CU v. Northern Colorado Preview: “T.I.P.S.” for the ’21 season opener

… Related … If you prefer your predictions verbally, “CU at the Game Podcast: Pac-12 Division Races / ‘T.I.P.S.’ for CU v. UNC” can be found at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or pretty much wherever you download your favorites. Or, if you would prefer, you can find the podcast here or here.

There has been very little that has been normal about college football for the past 18 months.

Here’s the thing … even if 2021 had been “normal”, the opening wouldn’t have felt that way for the Buff Nation. For the first time since 1994, CSU is off of the schedule. The Buffs were supposed to open up the 2020 season in Ft. Collins, bringing to a merciful end the Rocky Mountain Showdown series. This fall would have ended a streak of 26 consecutive seasons with games against the Rams.

As it turned out CU, after several fits and starts, didn’t play Colorado State in 2020 – in Ft. Collins or otherwise. Instead of facing the Rams, the Buffs opened the 2020 season against UCLA, a satisfying 48-42 victory. A promising 4-0 start led to a national ranking, but an 0-2 finish left the Buffs with questions left to answer.

This fall, as the Buffs open their second season under Karl Dorrell, the first opponent will be the Northern Colorado Bears from the Big Sky Conference.

Easy win, right?

Well, one Las Vegas site only had CU as about a two-touchdown favorite, which isn’t a huge spread for a CU home game against a team which last played in 2019 … when the Bears posted a 2-10 record. (Subsequent lines are much more favorable to the Buffs. Here’s one with a 35.5-point line).

Perhaps Vegas is on to something. The only other time the Buffs have opened the season against an FCS opponent was in 2006. That fall, the Dan Hawkins’ era at Colorado opened with a thud … an inauspicious 19-10 loss to Montana State.

Yuck. Perhaps we shouldn’t look backward, but forward …

So, without further adieu, here are the inaugural “T.I.P.S.” of the 2021 season …

This Week’s “T.I.P.S” for CU v. Northern Colorado – 7:00 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks

T – Talent

It’s hard to discuss the Northern Colorado Bears without mentioning the name McCaffrey.

The Mac-to-Mac-to-Mac connection in Greeley features quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, transferring in from Michigan. Dylan’s big brother, Max, has put NFL tryouts on the backburner to serve as the Bears’ offensive coordinator. They’re joining forces with their dad, Ed, the longtime NFL receiver who was hired as head coach in December, 2019, and will finally make his college coaching debut at Colorado (the Bears’ season in 2020 was postponed due to the virus. UNC did not play any games this spring, but did have some full scrimmages against two Division II teams, Chadron State (Neb.) and Colorado State-Pueblo).

A dual-threat at Michigan, Dylan had a shot at the starter’s job with the Wolverines last season before dealing with an injury. He ended up entering the transfer portal and joined his dad with the Bears.

“Guys are flying, guys are competing,” Dylan said when asked about the speed difference between the Big Ten and the Big Sky. “It’s been so good to see just the talent on both sides. It’s been incredible.”

What does Coach Ed McCaffrey have to work with?

Suffice it to say, this is not the same team which last saw the field in November of 2019. There are 22 transfers and 11 JUCOs on the Bears’ roster, giving them 33 players that should be chomping at the bit to play. Included on the list are a number of transfers from Power Five schools, including three from CU (defensive linemen Tava Finau and Austin Williams; defensive back Uryan Hudson).

On offense, Dylan McCaffrey will have some weapons at his disposal. Senior running back Tru Wilson is another Michigan transfer, while Dylan Thomas (TCU transfer) and Kassidy Woods (Washington State transfer) provide Power Five experience on the outside. The top returning receiver is sophomore Jaren Mitchell, who recorded 48 receptions for 740 yards and two touchdowns in 2019.

The defense, though, doesn’t have the same star power which dots the roster on offense. And the defensive coordinator – along with about half of the coaching staff – coached with Ed McCaffrey at Valor Christian high school. A grand experiment –

While there has been an influx of new talent in Greeley, this is still the team which, when it last took to the field in 2019, was losing by scores of 45-14 (to Montana State), 50-0 (to Sacramento State), and 59-17 (to Washington State).


I – Intangibles

The last best chance for Northern Colorado to upset the Buffs may come at the opening coin toss.

And I’m pretty serious here.

If CU wins the coin toss, and defers to the second half (which the Buffs should not do), CU will put the UNC offense on the field for the first series of the game.

Why would that matter?

Putting Dylan McCaffrey on the field first gives the Bears the opportunity to control the opening tempo of the game. Northern Colorado, quite literally, has nothing to lose in this contest, so why not pull out all of the stops? Reverses, half back options, fake punts … it’s all on the table for a coaching staff and a team which has had – wait for it – almost two full years to prepare for this game. The Colorado coaching staff has no tape to watch (Coach Dorrell indicated that the coaching staff did watch some Valor Christian tape from several years ago … for what it was worth), so the Buff defense will be flying blind – at least at the start of the game.

Conversely, if the Colorado offense is on the field to open the game, the Buffs can dictate the tempo. Jarek Broussard up the middle … dump off to Brady Russell over the middle … slant to Dimitri Stanley or Brenden Rice.  CU can march down the field on its own terms against an undersized and undermanned UNC defense, taking the wind out of the sails of the Bears and their fans before the UNC offense even has the chance to take the field.

If the Bears on on the field first, and can find some success (by trickery or otherwise), the Buffs may give the Bears hope, and hope makes for a tense game in the stands for the Buff Nation.

The last time UNC played a Pac-12 team, it was September, 2019. Northern Colorado played Washington State in Pullman, with the Cougars running away with a 59-17 victory.

Sounds good.

It was 7-7, though, late in the first quarter of that game, and only 21-10, Washington State, deep into the second quarter … so the game was not as quite as easy as the final score would indicate.

And remember the last time UNC played in Boulder? It was only four years ago, in a game which Lance Carl in our interview last month called “ugggly”.

In the 2017 game, UNC actually took a 7-0 lead over the Buffs early in the first quarter, and it was only 14-7 Buffs in the second quarter. Northern Colorado scored late in the second, and again early in the third, making it a 28-21 game. It wasn’t until midway through the fourth quarter, when Steven Montez hit Jay MacIntyre for a 14-yard score and a 38-21 lead, that the Buff Nation was finally allowed to breath easy.

So, when the captains walk towards midfield for the coin toss, pay attention.

It could actually make a difference which team kicks off.

(Oh, and Buffs … if you do get to receive the opening kickoff … watch out for the onside kick!).


P – Preparation/Schedule

As noted, Northern Colorado did not play an official game during the 2020 season. While some Big Sky teams played in the spring, the Bears completely opted out of playing any league games. As a result, the last time UNC played a game which counted was on November 23, 2019, a 28-21 loss to Cal Poly. The last time the Bears walked off of the field of play as victors was on November 2, 2019, a 28-20 win over Idaho State.

The Bears did get in two controlled scrimmages this spring, playing two Division II schools, Chadron State (Nebraska) and Colorado State-Pueblo.

“I really appreciate them bringing this team out there and competing with us,” said UNC coach Ed McCaffrey after his Bears beat Chadron State, 43-6. “They got better, we got better.”

While the games may have not counted in the standings, coaches and players were excited for the opportunity.

“We’ve got a long way to go. We have a tough opponent to open up with next year, but I’m really proud of them,” McCaffrey said. “I think we’re where we need to be as a team as of today. We certainly can get better and hopefully will get better.”

Colorado, meanwhile, last took the field in December in San Antonio, absorbing an embarrassing 55-23 loss to Texas.

Both teams come into the 2021 season opener even in terms of fall preparation, as this will be the season opener for both teams.

The opponents for the following games, however, couldn’t be more different.

Both CU and UNC will take on teams from southeast Texas.

The Buffs will battle No. 6 Texas A&M in Denver.

The Bears, meanwhile, will battle … the Houston Baptist.

The Houston Baptist Huskies, in case you were wondering, are an FCS team who play in the Southland Conference (home to schools like Incarnate Word and Nicholls). Houston Baptist did play last year, posting a 1-3 record.

So, if you were a Northern Colorado Bear, would you be more focused on the Buffs or the Huskies?

Meanwhile, if you were a Buff, would you be more focused on the Bears or the Aggies?


S – Statistics 

It’s difficult to use the 2019 statistics against the 2021 Northern Colorado Bears, but you have to work off of something.

— The 2-10 Bears were out-scored by an average tally of 37-20.

— The UNC offense was fairly competitive in the passing game, trailing their opponents, 259 yards per/game v. 248 yards/game for the Bears. Where Northern Colorado was dominated, however, was in the run game, running the ball for only 108 yards/game … while giving up 248 yards/game.

Paging Jarek Broussard …

If the Buffs don’t have a 100-yard rusher against the Bears … or two … then CU is in trouble.

Perhaps the best numbers to gauge where Northern Colorado stands as the 2021 season unfolds is the Big Sky preseason polls. In the media poll, the Bears were picked to finish 12th in the 13-team Big Sky Conference.

In the preseason Big Sky coaches poll, the Bears were picked to finish … last.

Now, in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, Colorado was a solid pick to finish 5th in the Pac-12 South, so the Buffs don’t have much to brag about.

But expectations for CU are certainly higher as the 2021 season unfolds.

For Northern Colorado, even a few wins this fall would be considered as progress … the Bears have won only seven games in the past three seasons of play.

“One of our goals has been to play to win,” Ed McCaffrey said. “That just means preparing to the best of our ability, playing with great effort, and being determined to be the best that we can be on each and every snap that we play.”

He said playing with physicality, discipline and focus should win games. The national championship might be out of reach for this season — and that’s fine — but there aren’t concerns about eventually reaching their own expectations.

“I think it starts there, with the process,” Ed McCaffrey said. “I want to be able to look our coaches and players in the eye after the game, and I want us to know that we gave each other everything we had. At the end of the day, it’s really all you can do and the scoreboard will take care of itself.”


Prediction … 

Last year, the Buffs under Karl Dorrell defied the odds.

Las Vegas put the over/under on CU wins for the seven-game season at 1.5.

Pat Rooney of the Boulder Daily Camera had the Buffs posting a 1-6 record. (This year, Rooney says it’s “difficult for this crystal ball to see beyond a 5-7 record for CU in Year Two of the Dorrell Era“).

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, similarly, had CU posting one win in 2020 (Wilner is not exactly bullish on the Buffs for 2021, either, picking CU to finish 4-8, 2-7)

Last fall, it was hard to feel good about picking a team to win many contests with a head coach who hadn’t been able to meet with his team for his first six months on the job, with a quarterback who hadn’t started a game since his senior year in high school … in 2015, and a freshman running back also making his debut.

All Sam Noyer did was to go on to be named second-team All-Pac-12, with Jarek Broussard being named the Pac-12 Offensive Player-of-the-Year. The Buffs finished 4-2, with Karl Dorrell being named Pac-12 Coach-of-the-Year.

The Buff in 2021 don’t need to defy odds in order to be successful … at least in the opener. They just need to meet expectations.

The expectations are that the offense under Brendon Lewis will be run-oriented, with the offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage as the CU coaching staff tries to ease Lewis into his first collegiate start.

I can see Northern Colorado keeping it close early, especially if the Bears get the ball first (see above), and have a chance to use some of the plays and formations that they have been practicing for months … and no one else has seen.

Once the CU coaching staff, though, has had the chance to see what the Bears have to offer, they should – make that better – make adjustments, and take control of the game.

For those who have made the trip up from Denver for a Friday night game, and want to get home at a decent hour … they should have that opportunity.

Will Karl Dorrell take it easy late on his former player, or keep starters in the game to get them ready for A&M?

Probably more likely the former, rather than the latter, making the final score less appealing than some Buff fans are hoping for to open the 2021 season.

Prediction … Colorado 38, Northern Colorado 17. 


28 Replies to “CU v. Northern Colorado – “T.I.P.S.” for Buffs v. Bears”

  1. CU 35 UNC 20. CU works some kinks out with new QB, UNC nothing to lose. Hope spread is much bigger obviously. Will just be fun to go to a game. Go Buffs!!

  2. Yea, I agree that a few of the starters listed for this game may be close 2nd stringers getting an opportunity to show their stuff, while maybe also giving less to A&M. Especially if they are doing well enough against a lower division team to leave them in, having their “backups” spelling them for a few and maybe the next on the depth chart too.

    The Buffs offensive line should be able to open some nice holes for the RBs, and the Bear’s defense was their weak side which got less help through transfers, the Buffs should run all over them. For that reason the Buffs should past 300 yards rushing.

    The Buffs defensive line better be able to control the line of scrimmage and contain their QB & RB, if the Buffs can’t do that, how can they compete against A&M, Minnesota and the whole PAC12?

    Even with all of their transfers and CC players, the Bears lines will wear down too.

    If the Buffs can get past 300 on the ground then 5 rushing TDs could happen add a couple of passing and that’s 49 add in a FG try or two and your at 55. Hold them to under 21!

    GO BUFFS! Only 3 more days!

  3. game is gonna be tough. maybe I’m traumatized by Montana State my Freshman year in 06 however, this is a Colorado school playing the buffs and like CSU, i expect nothing less than UNC emptying the playbook on us and having those trick plays in the bag. hate to say it but 35-20 buffs. lewis plays the whole game.

    1. The 35.5 line just came out. If you look at the link from OddsShark, which is all I had at the time, they predicted a score of 21-7.
      Now that other sites have (finally) come out with lines, I will post them as well.

  4. If the Fighting McCafferty Bears beat the 14 point spread, unless it’s against CU’s third stringers, I will be mildly disappointed.

    But, it is definitely fun to have a game on the immediate horizon. I too thought the starting lineup looked like they were giving some of the projected 2nd teamers a shot, whether due to people being dinged up, or giving them a shot to start and see how they do, etc. If it was in fact earned by being the better guy? That probably bodes well for the depth at those spots.

    Go Buffs

    1. The starting lineup kind of struck me as if Karl was treating this a bit like an NFL pre-season game. Which he may be. I guess we’ll find out.

      Go Buffs

  5. A friend of mine has a son on the strength and condition staff at UNC. He went to the UNC scrimmage a few weeks ago and said all they did was throw the ball. Hopefully a CU coach was there watching from afar.

      1. Let’s hope so, you would think our lines have an advantage over theirs…let them throw the ball a ton, w/Landman we know our run D is good enough. Would be great to work on passing D all night.

    1. Stuart…do you or DP know the last time a CU QB has taken every snap for the team in a season (or at least was healthy enough to take every snap, as lopsided games bring in backups)?? Would be very curious to know.

      1. You only have to go back to 2019. Steven Montez started every game, and threw 405 passes (completing 255 for 2,808 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while we’re here).
        Blake Stenstrom threw three passes in mop up duty that season; Tyler Lytle one; and K.D. Nixon one.
        Montez was the work horse in 2018 as well, with 399 pass attempts in his 12 starts (Sam Noyer had 14 pass attempts for the season).

        It was a good question … the answer makes me feel a little bit better about getting Brendon Lewis through the entire season …

        1. Difference was Montez would lay down 2 yards prior to the line to gain and we’d punt. Then lose. Is that how Lewis is going to roll (this is me hoping not)?

          1. If it’s a choice between Lewis laying down two yards too early and forcing a punt, or having Lewis get the first down and be lost for the season with an injury … this year, I’ll take the punts and hope the defense keeps us in the game …

        2. Thank you Stuart!!! Makes me feel a little better too. But wasn’t 2019 vs. USC when Montez went out w/concussion, Blake came in and ran well, then we put Montez back in and lost the game??? The years do certainly blend together after living many of them.

          1. Yes, it was 2019, when we had USC – HAD them – with a 31-21 lead at the end of the third quarter, only to get run over in the fourth quarter in a 35-31 loss.
            I will never forget, though, Viska’s touchdown early in the third quarter, when he went for a 75-yard touchdown and got a hug from Rick George in the end zone (they can’t take that away from me!)

          2. Regardless though, Montez did only miss a couple series, but we did botch the protocol, and he should have remained out (I recall his play being coming down a few notches after returning).

    1. Broussard has 150 before they stop running him, Fontenot has a 100 before he gets pulled and Clayton gets his hundred in the 4th quarter sharing time with the other backs. We run, and run a lot. We throw in an occasional pass just to spice things up and make sure Lewis can still throw the ball this year. Blackmon, Gonzalez, and Miller/Bethel shut down the passing attack while Wells/Land/Sami/Rodman have multiple meetings at the QB. Landman is caught having a sandwich during one of the plays while he is making a tackle for a loss on 4th down. He is given an unsportsmanlike penalty as it is assumed he is taunting them. Under review the penalty is reversed as it was found out he was just really hungry and he offered a bite to the running back becuase he felt sorry for him. At some point there is serious talk about the safety of the UNC players. The Valor high school DC is overheard saying “well how do you expect me to come up with a defense when I can’t just buy the best players in the state?” And the OC is heard saying “but dad, you can’t expect us to figure out the coverage when they are disguising it!”

      I have drunk the Kool Aid! Bring on Friday! 70 – 3.

      1. That’s awesome RobO. 70-3 would have me dancing in my Livingroom. Heck I thought I was being over optimistic.

  6. “Prediction … Colorado 38, UCLA 17. ”
    I liked your prediction, Stuart, but should we bot wait a bit for it? 😄
    Go Buffs! Beat UNC!

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