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Brian Howell’s Rewind (Dec. 9, 2020)

Pac-12 misses opportunity, and Buffs could be left out of Pac-12 title game because of it

Running back Jarek Broussard #23 of ...
Running back Jarek Broussard #23 of the Colorado Buffaloes carries the ball on a run ahead of linebacker Rourke Freeburg #47 of the Arizona Wildcats during the first half of the PAC-12 football game at Arizona Stadium on Dec. 05, 2020 in Tucson, Arizona.

Imagine this schedule for Saturday:

  • Washington at Oregon for the Pac-12 North division title.
  • Colorado at Southern California for the South division crown.

It could have been, essentially, a Pac-12 championship semifinal Saturday, with both games on national TV. Throw in the fact that No. 21 CU (4-0, 3-0 Pac-12) at No. 16 USC would have been the only game in the country featuring two undefeated teams and one of just four matching ranked teams.

The Pac-12 was handed an opportunity to schedule and promote a championship-caliber weekend, and it fumbled.

So 2020? Nah, it’s so Pac-12.

Under the direction of commissioner Larry Scott, this conference has been out of the national spotlight so long it failed to capitalize on an opportunity to get some extra attention.

In this edition of the Rewind, we’ll look at the poor decision by the Pac-12 and how it impacts Colorado going forward.

Also in this week’s edition of the Rewind:

  • Lytle’s injury
  • Buffs of the week
  • My AP Top 25
  • Quotes of the week

LEADING OFF: Missed opportunity

This has been the most unique of seasons for a number of reasons, and it has created a possible situation which wouldn’t come up in a normal year.

By the end of this weekend, the Pac-12 could have two undefeated teams – Colorado and USC – in the same division, with only one going to the conference title game.

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Nate Landman and the Buffs battled USC in a 35-31 loss in 2019 at Folsom Field.

This wouldn’t happen in a normal season, because all the teams in the division play each other. That creates a natural, easy tie-breaker with a head-to-head result.

This year, it’s not so easy. It was planned to be easy, as the original schedule included every team in the South playing each other. Of course, we know that didn’t happen.

USC had to cancel the Nov. 28 matchup with CU at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum because of COVID-19 issues within the Trojans’ program. Instead, the Buffs played San Diego State in a non-conference game that means nothing in the Pac-12 race.

Because CU and USC didn’t play, both teams could be 5-0 by the end of this weekend, but USC would be 4-0 against the South division, while CU would be 3-0. That extra win would send USC to the Pac-12 title game.

The Pac-12 could have done one of two things:

1) Announce that if both CU and USC are undefeated – they are currently the only unbeatens in the conference – they will play in the championship game on Dec. 18. The Pac-12 has said it won’t do that, preserving the model of North champion vs. South champion. I understand that, but only if …

2) The Pac-12 would have changed this week’s schedule to allow the Buffs and Trojans to battle for the South.

That’s where the Pac-12 messed up a golden opportunity and did a disservice to the Buffs.

For three weeks, the Buffs and Trojans have been the only unbeaten teams in the South division. They’re now the only unbeatens in the conference – and two of only nine in the country.

Knowing this possibility a week ago, CU’s administration went to the Pac-12 with a proposal: If the Buffs and Trojans both won last weekend, change the schedule for this week. Instead of the Buffs playing Utah (1-2) and the Trojans playing rival UCLA (3-2), match the Utes and Bruins in one game (their matchup was canceled on Nov. 14) and the Buffs and Trojans in the other.

In a year like no other, it makes sense. Just a week ago, the ACC changed its rules to ensure Clemson and Notre Dame would play in its conference title game. Big Ten ADs are changing its rules to make sure its best team, Ohio State, isn’t left out of the title game.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made this an unprecedented year and the Pac-12 was faced with an unprecedented situation with CU and USC. Schedules and protocols were made to be broken in 2020. This would have been an easy pivot for the Pac-12, and one that would have benefitted a conference that desperately needs some time in the spotlight.

This is the Pac-12, however. The conference treated CU’s idea like Nate Landman treats running backs. A Pac-12 spokesperson told BuffZone, “We did rediscuss the original schedule in light of the matter you raise but there was not AD support to change the schedule.”

The conference also issued a statement to a few media outlets, including BuffZone, explaining its decision.

“Prior to the start of the football season, the Pac-12 Conference established a 2020 schedule and related tie-breaking protocol. The schedule and tie-breaking protocol were developed in consultation with, and approved by, Pac-12 athletic directors. We are following this agreed upon schedule and tie-breaking protocol.”

Ah, ok. That would make sense if the conference had been following the agreed upon schedule all year, but it hasn’t.

After the USC game was canceled, the Buffs knocked off San Diego State, 20-10.

In week two, the Pac-12 made up for two canceled games by throwing together a last-minute matchup between Cal and UCLA. In week four, after three games were canceled, a Washington vs. Utah matchup was set, with four days’ notice.

Neither of those games were part of the “agreed upon schedule” from before the season. The conference also allowed USC and Washington State to move its game last weekend to Sunday to give both teams a better opportunity to recover from COVID-19 issues that canceled their games the previous weekend.

Also not part of the agreed upon schedule was non-conference games, but the Pac-12 made an in-season change there, too, which allowed CU to schedule San Diego State – on less than 48 hours’ notice – to replace USC on Nov. 28.

This week, the Pac-12 had a chance to make another change, but hid behind a statement about its protocols – which have been broken already this year – rather than setting up a marquee matchup with conference title implications.

The Pac-12 chose a path that could allow USC to win the South without having to face the undefeated Buffs. Instead, the Pac-12 is content with possibly having Colorado become the only undefeated, eligible team in FBS history that was denied a shot at the conference title.

If the roles were reversed, would the Pac-12 allow an undefeated USC team be left out of the title game? We’ll probably never know – and the Pac-12 would never say it – but I sincerely doubt it. USC is too big of a brand nationally.

The North title, meanwhile, will be settled on the field – maybe – as Washington at Oregon was part of the original schedule for this week. (Note: On Wednesday morning, UW announced it is pausing activities due to COVID-19, so the status of the UW-Oregon game is in doubt).

Regardless of what happens with the UW-Oregon game, the Pac-12 declined an opportunity to showcase a South title game between the Buffs and Trojans this week, and that’s a shame.

Maybe Colorado loses this week to Utah and all of this grumbling is for naught. Maybe the Buffs would have lost to USC if they had played Nov. 28 or this weekend – as they’ve done every single time they’ve played the Trojans.

But, maybe not. We’ll never find out, and the Pac-12 Conference is to blame.


While the Pac-12 didn’t set up a Buffs and Trojans matchup this week, CU’s Pac-12 title hopes are not dead. The Buffs just don’t control their own path. There are ways the Buffs can still get to the Pac-12 title game. Here are the scenarios:

1. Buffs beat Utah and USC loses to UCLA. This is the simplest scenario, because it would leave CU at 4-0 in the conference and USC at 4-1, and the Buffs would represent the South division – and they’d host the Pac-12 title game.

Just about everything else is dependent on COVID-19 …

2. Buffs beat Utah and the USC/UCLA game is canceled. That would leave CU and USC both at 4-0 in the conference and 3-0 in the division. The tie-breaker would then go to record against the third-place team, which would be UCLA. Buffs would have a win against the Bruins and USC would not.

3. If the Pac-12 is only able to play 3 out of 6 games this week, the average number of conference games among the 12 teams would fall to 4.33. Per Pac-12 rules, if the average is below 4.5, the conference would send the two teams with the best winning percentage to the Pac-12 title game, regardless of division. If Washington loses to Oregon or can’t play, the two best teams would be USC and CU – even if CU loses to Utah. (On a personal note, I hope this doesn’t come into play. I’d rather see teams healthy and able to play).

4. Buffs and Trojans both win this week, and Washington wins the North, but COVID-19 issues prevent the Huskies from playing next week in the title game. At that point, the Pac-12 would have to make a choice: Replace Washington with undefeated Colorado, or with a 2-loss North runner-up (Oregon). That would be a slap in the face to the Buffs.

Offensive lineman Chance Lytle #74 of ...
Offensive lineman Chance Lytle #74 of the Colorado Buffaloes acknowledges his teammates as he is carted off the field after sustaining an injury during the second half of the PAC-12 football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on Dec. 05, 2020 in Tucson, Arizona.

BIG LOSS: Lytle out for year

Chance Lytle is one of the biggest men on the Buffs’ team – if not the biggest – at 6-foot-7 and 340 pounds. He’s also got one of the biggest personalities, and it’s clear he’s a popular man on the team.

When Lytle went down with a leg injury during the second half against Arizona, it was immediately evident it was bad. Trainers quickly called for a cart, CU quarterback Sam Noyer turned away wincing.

CU hasn’t given specifics about the injury, but given the reaction, it was bad. I was impressed, however, with what happened after Lytle was tended to by medical professionals and placed on the cart. CU’s entire team ran over to Lytle and wish him well, pat him on the shoulder or helmet. I saw Noyer talk to Lytle and turn away laughing – indicating Lytle was in good enough spirits to joke about something.

Lytle wasn’t a start at the beginning of the year, but injuries got him into the lineup and he played well.

“One thing about Chance, I’ve been very pleased with what he was at the start of training camp,” Dorrell said. “He was a backup for us at the start of the season he ended up starting in the last couple of games, and he’s actually played really, really well, so there’s definitely some positive impressions that he’s made to me in this short season.”

Lytle is sure to be in the mix for a starting spot next year, but for now, his injury will provide an opportunity to someone else.

“You never wish that upon anybody,” Noyer said of Lytle’s injury. “Any injuries in this game, it’s never good, especially the one that he had, but I think the guys who step up … we have a lot of depth at really all positions.

“It sucks that we don’t have our guy, Chance, but at the same time we have guys who are going to step up and make plays and we’re very confident in that. So obviously we want Chance to have a speedy recovery, but at the same time, next guy up and they’ve got to perform.”

Next man up could be Kanan Ray, who knows plenty about battling back from injuries himself. He stepped in after Lytle’s injury and played well Saturday.

TUCSON, ARIZ. — Colorado linebacker Nate Landman, left, chases Arizona quarterback Will Plummer at Arizona Stadium on Dec. 5, 2020.

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

Some of the players that stood out to me in CU’s 24-13 win at Arizona:

  • 1. LB Nate Landman: Despite Jarek Broussard’s massive day, I thought Landman was the most impactful player on the field. He was remarkable once again, with 17 tackles – 14 of those solo stops. He also had 3 tackles for loss and a sack.
  • 2. RB Jarek Broussard: Wound up with an unusual stat line, rushing for 301 yards without getting into end zone. Still, his runs of 79, 72 and 59 yards set up 17 points for the Buffs.
  • 3. OLB Carson Wells: Second game in a row I’ve had the same top three players – just in different order. Wells is putting together a remarkable season. Against the Wildcats, he had 12 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
  • 4. CB Mekhi Blackmon: Second week in a row I’ve had him here. Blackmon was exceptional in coverage once again. He was targeted six times and gave up one reception, for six yards. He added two tackles and two pass breakups.
  • 5. RG/LG Casey Roddick: He had maybe his best game of the season, helping pave the way for the Buffs to rush for over 400 yards. A regular starter at right guard, he made the in-game change to left guard after Chance Lytle was injured and did a nice job overall.
  • Colorado Buffaloes cornerback Nigel Bethel Jr. (27) steps in front of Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Ma’jon Wright (18) to pick off a deflected pass at the one and foil a Wildcat drive in the third quarter of their Pac12 football game at Arizona Stadium,Tucson, Ariz., December 5, 2020.

    6. DE Mustafa Johnson: Best game he’s played all season, as he piled up seven tackles, three tackles for loss and a QB hurry.

  • 7. DE Terrance Lang: Another good performance for Lang, as he had five tackles, a sack and a pass deflection that resulted in  Nigel Bethel’s interception.
  • 8. WR Dimitri Stanley: Had just two catches, but they went for 44 yards, including a 32-yarder. He also did a nice job as a blocker and had a career-best 26-yard punt return.
  • 9. CB Nigel Bethel Jr.: Played less than half the defensive snaps, but it was his most extensive action and he had one of the biggest plays on defense, picking off an Arizona pass at the goal line late in the third and CU clinging to a 21-13 lead.
  • 10. S Isaiah Lewis: He’s made weekly appearances on this list. Finished with a career-high nine tackles, two tackles for loss and half a sack.
  • 11. P Josh Watts: He had his best game of the season, averaging 45 yards per punt, including a season long of 51 yards. He also landed three inside the 20-yard line, including one at the 5.
  • 12. RB Ashaad Clayton: He played just four snaps, but ran the ball four times for 24 yards and scored two touchdowns. That’s pretty efficient.
  • 13. LB Jonathan Van Diest: Got the start with Akil Jones out and he played well in his 39 snaps, getting five tackles, including one at the line of scrimmage.


Players in CU history with at least two 70-yard runs during their career, including Broussard. He is the first to have two in the same game, however. The only players with three career runs of 70-plus yards were Kayo Lam (3 from 1933-35) and Carroll Hardy (3 from 1951-54).


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

1. Alabama

2. Notre Dame

3. Clemson

4. Ohio State

5. Cincinnati

6. Texas A&M

7. Florida

8. Coastal Carolina

9. Miami

10. Oklahoma

11. Indiana

12. BYU

13. Iowa State

14. Georgia

15. Northwestern

16. Louisiana

17. Liberty

18. San Jose State

19. Colorado

20. USC

21. Marshall

22. Tulsa

23. Iowa

24. Buffalo

25. Oklahoma State


Head coach Karl Dorrell on the defense against Arizona: “Our defense did a nice job of kind of getting themselves back in control. Obviously the second half we shut them out. They had a couple of great opportunities to put points on the board. They went for a couple fourth down situations and the defense came up big.”

Dorrell on CU’s third-down success on defense, including four sacks: “We needed that. We wanted to get after their quarterback and create some havoc within the line of scrimmage and mess with his timing, things like that. That was huge. I thought our defense did some nice things in the passing situations, particularly on third downs and fourth down.”

OLB Carson Wells on not panicking after being down 13-0: “We kept playing. We didn’t really change much on the defense. I know the offense kept running the ball, stuck to the game plan. I think (Broussard) had a 300-yard game, something crazy like that. We just had to keep patience. We knew it was going to hit. We felt like we were the better team going in and we just had to play like that.”

Center Josh Jynes on getting his first career start: “It was great. I had the leadership of the older guys there. They were bringing me along, and just telling me, everything’s gonna be alright, just do what you do, trust practice, and trust coaching. It was great. We had a great win.”

Left tackle William Sherman on the Buffs’ run game vs. Arizona: “This is definitely the most developed offensive line that I have been a part of since I have been here.  A staple that we wanted to live by this year was being able to run the ball on our terms, and at will. That is definitely something that we have been able to do these four games, and we definitely take pride in that.”

THIS WEEK: Bring on the Utes

The Buffs are slated to host Utah on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Folsom Field. The Pac-12 South champs the past two years, Utah is out of contention, but could play spoiler.