10:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Colorado -11.5, Over/Under: 59.0
PAC-12 foes embarking on new eras under the leadership of VERY different figures take the spotlight tonight, as the new-look Colorado Buffaloes play host to the struggling Stanford Cardinal under the bright lights of Friday Night from Folsom Field in Boulder. Every season there are a number of schools looking to begin anew under a promising fresh regime, promoting patience for future reward, and while these two programs are no different in that regard, they couldn’t be more polarizing in how they’re going about it. We’ll get to the circus in Boulder shortly, but as for right now, the complete renovation of Stanford (1-4, 0-3 in PAC-12) is upon us, as (Head Coach) Troy Taylor has one helluva of job on his hands. From 2011 to 2018, the Cardinal were one of the most consistent programs in the country, posting an 82-26 (.759) record, including three conference titles and a pair of Rose Bowl victories, with three different players becoming Heisman Trophy finalists. However, things began to gradually erode on The Farm, as (former HC) David Shaw went just 14-28 over his final four seasons, with eighteen of those defeats coming by fifteen points or more. Following a second consecutive 3-9 finish, Shaw resigned from his post, setting up an unknown future for a school that has struggled mightily to adapt to the changing landscape of college football; a rash of injuries, strict COVID rules, and an inability to make use of the Transfer Portal due their lofty academic standards have all played a role in their descent into mediocrity, which hasn’t been aided by seventeen players who have departed for greener pastures, including a staggering SIX Offensive Linemen. All in all, Taylor has just SIX returning starters from last year’s team, which highlights just how much the former Sacramento State skipper is starting from scratch. To his credit, the 55-year-old has embraced the challenge as he looks to implement his high-powered attack that he rode to a 30-8 record in three years at SCSU, while hiring (former Wisconsin LB Coach) Bobby April to coordinate the defense. So, with five games in the books, how has this new-look Stanford come together, you ask? Well, with nearly half of the season completed, it is clear that there is plenty of work left to do on The Farm. Offensively, the Cardinal have averaged just 19.2 points per game (119th in FBS) on 343.6 total yards, including 194.8 through the air and another 148.8 on the ground, translating to 5.1 yards per play. (Sophomore Quarterback) Ashton Daniels, featured in ten games last Fall as a True Freshman and held onto the starting job for the first four games, completing 60.0% of his throws for 561 yards on 7.0 yards per attempt with three touchdowns opposed to a pair of interceptions, before giving way to (Syracuse transfer) Justin Lamson two weeks ago. Furthermore, a Backfield that has very much been a platoon featuring (Tailbacks) Casey Filkins and E.J. Smith (Emmitt’s son) has been lukewarm at best, churning out just 3.8 yards per carry despite attempting nearly forty rushes per game. As for the defense, April’s unit has shipped 34.6 points (123rd in FBS) on 445.2 total yards, with only two takeaways. When we last saw them, Stanford slid to their fourth consecutive loss and seventeenth in eighteen games in a 6-42 thumping at home against (No. 8) Oregon, which got out of hand despite a relatively tepid start. The hosts hung tight with the Ducks for about twenty minutes, shutting them out in the first quarter (6-0) before relinquishing FORTY-TWO unanswered points the rest of the way. Taylor’s troops were outclassed across the board, particularly in total yards (222-506), first downs (16-26), rushing yards (89-208), and passing yards (133-298), while Lamson struggled in his first start of the season, completing 11-of-20 passes for just 106 yards and rushing for another thirty-two yards despite attempting twenty-two carries. Daniels came in as more of a change-of-pace option than anything else, passing for twenty-seven yards on 3-of-4 throws, before exiting after taking a hard hit to his head. Coming off a bye week, it will be interesting to see who Taylor decides to go with, as the former record-setting Cal Quarterback (how’s that for irony?) is likely to stick with Lamson given his mobility, which is paramount playing behind such an inexperienced Offensive Line. Either way, this is a team that is dealing with a weekly deficiency in terms of talent, as Taylor appears to be relegated to utilizing the rest of this campaign to take inventory of the program prior to their looming transition to the ACC next Fall.
From a betting perspective, Stanford has been marginally better against the spread than they have been straight-up this season, covering two of their five outings thus far. After comfortably besting Hawai’i in the season opener (-2), the Cardinal dropped back-to-back games in both regards, first, as a 29-point underdog at USC (10-56), and second, a 23-30 loss at home to Taylor’s former employer, Sacramento State in which they were favored by 6.5 points. Thye would get back into good graces of the betting community with a narrow 20-21 defeat versus Arizona, covering as 12.5-point underdogs, before failing to come close to beating the 27.5-point line in that aforementioned drubbing at Oregon. Dating back to last season, this is a team that has posted a 2-8 record against the spread over their last ten games overall, including matching that mark in their last ten trips away from The Farm. They have been a bit better as an underdog though, covering three of their last contests when receiving points from the oddsmakers. Furthermore, there a pair of trends working against them tonight, as they have failed to cover six straight games after logging less than 275 total yards of offense, while riding a 5-game losing streak against the spread following a double-digit loss at home. Looking at this particular matchup, the visitor in this series is both 4-1 straight-up and against the spread since 2012. Stanford is 5-3 straight-up and against the spread versus Colorado since 1991, though have split their six meetings in both regards since the Buffaloes joined the PAC-12 in 2011. the last time that they traveled to Folsom Field, they were favored by three points only to lose on a last-second field in a 13-16 affair. On the injury front, the Cardinal could be without Daniels if he is unable to clear concussion protocol in time for tonight’s contest, which is another reason that we believe Lamson will be making his second straight start. (Junior Receiver) John Humphreys has been held out of action for the last three games due to an undisclosed ailment, while (Sophomore Safety) Jimmy Wyrick finds himself in the same boat after missing all four of their losses, with both players listed as questionable to participate in this trip to Boulder. Looking ahead, the schedule won’t be letting up anytime soon for Taylor & Co, who will return to The Farm for homecoming against UCLA before facing (No. 7) Washington, (at) (No. 19) Washington State, (at) (No. 15) Oregon State, California, and (No. 21) Notre Dame to close out the campaign.
Meanwhile, Colorado (4-2, 1-2 in PAC-12) is also in the midst of a new era of football this Fall, which has coincidentally commanded the headlines for months now. Of course, that is what happens when Coach Prime comes to town, with (Head Coach) Deion Sanders making sure that the spotlight is shining firmly on the Buffaloes in this, his first season in Boulder. After turning around a floundering Jackson State program that was coming off five consecutive losing seasons, the Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl Champion opted to take his newfound coaching talents to a bigger stage, taking over a Colorado side that had been in equally dire straits. Simply put, the Buffs had been dormant for quite some time, with just TWO winning seasons in the previous SEVENTEEN years. So, what did Sanders (pictured below) do, you ask? Well, he hit the Transfer Portal HARD; for those of you against the prospect of free agency coming to college football, please avert your attention away from Folsom Field, where a staggering EIGHTY-SIX transfers have arrived since the Spring. Sanders took one look at the personnel on the roster that he inherited and didn’t like what he saw, importing talent from all levels of the sport, from high school to Junior College to the FCS to even the SEC. Hell, he brought NINE transfers from Jackson State alone, including his son, (Junior Quarterback) Shedeur, along with (Sophomore Cornerback/Receiver) Travis Hunter, who was the second overall recruit in the 2022 Recruiting Class. He also made key hires to his caching staff, acquiring the services of (former Kent State HC) Sean Lewis and (former Florida State DC) Charles Kelly to be his Offensive and Defensive Coordinators all in an attempt to makeover a team that was outscored by an average of 29.1 points and outgained by a margin of 229.0 total yards per game last season. With six games in the books, Colorado has been a bit of a mixed bag thus far, though are clearly improved from 2022, particularly on the offensive side of the football where they’ve averaged 33.0 points (44th in FBS) on 415.8 total yards, including 337.2 yards through the air on 7.84 yards per attempt. Sanders (the younger) has enjoyed a relatively smooth transition from the FCS level to the Pac-12, completing an efficient 72.7% of his passes for 2,020 yards on 7.9 yards per attempt with sixteen touchdowns opposed to just two interceptions despite playing behind an Offensive Line that has been a sieve this Fall, shipping TWENTY-FIVE sacks, which is tied for the most in the nation, while paving the way for a disappointing 78.7 rushing yards per contest, netting a scant 2.5 yards per carry along the way. Meanwhile, the defense continues to be a work in progress, relinquishing 34.2 points (122nd in FBS) on 465.5 total yards, which believe it or not are actually healthy improvements from the horrific figures that they posted last year. With that being said, what Kelly’s unit has gotten right is takeaways, as the Buffs have logged TWELVE turnovers thus far, which when combined with Sanders’ care of the football has led to a stellar +7 differential, which is how they’ve managed to compensate for giving up all that yardage. When we last saw the Buffaloes, they managed to bounce back from consecutive defeats to PAC-12 powerhouses, (No. 8) Oregon and (No. 10) USC by a combined FORTY-THREE points, narrowly escaping a third straight loss by way of a 27-24 win over Arizona State in Tempe. Last weekend’s thriller saw Sanders’ troops rally back again and again, trailing on three separate occasions before finally quelling a late push from the Sun Devils. After taking a 24-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter via (Sophomore Kicker) Alejandro Mata’s 42-yard field goal, the hosts tied it up with just fifty seconds left to play in regulation, setting the table for the visitors to make some magic. Beginning from his own 25-yard line, Shedeur needed just two passes to pick up fifty yards, setting up Mata for the game-winner from forty-three yards out, which he sank with confidence, ending the school’s conference losing streak at eight games. In the end, Colorado amassed just 295 total yards with Sanders carrying the load with 239 passing yards on 26-of-42 attempts, compiling two total touchdowns, hooking up with (Senior Receiver) Javon Antonio for a 9-yard score along with a team-high eighty-one yards on five receptions. Defensively, they made stops when they needed to despite shipping 392 total yards, logging FIVE sacks and eight tackles for loss. Given how competitive the PAC-12 has been in this, its final season as presently constructed, it is encouraging that the Buffaloes have made such progress despite all of the turnover and overwhelming fanfare during Sanders’ first year in charge, which should bode well for them as they return to the BIG XII next Fall…
From a betting perspective, this new-look Colorado side is 3-2-1 against the spread thus far in 2023, covering their first two outings with relative ease before running into stiffer competition prior to the start of the conference schedule. Instate rivals, Colorado State gave them all sorts of problems in that overtime affair in which the hype around the hosts had reached its crescendo (-21.5 points). The Buffaloes (+22.5) were blown out in Eugene (6-42), though rallied to make the Trojans sweat (41-48) as a 22.5-point underdog for the second consecutive week. As for last weekend’s battle with PAC-12 cellar-dweller Arizona State, Coach Prime’s charges pushed as 3.0-poin favorites on the road. Dating back to last season, the Buffs are 3-6-1 against the spread in their last ten games overall, while splitting their past ten outings at Folsom Field right down the middle. With that being said, there are a pair of trends working in favor of the Buffs for this one: they have covered five of their last six games against opponents with losing road records, while posting a 4-1- mark against the spread after allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards. Looking at this particular matchup, these schools first met all the way back in 1904, but have crossed both just twelve times with each side winning six games. Colorado has won and covered each of the last three encounters, including their most recent affair, that 35-32 tilt on The Farm three years ago. The Buffaloes were getting eight points from the oddsmakers in that outing and led by as many as nineteen points int he fourth quarter before sweating out a late unsuccessful rally from the hosts. On the injury front, the most notable absence continues to be that of the aforementioned Hunter, who suffered a lacerated liver in a wild, 43-35 overtime thriller against Colorado State, and isn’t expected to return to the gridiron until early November. The rare two-way star has logged an interception and a pair of defended passes, while hauling in sixteen receptions for 213 yards thus far in his first season in Boulder. Apart from Hunter, (Junior Right Tackle) Savion Washington is listed as questionable to participate in tonight’s contest after missing last weekend’s trip to Tempe with an undisclosed ailment. Looking ahead, Sanders & Co will enjoy their bye week before embarking on the final stage of the campaign, which is nothing short of arduous; CU will face (at) UCLA, (No. 15) Oregon State, Arizona, (at) (No. 19) Washington State, and (at) (No. 16) Utah to close out the regular season. Did we mention that the PAC-12 was competitive?