CU Buffs football schedule analysis

Buffs play four of last six on the road

BOULDER, CO - Dec. 12, 2020: ...
BOULDER, CO – December 12, 2020: CU head coach, Karl Dorrell, leads the team out on the field. The Colorado Buffaloes and the Utah Utes played at Folsom Field in Boulder on December 12, 2020. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Karl Dorrell’s first season as the head football coach at Colorado was loaded with challenges – mainly off the field because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If Dorrell’s second season is played out in full, it will be loaded with challenges on the field.

On Tuesday, dates for CU’s 12-game regular-season schedule became official. The slate includes one of the toughest non-conference sets for CU in years and a second half of the season that will rack up some frequent flyer miles.

As long as COVID-19 doesn’t cause any alterations, it will be an intriguing schedule for the Buffaloes, who went 4-2 in a pandemic-shortened season in 2020.

1. Bears in Boulder: CU kicks off the season Friday, Sept. 3, with Northern Colorado visiting Folsom Field. CU should beat the lower-division Bears, but it’s an interesting matchup. UNC will be playing its first game with new head coach Ed McCaffrey, the former Denver Broncos great who was coached for three years (2000-02) by Dorrell. McCaffrey’s son, Dylan, recently transferred from Michigan to UNC to play quarterback, adding a bit more intrigue to the game.

2. High-profile matchup: On Sept. 11, the Buffs will face Texas A&M at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver. The Aggies finished at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings last year and are projected as a preseason top-10 team next fall. “Coming off a great season that they’ve had, that’s going to draw our attention right away,” Dorrell said. CU has lost 14 straight to top-10 opponents, dating back to a 27-24 upset of No. 3 Oklahoma in 2007.

3. Gophers visit Folsom: In week 3, on Sept. 18, the Buffs will welcome Minnesota to Folsom Field. It will be the first matchup between the two schools since Sept. 19, 1992. CU is 3-0 all-time against the Gophers, but Minnesota is just two years removed from going 11-2. They had a disjointed, 3-4 season last fall, but figure to get back on track. CU hasn’t played two Power 5 teams in non-conference play since 2011 and hasn’t done it in back-to-back weeks since 2008.

4. Tough start to Pac-12: Following the back-to-back matchups with A&M and Minnesota, there is no time to rest. The Buffs open Pac-12 play against arguably the two best teams in the South division. On Sept. 25 is a visit to Arizona State, which was ranked No. 17 in Athlon Sports’ recent early Top 25 rankings. A week later, on Oct. 2, the Buffs are back home against Southern California, which is at No. 15 in the Athlon rankings. Stanford is the only team in the Pac-12 with a more challenging first five weeks than the Buffs.

5. Hosting Arizona: After a bye in Week 6, the Buffs will bring Arizona to Folsom Field on Oct. 16. The Wildcats were awful in 2020 – and the latter part 2019, for that matter – but have a new head coach in Jedd Fisch, and he’s brought some excitement to the program. Still, this is a great chance for the Buffs to end the first half of the season with a victory.

6. Extended trip: After hosting Arizona, the Buffs hit the road for four of the last six games. It starts with back-to-back road games to California (Oct. 23) and Oregon (Oct. 30). Cal had a rough 2020 (1-3) and was heavily impacted by COVID-19. The Bears should be more like they were in 2019 (8-5), and CU has never won in Berkeley, going 0-4. Oregon is arguably the Pac-12 favorite – ranked No. 12 by Athlon – and Eugene has always been a tough trip for CU.

7. Pivotal early November: Regardless of how the Buffs have done to this point, the first two games of November should be extremely important. The Buffs will host Oregon State on Nov. 6 and visit UCLA on Nov. 13. Going into November, CU hopes to be playing for a Pac-12 title or, at the very least, fighting for bowl eligibility. Either way, beating Oregon State – which has seven consecutive losing seasons – at home is a must. CU is 0-5 at UCLA since joining the Pac-12, but the Bruins, who have had five straight losing seasons, are certainly beatable. These two games could be make-or-break for the Buffs.

8. Huskies in town: CU finally snapped its long losing streak against Washington in 2019, beating the Huskies for the first time since 1996. Although Washington still carries high expectations – Athlon has them at No. 22 – this isn’t the same team that dominated the Buffs in 2016 and 2017. Washington won the North title last year, but played just four games (3-1) and didn’t have to face Oregon, Cal or USC. There are plenty of questions about UW. It’s a good team, but one CU can beat at home on Nov. 20.

9. Finale in Salt Lake City: As usual, the Buffs will wrap up the regular season against Utah, this time on a Friday, Nov. 26. There always seems to be something – the South title or bowl eligibility – on the line for this matchup. Utah has some holes to fill, but the Utes are consistently one of the toughest teams in the Pac-12 and they’ve been a major thorn in the side of the Buffs. Utah has won the last four matchups and eight of the last nine.

Final analysis: If the Buffs can get to 3-2 (or better) going into the bye week, they’ll be in good shape. Anything worse and it’ll be a major uphill climb after the bye. To reach a bowl game, let alone compete for a Pac-12 title, the Buffs must beat Arizona and Oregon State at home. Getting Washington would be huge, too. With four of the last six on the road, CU has to find a way to get at least one, if not two, of those. Despite a good season in 2020, CU has plenty of work to do and it might be too much to expect the Buffs to compete for a Pac-12 South title. The Buffs have the talent, however, to get at least six or seven wins out of this schedule and earn a second consecutive bowl invitation – something that hasn’t happen to CU since the 2004-05 seasons.