference (Washington and Stanford) are now 0-2 against non-conference heavyweights. At this point, it’s likely going to take Washington running the table and a few teams losing. It’s possible, but the Huskies can’t slip up.
2. Is it possible that we head into October with Colorado as the Pac-12’s second-best hope for the CFP? The Buffs don’t have a marquee non-conference win, but they’re the only undefeated team left in the Pac-12. There’s a LONG way to go, but it would be tough to keep a 13-0 Pac-12 champ out of the CFP.
3. Some thought the crushing loss to Stanford would damage Oregon mentally going into their game at Cal last week. The Ducks went the opposite way, and seemed to use it as fuel. That could be a dangerous team the rest of the way. And, they get Washington at home.
4. The South division is a collection of good, but not great, teams at this point, and the champion from the South might have two or three conference losses. Right now, I THINK Colorado is the best team in the South, but it might be USC. Or ASU. I know it’s not Arizona, UCLA or Utah. UCLA will struggle to win a couple of games, while Arizona and Utah might be fighting all year just for bowl eligibility.
After week 5, here’s how I rank the teams in the Pac-12:
1. Washington (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12): Completely dominated No. 20 BYU, 35-7, to reclaim their spot at the top of the conference.
2. Stanford (4-1, 2-0): The loss to Notre Dame was ugly, and it may have ended the Pac-12’s hopes of a spot in the College Football Playoff, but the Cardinal are still one of the best in this conference.
3. Oregon (4-1, 1-1): Had the Ducks finished off the win against Stanford two weeks ago, they’d probably be at No. 1.
4. Colorado (4-0, 1-1): The Buffaloes could not have asked for a better start to conference play.
5. Washington State (4-1, 1-1): Grinded out a 28-24 home win against Utah. The Cougars needed that after giving up a winnable game at USC the previous week.
6. Arizona State (3-2, 1-1): Sun Devils gave Washington a game on the road two weeks ago and then dominated woeful Oregon State.
7. USC (3-2, 2-1): Trojans back on track after two wins in a row? Maybe, but they were unable to pull away from lackluster Arizona, 24-20.
8. California (3-1, 0-1): Bears had a chance to really make a statement last week and unfortunately made the wrong one in the loss to Oregon.
9. Utah (2-2, 0-2): Weren’t the Utes supposed to be a South contender? They’ve got to win at Stanford this week to avoid an 0-3 start to Pac-12 play. Dating back to last year, they are 2-8 in their last 10 conference games.
10. Arizona (2-3, 1-1): Just when it appeared the Wildcats might be turning the corner, they fail to show up early in a home game against the Trojans.
11. UCLA (0-4, 0-1): Are they now the best 0-4 team in the country? Soon to be 0-5 after going to Washington this week.
12. Oregon State (1-4, 0-2): I doubt this spot in the rankings will change this year. Beavers have some good players, but they are bad.
Quote the of week
Colorado safety Evan Worthington talking about the Buffs being better on defense in the second half this season:
“We definitely come together (at halftime). We have this little chant we do to get us hyped and that’s a big change from last year and all the other seasons I’ve been here. We come together and we just get ready to go back out on the field.”
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at email@example.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.