Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado linebacker Rick Gamboa, right, and the rest of the Buffs’ defense will have a tall task in slowing down Cal running back Patrick Laird.

CU RB Travon McMillian vs. Cal LBs Jordan Kunaszyk and Evan Weaver

CU’s ability to run the ball will be a key factor in this game. McMillian is eyeing 1,000 yards, but CU has been held to 75 yards or less on the ground in the last three games. Kunaszyk and Weaver will be around McMillian all day. The Bears are 3-1 in Pac-12 play when holding opponents under 100 yards rushing (the only loss against pass-happy Washington State) and 0-3 when giving up more than 100.

CU QB Steven Montez vs. Cal’s secondary

The Bears lead the conference with 14 interceptions and have been particularly stingy against the past in recent weeks. In Cal’s past six games, Washington State is the only team with more than 180 passing yards. Montez is coming off his worst game of the year. After his worst game in 2017, he faced Cal and had his best game of the year.

CU LB Rick Gamboa vs. Cal RB Patrick Laird

Gamboa won’t take the assignment alone, of course, to stop Laird, but he’ll play a big role in slowing down the versatile Bears running back.

CU WR Laviska Shenault vs. Cal cornerbacks

Shenault was on a roll during the first five and a half games before a toe injury. He’s been back the last two weeks, with 19 catches for 166 yards, but he hasn’t been the dynamic playmaker he was early in the year. He scored at least once in the first six games, but hasn’t reached the end zone since Oct. 13.

CU’s will to win vs. CU’s ability to win

Every week, CU has expressed its hunger to reach bowl eligibility, but for six weeks in a row, the Buffs have made costly mistakes or execution errors to prevent them from winning. If the Buffs can match their hunger with crisp execution — as they did early in the year — the final result could be a good one.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or