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Colorado's defense has stepped up in the second half of each game this season.
Courtesy of CU Athletics
Colorado’s defense has stepped up in the second half of each game this season.

One of the most interesting aspects of Colorado’s football team this season has been the Buffaloes’ remarkable ability to play much better defense in the second half than in the first.

Every week, CU has been better after intermission.

Week 1 vs. Colorado State:

First half: 21 points, 282 yards allowed (9.1 yards per play)

Second half: 10 points, 223 yards allowed (4.7 yards per play)

Week 2 vs. Nebraska:

First half: 17 points, 266 yards allowed (8.6 yards per play)

Second half: 14 points, 203 yards allowed (5.0 yards per play)

Week 3 vs. Air Force:

First half: 20 points, 290 yards allowed (8.5 yards per play)

Second half: 10 points, 154 yards allowed (5.1 yards per play)

Week 4 vs. Arizona State:

First half: 21 points, 254 yards allowed (7.5 yards per play)

Second half: 10 points, 199 yards allowed (6.0 yards per play)

Clearly, halftime adjustments have worked, but senior safety Mikial Onu offered up an explanation for why the Buffs are better after halftime.

In this week’s edition of the Monday Rewind – and abbreviated version coming off the bye week – we look at the Buffaloes (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) defense. Also this week:

  • California’s new bill
  • Thoughts on the weekend
  • Stats and quotes of the week
  • Pac-12 rankings and AP ballot

LEADING OFF: Second half D

Onu, a graduate transfer from SMU, believes that CU hasn’t played the first half of games on defense with the urgency needed.

DENVER, CO - Aug. 30, 2019: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Mikial Onu, left, celebrates an interception against Colorado State.

“We have to come out and start off fast,” Onu said last week. “I think our intensity rises once our backs are against the wall. So you know, we’re down 14-0, 14-7, or something like that and we’re like, ‘Oh, man, we can’t let them score anymore.’ We have to come out like that. We have to come out the locker room ready to play, not getting our butts whipped and then ready to play.”

CU has allowed 31 points three times and 30 in the other game. The Buffs have managed to still put together a strong start to the season, but Onu knows the defense has to buckle down.

“You never know how the offense is going and it might be too late,” he said. “If the offense is having a bad day and they don’t score any points, well if we give up a touchdown, we lose, no matter how well we play, so we have to start off fast. I like our intensity in the second half and when after they score and stuff, but we have to limit big plays. We have to come out and we have to be ready to communicate, ready to be physical, every single play, starting from play one.”

Opponents have scored first-half touchdowns on plays of 39, 41, 65, 32, 81 and 53 yards. In the second half, only three TDs longer than 13 yards have been allowed.

“I think it’s just level of focus,” Onu said. “When you’re first coming out there, some people have some pre-game jitters, some people try and get their feet wet and get used to the speed of the game; different teams have different tempos.

“We make the adjustments and all that kind of stuff, but we shouldn’t have to get to that point. I think it’s just like I said, jitters; different guys coming in and out stuff like that. So we just have to make sure everybody on defense is ready to go from play one.”

Asked about the opponents coming out with new wrinkles the Buffs haven’t seen, Onu said Colorado State was the only opponent that “just shocked me with some of the staff they did.”

GAME CHANGER: Pay to play

On Monday morning came the news that California governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that would allow athletes at in-state schools to earn money from the use of their name, image and likeness.

This is a battle the NCAA has fought for years and the bill, known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, is a direct shot at the NCAA model.

FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2019, file photo, Gov. Gavin Newsom answers a question during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. Newsom announced Monday, Sept. 30, he signed a law that would let athletes at California universities make money from their images, names or likenesses. The law also bans schools from kicking athletes off the team if they get paid. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

“I don’t want to say this is checkmate, but this a major problem for the NCAA,” Newsom said before he signed the bill on Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James’ The Shop. “It’s going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation, and it’s going to change college sports for the better by having now the interest finally of the athletes on par with the interest of the institutions. Now, we’re rebalancing that power arrangement.”

What exactly does this mean? Well, nothing yet.

The law doesn’t go into effect until January of 2023. It also doesn’t call for athletes to be paid by the schools; rather it allows them to earn outside money, through marketing or endorsement type of deals.

Earlier this year, the NCAA created a committee exploring student-athletes’ ability to profit off their name, image and likeness and remain eligible for collegiate athletics. CU athletic director Rick George is on that 18-member committee.

“This is an important conversation to be had and I look forward to getting to work on this with other members of the working group,” George said in June.

Because of his involvement on the committee, George declined to comment on the signing of the new bill in California when I texted him this morning.

The Pac-12 issued the following statement:

“The Pac-12 is disappointed in the passage of SB 206 and believes it will have very significant negative consequences for our student-athletes and broader universities in California. This legislation will lead to the professionalization of college sports and many unintended consequences related to this professionalism, imposes a state law that conflicts with national rules, will blur the lines for how California universities recruit student-athletes and compete nationally, and will likely reduce resources and opportunities for student-athletes in Olympic sports and have a negative disparate impact on female student-athletes. Our universities have led important student-athlete reform over the past years, but firmly believe all reforms must treat our student-athletes as students pursuing an education, and not as professional athletes. We will work with our universities to determine next steps and ensure continuing support for our student-athletes.”

The statement issued by the NCAA reads:

“As a membership organization, the NCAA agrees changes are needed to continue to support student-athletes, but improvement needs to happen on a national level through the NCAA’s rules-making process. Unfortunately, this new law already is creating confusion for current and future student-athletes, coaches, administrators and campuses, and not just in California. We will consider next steps in California while our members move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments to NCAA name, image and likeness rules that are both realistic in modern society and tied to higher education. As more states consider their own specific legislation related to this topic, it is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide.”

This is a battle that has been going on for a long time and the passing of the bill in California is sure to raise the intensity and urgency of that battle.

Although it doesn’t impact current student athletes for another 3-plus years, Jon Wilner of the  San Jose Mercury News pointed out that there are a couple of immediate aftershocks to keep an eye on. Most notably, the impact in recruiting.

The NCAA model has been heading toward a change for a long time. This could be the first major domino to fall in allowing college athletes an opportunity to profit off their name, image and likeness.

BEST OF THE BUFFS: This week’s top CU players

Obviously, with a bye week, we’ll skip this section this week. But, I know CU fans are hoping the injured Buffs – Laviska Shenault, Mustafa Johnson, etc. – are among those who had a good week.


1. Last weekend was a good one for the Buffs, even with the bye. Arizona State’s win at then-No. 15 California gives the Sun Devils TWO top-25 road win this season (also at Michigan State). That makes CU’s win in Tempe on Sept. 21 a little more impressive. Of course, Nebraska didn’t do CU any favors with its pathetic showing at home against Ohio State, losing 48-7, but the strength of Ohio State might be more of a consideration nationally.

William Mancebo / Getty Images
Washington State head coach Mike Leach.

2. Washington State could be in some trouble. The Cougars were well on their way to a 4-0 start and possible top-15 ranking two week ago when they led UCLA, 49-17, in the third quarter. Then, they got outscored 50-14 in the final 19 minutes and lost 67-63. That was followed by a 38-13 blowout loss at Utah. So, in their last 79 minutes of game action, the Cougars have been outscored 88-27. Yikes. Now, the Cougars have to visit ASU after a bye. It’s possible Wazzu is riding a three-game losing streak when CU comes to Pullman on Oct. 19.

3. A whopping 37 Associated Press voters jumped off the Clemson bandwagon after their 21-20 win at North Carolina last week. The Tigers stuffed a two-point conversion in the closing seconds to escape with the win. No. 1 last week, with 55 first-place votes, they fell to No. 2, with 18 first-place votes this week. Personally, I left the Tigers at No.1, for two reasons: 1) I think if you put them on a neutral field with anyone else, they win, and 2) Have people forgotten that Clemson does this every year? Last year, they barely beat Syracuse; two years ago they lost to Syracuse; in 2016, they needed OT to beat NC State and lost to Pittsburgh. Despite that, they are 4-1 in the CFP the past three years, with two national titles.


Colorado’s record, since 1948, in games following the bye week. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffs are 2-5 following the bye, but 2-1 in the past three years.


How I rank the Pac-12 after Week 4:

1. Oregon Ducks (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12; previous rank: 1): Ducks had a bye and remain atop the Pac-12.

2. Washington Huskies (4-1; 1-1; PR: 3): Huskies starting to roll and got a nice win vs. USC.

3. Utah Utes (4-1; 1-1; PR: 5): Utes bounce back from USC loss to rout Wazzu.

4. Colorado Buffaloes (3-1; 1-0; PR: 6): Buffs move up two spots with a great bye week.

5. Arizona State Sun Devils (4-1; 1-1; PR: 8): ASU followed its loss to CU with a win at Cal – it’s second top 20 win this year.

6. California Golden Bears (4-1; 1-1; PR: 2): Bears lost a game and their QB.

7. USC Trojans (3-2; 2-1; PR: 4): Trojans unable to follow the Utah win with an upset in Seattle.

8. Washington State Cougars (3-2; 0-2; PR: 7): Stunning turn of events for Wazzu, which was eyeing a top-15 ranking two weeks ago.

9. Arizona Wildcats (3-1; 1-0; PR: 9): Nice win for the Cats to knock off UCLA.

10. UCLA Bruins (1-4; 1-1; PR: 10):  Bruins gave Arizona a battle before falling.

11. Stanford Cardinal (2-3; 1-1; PR: 11): Cardinal ended their three-game skid, barely, with a 31-28 win at Oregon State.

12. Oregon State Beavers (1-3; 0-1; PR: 12): Beavers nearly pulled off the upset, but remain winless vs. FBS foes.


Here’s the ballot I submitted to the Associated Press for this week’s Top 25:

1. Clemson

2. Alabama

3. Georgia

4. Oklahoma

5. Ohio State

6. LSU

7. Florida

8. Auburn

9. Wisconsin

10. Notre Dame

11. Texas

12. Oregon

13. Penn State

14. Washington

15. Michigan

16. Boise State

17. Utah

18. Iowa

19. Virginia

20. Central Florida

21. SMU

22. Colorado

23. Arizona State

24. California

25. Michigan State

Six teams from the Pac-12 on my ballot. USC and Washington State have top-25 ability, too. The national narrative that the Pac-12 is bad is not accurate. No, the conference doesn’t have a marquee team and that hurts the national perspective (and the pocket books of the Pac-12), but this conference is loaded with good teams.


Safety Mikial Onu on a fast start being emphasized this week against Arizona: “Most definitely. We have to start faster both sides of the ball, special teams included. We have to maintain consistency. We don’t want to be up and down like a roller coaster. We need to focus on being not perfect, but try to be perfect single play and I think it will yield good results for us on the field.”

Kicker James Stefanou on playing at Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium, where he is 5-for-5 on field goals (including a career-long 53 yarder in 2017) and 7-for-7 on extra points: “I love that place. The climate, the field. Everything is just pristine. I love it there. I love the fans yelling at you and offering me beer on the sidelines, as well. So, you know that makes me relax a little bit. I do like it there.”

Washington State head coach Mike Leach on his team after a 38-13 loss at Utah: “You saw a pretty tough football team play a very soft football team. It’s difficult to say how tough Utah is because they had token resistance on both sides of the ball for us. We’re a very soft team. We get a lot of good press, we like to read it a lot, we like to pat ourselves on the back. If we get any resistance, we fold. What’s amazing about this is most of these guys were on the same team last year that was a tough team. We’ve got nearly the same guys and then all of a sudden they’re not tough. They’re fat, dumb and happy and entitled.”

THIS WEEK: Back to work

The Buffs will host Arizona on Saturday at Folsom Field at 2:30 p.m.