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Rooney: Resurgent CU Buffs providing a welcome distraction to 2020 chaos

With emerging QB and strong line play, Buffs could be for real in Pac-12 South

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 14: Sam Noyer #4 of the Colorado Buffaloes jumps in the air and scores a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal during the second quarter of their NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium on November 14, 2020 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Sick of the trials of 2020? We all are.

At least the upstart Colorado Buffaloes are providing an intriguing and exciting distraction.

The Karl Dorrell-led Buffs turned a few more heads on Saturday, sprinting to an impressive lead before holding off Stanford for a 35-32 victory. CU is now 2-0, defying the preseason expectations of pretty much everyone (including this guy) except my BuffZone colleague Brian Howell.

In a Pac-12 South that has looked largely underwhelming, why not the Buffs? With apologies to running back Jarek Broussard, there are two reasons, beyond the steady hand of Dorrell’s leadership, why CU just might be for real: Sam Noyer, and the big men up front.

Noyer was perhaps the Buffs’ biggest question mark going into the season, a fifth-year senior who had not started a game at quarterback since high school and who spent last season playing safety. When Dorrell announced Noyer as his team’s starting quarterback, he said it had been a close enough race with backup Tyler Lytle that Lytle would get playing time at some point.

Other than a brief cameo by Lytle during the opening win against UCLA, Noyer’s play has tossed that plan out the window. Through two games, Noyer has completed about 64 percent of his passes while playing with the poise of a four-year starter, not a guy who hasn’t started in five years. His mobility has been a revelation, and while the high-flying “Air Noyer” finishes to some of his runs might give Dorrell heart palpitations, Noyer’s grit clearly is endearing him to his teammates. This is Noyer’s team.

When Dorrell announced Noyer as the Buffs’ starter, who would have thought the Buffs would go on to have the best quarterback on the field through the season’s first two games?

Also kudos to the big guys up front on both sides of the ball. With center Colby Pursell and his backup, Josh Jynes, unavailable, the offensive line shuffle featured guard Kary Kutsch making his first start at center and junior Chance Lytle stepping in to make his first career start at left guard. There were hiccups early, including a missed assignment that led to Noyer’s first interception of the season. But the Buffs adjusted, keeping the heat off Noyer the rest of the way while clearing holes for another big game from Broussard.

In two games, the Buffs have won the battle up front on both sides of the ball.

Normally a 2-0 start, even a wildly impressive one, would come with a slight tapping of the breaks in light of the long road still ahead. In the sprint that is the 2020 college football season, that’s not at all the case. At 2-0, the Buffs already have survived nearly a full third of the season and have been the most impressive team so far in the Pac-12 South. With only four games remaining, hopefully, before a Pac-12 title game matchup is settled, it’s a sprint to the finish. The Buffs have an opportunity to be right in the mix.

USC hasn’t looked like a division favorite, surviving two dramatic finishes to start 2-0. Utah might be a problem at the end, but given the way CU is playing, neither of the Arizona schools should strike fear into the Buffs.

Of course, the immediate challenge might be to cope with the first coronavirus-sparked ripples in CU’s schedule. Arizona State’s home date this weekend against Cal was canceled as the Sun Devils deal with an outbreak within their program, including a positive test for coach Herm Edwards. There is a chance next week’s home date against the Sun Devils will be canceled. The Buffs might have to maintain their sudden momentum during an unplanned bye week. Or prepare for a new opponent on the fly, a la the UCLA-Cal matchup on Sunday set up after Cal-ASU and Utah-UCLA were canceled on Friday.

It was said in this corner last week the calm, seemingly unflappable Dorrell might be the perfect coach to guide the Buffs through the unique trials of 2020. For the rest of us, those trials have been wearying.

Yet here come the Buffs providing some unexpected and very welcome thrills. And maybe, just maybe, if the truncated season can reach some sort of meaningful conclusion, the Buffs might have something special brewing in Boulder.