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In Search of Six (or Seven) Wins in 2021

In its preview of CU for the 2021 season, the College Football News set the bar for the win total for the Buffs this season at … 5.5 wins.

The discussion in the article of the Buffs’ chances of going bowling were not unfair, and, when compared to win total projections of previous years, was downright optimistic (recall that Vegas set CU”s win total projection for 2020, when CU was facing a seven-game conference-only schedule at … 1.5 wins. The Daily Camera was even less optimistic, opining that CU fans should be prepared for the fact that the Buffs were as likely to go 0-7 as they were to go 4-3).

In its story about this season, the College Football News noted: “The team will be better, and it might not matter” … “It’s not that Colorado can’t compete or beat just about anyone on the schedule, but it’s a killer”, and “It’s still going to be a process under Dorrell, and there’s still building to do, but it’s going to be a tough out every week and it’ll be even more fun”.

All three statements are largely true.

The Buffs will be better in 2021, with almost everyone back from the 4-2 2020 squad. It is also true that most every team has almost all of their players back, and it’s also true that CU’s schedule is not conducive to an impressive final record.

Broken down, CU’s schedule can be divided into thirds:

  • Four “must win” games – Games which the Buffs cannot afford to lose if a bowl bid is in their future;
  • Four “likely losses” – Games in which the Buffs will likely be at least at touchdown underdog, if not double-digits; and
  • Four “games which will decide the season” – Games which can go either way, and will go a long ways in deciding how the 2021 season is perceived.

Let’s take a look …

Four “Must Win Games” … 

— September 3rd – Northern Colorado

A no-brainer. You can’t lose to an FCS team and have any chance at making the post-season. When the Bears come to Boulder Labor Day weekend, it will be the Bears’ first game in 21 months. Northern Colorado opted out of playing a limited 2020 campaign this spring, which means that the last time the Bears took the field was on November 23, 2019, a 28-21 loss to Cal Poly. Ed McCaffrey has taken over as head coach, and will have his son, ex-Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, leading the team. With a full off-season with nothing to do but prepare for the Buffs, the Bears can be counted on to throw in a few wrinkles to confuse the Buffs early, but, after a few series, CU’s superior talent should carry the day.

— September 18th – Minnesota

This game could arguably be placed in the “games which will decide the season” category, but, as the Buffs are going to enter Pac-12 play with games against Arizona State and USC, the home game against the Golden Gophers is a must for momentum. After an impressive 11-2 campaign in 2019, including wins over No. 4 Penn State and No. 12 Auburn, Minnesota slipped in 2020, going 3-4. We’ll know a great deal more about the Golden Gophers after they open their season against Ohio State on September 2nd. After facing the Buckeyes, Minnesota will have a warm up game against Miami (Ohio) before traveling to Boulder for breakfast (11:00 a.m. kickoff).

— October 16th – Arizona

After running the gauntlet of Texas A&M, Minnesota, at Arizona State, USC, the Buffs will get a bye week before entertaining the Wildcats. The Buffs could be riding high with a winning record by the time Arizona comes to Boulder in mid-October … or could be 1-4. Either way, the home game against Arizona, which is entering the 2021 season on a 12-game losing streak (sadly enough, Arizona’s last win was in Boulder, in October of 2019). The Wildcats face BYU, San Diego State, Northern Arizona, Oregon and UCLA before taking on Colorado. Regardless of how Jedd Fisch’s is doing to start his career as the head coach at Arizona, the Buffs can’t afford to lose this game.

— November 6th – Oregon State

Another opponent which gives CU fans a bad taste in their mouths. CU was not only Arizona’s last win, but the last time the Buffs played Oregon State … disaster struck. In 2018, the 5-2 Buffs had a 31-3 early in the third quarter against the Beavers, only to squander the lead before falling, 41-34, in overtime. The lost sent the Buffs into a spiral, leading to a 5-7 finish, and the end of the Mike MacIntyre era in Boulder. Oregon State is CU’s Homecoming opponent in 2021, and a victory here is a must for CU’s bowl chances.

Four “Likely Losses” … 

September 11th – v. Texas A&M (Denver)

The Aggies are coming off of a 9-1 season in 2020, and are ranked in the Top Ten nationally in most preseason projections. Texas A&M does have to replace most of its offensive line, but its dominating defense returns largely in tact. The Buffs will have the “home field” advantage (assuming CU fans don’t sell their tickets to A&M fans), but it would be a significant upset for the Buffs to win this game.

October 2nd – USC

The Buffs have had their chances lately against the Trojans. The last time the two teams played – in 2019 in Boulder – CU took a 31-21 lead over USC heading into the fourth quarter, only to fall in the end, 35-31. The Trojans will be ranked again this season, and, after a relatively soft opening to their 2021 schedule – San Jose State, Stanford, Washington State, Oregon State – USC will come to Boulder with a high ranking and plenty of momentum. The reality is that CU is 0-14 all-time against USC, and until the Buffs win a game in this series, the program will not be taken seriously as a contender in the Pac-12 South.

October 30th – at Oregon 

Another game in which the Buffs will likely be facing a top ranked team … and will likely be a double-digit underdog. The Ducks backed into the Pac-12 title last year (not even winning its own division), but winning at Autzen will be a tough task for the Buffs. Coming late in the season, it will be unlikely that the Buffs will be able to pull off a surprise upset, like they did in the Pac-12 opener in 2016. The game will be a sandwich game for the Ducks, between road tilts at UCLA and at Washington, so the Ducks may be looking past CU to its showdown against the Huskies … but this is still a big ask to have CU win this game.

November 26th – at Utah

The 2021 regular season finale could be the game which decides whether or not the Buffs go bowling this fall. If that proves to be the case, it could be another long winter for the Buff Nation. The Buffs were 5-6 in 2017, needing a win over the Utes to go bowling … and lost, 34-13. In 2018, the Buffs also came into the game with five wins … and lost, 30-7. In 2019, the 5-6 Buffs lost to the Utes, 45-15. The harsh reality is that CU has only beaten Utah twice in ten tries since the two teams joined the Pac-12. The Utes might not be a Top 25 team in 2021, but, until proven otherwise, they have the Buffs’ number.

Four “Games Which Will Decide the Season”

If CU wins its four “Must Win” games, and can’t buy an upset in the “Four Likely Losses”, then the success or failure of the 2021 season will come down to these four games …

September 25th – at Arizona State

The Sun Devils, in Year Four under Herm Edwards, are the media darlings of the preseason set. Arizona State is considered by many to be a Top 25 team, and is given a decent shot at winning the Pac-12 South. The thing is … Herm Edwards is 0-2 against Colorado. As much as it pains CU fans to be 0-14 against USC, and have a four-game losing streak to Utah, the Buffs are not intimidated by the Sun Devils. The game will be in Tempe in September, and even though the game will be at night, it will likely be played in 90-degree heat. Arizona State’s pre-CU schedule – Southern Utah, UNLV, BYU – is manageable, so the Buffs will likely be facing a Sun Devil team ranked in the Top 20 nationally.

October 23rd – at California

Cal is a hard team to figure. The Bears seem to trip up when something is expected of them, but rise to the occasion when they have been written off. Like CU’s road game against Stanford last season, the 2021 CU trip to the Bay Area could be season defining. The Bears stumbled to a 1-3 record last fall, losing to UCLA, Oregon State and Stanford … before rallying to defeat Oregon. Cal has three tough road games – at TCU; at Washington; at Oregon – mixed in with three winnable home games – Nevada; Sacramento State; and Washington – and could be 3-3 with bowl aspirations of its own when CU visits Berkeley in late October

November 13th – at UCLA

UCLA, like Arizona State, has a great deal of expected of it in 2021 … largely because of its name coach. Chip Kelly is only 10-21 in his three years in Westwood, but somehow pundits like what they see in the 2021 Bruin roster. Kelly is 1-2 against Colorado, with the lone win coming when CU travelled to the Rose Bowl in November of 2019 (a 31-14 UCLA victory). UCLA will face a season-defining stretch of its own before facing the Buffs – at Washington; Oregon; at Utah, with a game against USC to follow the game against Colorado … a tough go, but UCLA does have a bye week to prepare for its game against CU.

November 20th – Washington

The last time the Buffs played in Folsom Field before a crowd of any significance, the Buffs defeated the Huskies, 20-14, on November 23, 2019. It was a magical night, and, even though it only gave CU five wins in Mel Tucker’s first season, winning a big game in November seemed to portend great things for CU’s future. Of course, the Buffs went on to lose to Utah on the road the following weekend, and stay home while Tucker made plans to coach elsewhere. While Karl Dorrell is unlikely to bolt after finishing the 2021 home slate against Washington, the game against Huskies could be just as meaningful. Washington’s season could be well defined by the time the Huskies hit Boulder, and may well be a ranked team, but CU’s final home game could well decide whether or not CU will be going bowling in 2021.

So, there you have it … four must wins, four likely losses, and four games which will decide the season. As fate would have it, three of the four toss-up games will come late in the season, so CU’s destiny will be in its own hands. Perhaps the Buffs will pull off an upset over A&M, USC, or Oregon, giving the Buffs some cushion heading into the final month of the season … or … an unexpected loss to a beatable team will leave the Buffs in desperation mode, needing to have a huge November just to get to the post-season.

As the College Football News put it, though, the Buffs will be a tough out for every team on its schedule … and it’s going to be a fun ride.

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18 Replies to “In Search of Six (or Seven)”

  1. Stu, I think you hit the nail on the head on each of these games. I think we all agree on this site that the national media is not giving Dorrell nearly enough credit for last year. The more I think about it the more I think it was a truly Herculean effort. In addition, I have to say think of the buy in from the player side. Most of the team has never had a winning record and Dorrell comes in and in the most difficult situation imaginable leads them to a 4-2 record. I think the players are buying in big time and doing the work. I think this is reflected in Dorrell’s comments about spring that he really likes the progress. I think our depth is what hurt us the most last year in our losses and Dorrell has really went out and addressed this in the transfer portal. Noyer was not the same after the SDSU game, it actually occurred during it and the coaches though an injured Noyer was better than the replacement. Noyer is a great running about and at the beginning of the year he was a solid passer (and bad at the end) The kid from Tennessee has a cannon for an arm but really inaccurate from what I saw on his film and not a great runner, Lewis is also a very good runner from the brief time we saw and he seemed to have some good accuracy as well so I suspect if an injury comes again we will likely see a new Qb. The depth at linebacker is also much better, though Landman is a massive difference maker so hopefully he is back and at least 90%. Perhaps it is just spring optimism but despite being snakebit so much the past 15 years I think we have finally turned a corner. My fearless prediction: CU Beats 1 of the likely losses teams. One of those will have a down game against us or have a worse than expected year and CU snaps off an unexpected win. Maybe Utah? They always seem to drop one late in the year….. CU wins all the games they are expected to. This is the true measure to me of this team and I think we saw this last year when Arizona stormed out to a 13 point lead and CU came back to win. I watched the game recently and we came out at the beginning trying to throw a ton. I think Noyer could have made those throws at the beginning of the season but by this point his shoulder was limiting him more than even he and the coaches realized. And now the most fearless part of the prediction, CU wins at least 2 and likely 3 of the season defining games. I am betting Washington (Peterson is what made them so great), UCLA (Chip gets fired after this game, or he fires his defensive coordinator), and Cal (I am just not a believer yet)….. 7-5 / 8-4…… what a second season it would be!

    1. I do agree a lot rides on Noyer/Shrout (agree BLew only plays due to injury)…personally I think Noyer’s struggles were that he’s fine in man/man…but the zones gave him huge issue b/c he locks onto primary target at snap. Every team realized that and he saw tons of zone/hybrids as the season went on…this also helps the D w/a running QB…to have defenders watching him vs. running w/receivers. Until Noyer shows he can beat a zone (here come the TEs!!) he is very, very limited.

  2. whoops
    I even appreciate the preseason way too early projections that way too many people making a living throwing the same ol chiken poop against the wall to see if it sticks. I think everyone realizes by now I wont be happy if I cant do my fair share of beetching.

  3. Great work as always Stuart! I think that we somehow get to six wins and then back to a bowl game in consecutive years! It has been a while…

  4. Since I am not in the area….I am sensing great apprehension that the A&M game will be pro Aggies?? That would make sense and is understandable given the dynamics at play, but boy what a poor look on TV if that is the case.

  5. 3 of 4 in the ‘must’ category are on the road…we’ve looked poor in outings at the Rose Bowl and Berkeley (a few of those which I have had the misfortune of attending)…though I was also at the last Chris Brown beatdown of UCLA at the Bowl…and we are still talking about it.

  6. I think ya got it pegged.

    Go Buffs

    Note: A bowl game will require the offense to be a real offense

  7. Morning Stu,

    I am gonna comment before I read it, to let you know I like these type of things you do vs linking other stories. Get my drift?

    Buffs Win

    1. I’m not getting paid for this site. I have to work for a living.
      It takes time to put together these essays – which is why they are not posted every day.
      Get my drift?

      1. I have to work as well and with other “activities” I have to pay attention to I would never have the time to even find the linked stories that you do. So they are extremely appreciated. The only reason I am able to find the time to what seems like comment excessively in here is because I spend most of my day on the screen working anyway and talking Buffs is a nice breather

        1. Agree with this. Lots of hours in my job so I like checking in and seeing what happens with the Buffs on this site. As for predictions, I’m just happy to go to games again and watch the Buffs program develop under KD.

      2. I’m thinking that VK should contribute some articles and then we can all take turns critiquing them.

        1. I agree. Thou he kinda already does lol.

          Personally, I enjoy the linked articles as well as the authored ones. Bringing the stories to us here in one place is awesome. Thanks Stuart!

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