CU v. TCU: “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs’ First Attempt to Put the 2021 Season Behind Them

… Related … If you prefer your predictions verbally, “CU at the Game Podcast: “T.I.P.S.” for CU v. TCU, 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.

Be careful what you wish for.

Buff fans have longed for the 2022 season to arrive, anxious to put the long and frustrating 2021 season in the rearview mirror.

Well, we’re finally here, but the prognosticators are not foreseeing better days for the Colorado football team. I haven’t seen a single national publication which picks the Buffs to have a winning record and a bowl bid. Most experts have CU winning two to four games. The Pac-12 media picked Colorado to finish last – that would be 12th in the new division-less Pac-12 conference, behind an Arizona team which has won one of its past 35 games. Those same media members failed to place a single Buff on either their first- or second- preseason All-Pac-12 teams (while placing at least two players from every other school in the conference on those teams).

Against that backdrop, it’s really no surprise that the Buffs have been listed as double-digit underdogs – at home – against TCU. The Horned Frogs, for their part, are not world-beaters. They have their first new head coach in 21 years – with former SMU and Cal head coach Sonny Dykes replacing Gary Patterson – had one of the worst defenses in college football last fall, and, after a 5-7 finish, are in search of their first bowl bid since 2018.

And yet, the line for the game has continued to rise. TCU was a 6.5-point pick over the Buffs in June, but that number has climbed to 11-points as the Horned Frogs prepare to invade Folsom Field. TCU didn’t pick up any five star transfers in the past two months, and CU hasn’t lost any (more) personnel, but the line has gone up almost a touchdown anyway.

Can the Buffs begin their “Shock the World” tour with an upset win over a mediocre Big 12 team? Or will TCU prove the critics right, and set CU on a course for another disappointing season?

Let’s find out …

This Week’s “T.I.P.S” for CU v. TCU – Friday, 8:00 p.m., MT, ESPN – A Designated “Blackout” Game

T – Talent

Incumbent v. backup?

Stay with the returning starter, even though his play was inconsistent, with the team finishing with a losing record? Or do you role the dice with the newer guy, giving the team a fresh start and new energy heading into the new season?

Brendon Lewis v. J.T. Shrout?

No … we’re talking about Max Duggan (wearing No. 15), the three-year starter at quarterback for TCU, being challenged by former Oklahoma transfer Chandler Morris (No. 14).

Both quarterbacks had starts last year, with Morris given a chance to play after 21-year head coach Gary Patterson was let go mid-season. Morris was spectacular in a 30-28 upset win over No. 12 Baylor, throwing for 461 yards (and rushing for 70 more), but was brought down to earth the following week in a 63-17 rout by Oklahoma State. Duggan returned to the starting lineup thereafter, going 1-1 in the final two games of TCU’s 5-7 season.

For his part, new head coach Sonny Dykes indicated that as many as three quarterbacks could see time for the Horned Frogs against the Buffs. Whether he was trying to throw off the CU coaches’ preparation, was indicating that he really hadn’t chosen a starter … or claiming that the TCU rout of CU would be so complete that even the third-stringer would get a chance for playing time against the Buffs – your guess is as good as mine.

Whoever wins the starting job (most likely Duggan?), there will be a strong receiver corps to test CU’s baby Buff secondary. The big-play receiver trio of Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis and Taye Barber (combined: 99 receptions, 16.5 yards per catch) return. Quentin Johnston (wearing No. 1) was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2021, and is a preseason first-team selection as well.

The rushing attack was good in 2021 (29th nationally), and features third-team preseason All-Big 12 rusher Kendre Miller (No. 33). That being said, with only two returning starters along the offensive line, and with Sonny Dykes and his air raid offense invading Fort Worth, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the TCU rushing attack took a step back in 2022.

Suffice it to say, if CU wants to defeat the TCU, the Buffs will have to find a way to stop the TCU passing attack.

Or … perhaps better stated … The Buffs’ new offense will need to find a way to out-score the Horned Frogs.

It was shocking that in a conference with rapidly improving overall defense, a team run by Patterson, one of the best defensive innovators of the 21st century, suddenly couldn’t make stops. In 11 games against FBS competition, TCU never allowed fewer than 28 points and gave up at least 42 four times. Average defensive SP+ ranking in its first nine years in the Big 12: 21.7. Last year: 109th. And that was with ace pass-rushers Ochaun Mathis (now at Nebraska) and Khari Coleman (Ole Miss).

Patterson is now serving as Steve Sarkisian’s special assistant in Austin, and TCU replaced him with a guy who already lived in the metroplex. Sonny Dykes was one of the first coaches to openly embrace portal life, importing 15 transfers, including defensive backs Mark Perry (Colorado) and Josh Newton (ULM) and every position in between.

New defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie, whose past three Tulsa defenses all ranked 51st or better, will have to make the most of some mismatched toys. The transfers will help but we’ll see how much improvement he can engineer on short notice.

TCU has the talent to score on CU’s defense.

TCU has a defense which can be scored upon.

Can the Buffs keep up?

I – Intangibles

The burden of increased expectations is squarely upon Karl Dorrell’s back – and he has embraced the challenge. While TCU fans are enjoying their honeymoon with new head coach Sonny Dykes, this is a make-or-break season for Dorrell.

8-10 in his first two seasons, no one outside of the Champions Center is talking about the evolutionary process taking place at CU. The Buffs were horrible on offense last year, hovering around the bottom ten (out of 130 FBS teams) in almost every significant offensive category. The offensive coordinator brought in to take over for Darrin Chiaverini, Mike Sanford, was not retained by Minnesota. Rather than make a splash hire, Dorrell made a hire which didn’t impress the national media (if anything, the hire was met with snickers).

And now the Buffs, after losing some of its best players to the Transfer Portal, are supposed to be better?

Damn right, says Dorrell.

“The prognosticators out there feel like we’re going to be at the very bottom of this conference,” Dorrell said. “I can tell you, I’ve got 110 guys in the back here and we’re going to be at the very top of this conference. We’ve got a lot to prove and we do feel we have the ability to do but it gives us motivation. It gives us some excitement about the future.”

Throughout the offseason, Dorrell has often expressed his excitement about the work being put in by the team and by their willingness to galvanize through adversity.

“I feel very, very excited about this team and some of it is drawing on faith about what they can become,” he said. “Those are things that we talk about quite often, about maximizing their potential. I do believe in one thing, though, and it’s happened everywhere I’ve been in my 34 years of coaching: When you have an offseason that is an outstanding offseason, it really correlates to an outstanding fall. This team has put in the work.”

With that kind of talk, and with the lack of excitement surrounding the program outside of campus, there is a great deal of pressure on this team to show that they are better than the 2021 team.

And they don’t have three cupcake non-conference games to warm up. Instead of playing three home games to start the season, against the likes of Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama (which is UCLA’s non-conference schedule), the Buffs play TCU, at Air Force, and at Minnesota.

If the Buffs don’t hit the ground running – and hit it from minute one – there’s no chance of gaining momentum later. CU’s November schedule is: Oregon; at USC; at Washington; Utah. Head into the final month of the season with a 2-6 record … well, it could be updating resume time for the coaching staff.

The first quarter of the TCU game won’t necessarily be decisive, as both teams have so many unknowns to their teams that some new plays and some missed assignments might skew the early results.

But Buff fans should know by halftime if the 2022 CU team has come to play, or if the off-season was just the usual bluster.

We’ll see how this young Buff team will stand up to that kind of pressure …

P – Preparation/Schedule

At first glance, the question of finding an advantage between the Buffs and Horned Frogs in terms of preparation would seemingly be a wash. After all, both teams are playing their 2022 season opener. The game has been on the calendar for years; the rosters have been largely set for months.

But there is more to this category than the preparation for the current game. What lies ahead can play a role in the outcome of the game just ahead … and may this weekend.

Colorado has a road game next weekend against Air Force. In addition to being a team which has won 20 of its last 27 games, and a team which is looking to repeat its ten-win 2021 season with a run at the Mountain West Mountain Division title, the Falcons present the Buffs with another problem.

Their offense.

The option which Air Force runs gives opponents fits, especially those which don’t have to play against them on an annual basis (witness the Buffs’ struggles to slow down the Falcons in 2019 under Mel Tucker … a week after upsetting Nebraska). When I interviewed members of the defense this spring for the CU at the Game NIL Interview series, I asked them if they already had Air Force on their radar. To a man, they said that preparations for the Falcons was indeed part of their summer routine.

Meanwhile, back in Fort Worth … 

After facing Colorado in their opener, the Horned Frogs will return back to the state of Texas for their 2022 home opener … against the Tarleton Texans.

If you are not familiar with Tarleton, you can be forgiven … I didn’t even know their nickname was the Texans. A newly minted member of the Western Athletic Conference, last season Tarleton went 6-5 playing a schedule which included Ft. Lewis, Dixie State and New Mexico Highlands.

Or, put the game in perspective another way, ESPN Football Power Index gives Tarleton a 0.02 chance of defeating TCU.

Oh, and after Tarleton, TCU has … a bye week.

So, between CU and a game against SMU on September 24th, TCU has a scrimmage and a bye week.

Think TCU coaches and players have been focusing 100% of their attention on the CU game the past few weeks?

Me, too.

Advantage: TCU.

S – Statistics 

Otherwise known as the car accident section. You know you should look away, but you just can’t …

Stats to make you smile … As bad as Colorado was on offense last year, TCU was equally bad on defense. You’ve heard of the paradox of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object?

What about the wobbly force meeting pushover object?

  • On offense … Nothing in the 100s from the Horned Frogs. TCU was 36th in total offense, coming in at 435.8 yards/game, but didn’t take advantage of the yards, finishing 65th in scoring offense, at 28.7 points per game …
  • On defense … TCU was 86th in passing defense in 2021, giving up 239.8 yards per game, but that was as good as it got for the Horned Frogs last fall. TCU was 122nd in rushing defense (222.0 yds/game), 119th in total defense (461.8) and 118th in scoring defense (34.9).

Stats to make you cringe … You can feel free to skip this one, if you are squeamish. These are numbers which CU fans lived with for all of the 2021 season, and have had thrown at them over and over again by the preseason magazines. If you wanted to justify picking Colorado as the No. 12 team in the Pac-12, and one of the worst teams in the Power Five conferences, you just pulled up these stats:

  • On offense … 129th (not last! … by exactly one spot) in total offense (257.4 yards/game) … 126th in passing offense (131.3 yards/game) … 121st in scoring offense (18.8 points/game) … 119th in third down conversions (.323) … 129th in first downs (14.4) …
  • On defense … No categories in the 100s … but … CU was in the 90s in rushing defense (96th), passing defense (90th), and, not surprisingly, total defense (98th) …

Stats to watch (i.e, stats which will play a role in deciding the game)Turnovers … Not a huge surprise for any game, but this is especially true for these two teams. Colorado was 102nd in the nation last year in turnovers gained, with 13, while TCU was even worse, with 12 (112th). If you have been paying attention to CU head coach Karl Dorrell this fall, you know that generating turnovers has been a priority. Here’s guessing the same has been true at TCU’s camp … Time of possession … Arguably one of the most meaningless statistics, but stay with me here. Last season, Colorado was 122nd in the nation in time of possession (27:12). The lack of production from the offense put an inordinate amount of pressure of the Buff defense. With TCU’s offense having the ability to score in bunches, it’s incumbent upon the CU offense to keep drives alive (avoiding three-and-outs another stat to watch). Give the Horned Frogs numerous opportunities to score … and they will.

Prediction … 

Colorado is an 11-point underdog to TCU.

Only one other Power Five conference team opens the season as a double-digit underdog at home (Georgia Tech is a 21-point underdog against Clemson)

So, if you give the Buffs three points for being at home, Vegas is basically saying that, if the CU/TCU game was played on a neutral field, the Horned Frogs would be a two-touchdown favorite.

I’m not seeing it.

Were the Buffs a mess on offense last year? Undeniably.

Are the Buffs lacking in having a playmaker on offense which causes fear in opposing defenses? Yes.

Do the Buffs have a defensive backfield which can potentially be exploited by an excellent passing offense? Most assuredly.

But …

The TCU defense last season was just as horrific as was CU’s offense. The Horned Frogs, as noted above, gave up at least 28 points to every FBS team they faced last season (and 42 or more four times). Their defense will likely be better this year … but will it be that much better?

Which means it could come down to which team is more effective in finishing drives in the red zone, which team has the fewer turnovers and penalties, and which team can better take advantage of mismatches.

CU has faced Sonny Dykes coached teams before – twice when he was the head coach at Cal. The Buffs won in Boulder in 2014, 41-24, with the Bears winning a shootout in Berkeley in 2015, 59-56 (2OT).

The weather should not be a factor, so both offenses should be able to score.

Will the CU offense, which mustered a pathetic 18.8 points per game in 2021, be able to keep up with TCU’s offensive production?

Karl Dorrell says the Buffs can.

We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt … for at least the first week.

Prediction … Colorado 27, TCU 24

2021 Predictions … (Straight up: 9-3; Against the Spread: 7-5) … 

  • Colorado 38, Northern Colorado 17 … Actual: Colorado 35, Northern Colorado 7
  • No. 5 Texas A&M 38, Colorado 17 … Actual: No. 5 Texas A&M 10, Colorado 7
  • Colorado 21, Minnesota 20 … Actual: Minnesota 30, Colorado 0
  • Arizona State 27, Colorado 13 … Actual: Arizona State 35, Colorado 13
  • USC 27, Colorado 17 … Actual: USC 37, Colorado 14
  • Colorado 24, Arizona 17 … Actual: Colorado 34, Arizona 0
  • Colorado 24, California 17 .. Actual: California 26, Colorado 3
  • No. 7 Oregon 48, Colorado 3 … Actual: No. 7 Oregon 52, Colorado 29
  • Oregon State 27, Colorado 20 … Actual: Colorado 37, Oregon State 34, 2OT
  • UCLA 34, Colorado 24 … Actual: UCLA 44, Colorado 20
  • Colorado 24, Washington 20 … Actual: Colorado 20, Washington 17
  • No. 16 Utah 41, Colorado 10 … Actual: No. 16 Utah 28, Colorado 13


18 Replies to “CU v. TCU – Your “T.I.P.S.” for the 2022 Opener”

  1. ONE-POINT….. is as good as…. FIFTY….. if it’s a “W.”

    THERE’S NO REASON IN THE WORLD THAT THE BUFFS SHOULD HAVE TO “GENUFLECT” when TCU takes the field just because they’re a christian school….or because they’re in the BIG 12.


  2. The day before the first game and I think the number of respondents, or lack there of, shows how much question there is regarding this team’s improvement. We really want to believe the coach when he tells us that “this year they…”, but we’ve also heard it before.

    Too many times.

    And been let down… Too many times.

    So, we want to believe, but we have been stung too many times before. But, Stuart, correct me if I’m wrong, but the number of post before a game like this is down a bit. And, I don’t think that’s a reflection on this site, but the Buffs in general and how important it is for them to show us that what they are saying will actually come to pass.

    Pun accidental, but works, we’d like to see some success in the passing game too.

    I hope we see that well rounded offense that we’ve been told they will be, With strong RBs and while maybe run first, we’ll see good use of TEs, with strong QB & WR play.

    We want to believe that the line will improve enough to see big improvement in QB play.

    We want to believe the OC will have a better plan and way better play calling.

    We want to believe that the QB depth, experience and improvement will be a big improvement.

    And, being the first game there is reason for optimism… For both teams. We’ll see tomorrow night.

    1. Marcus,
      Yes, the numbers are definitely down. The apathy this past off-season has been at the highest rate I’ve seen in decades. “We want to believe” is the correct mantra, but we’ve been burned so many times before that we don’t even care enough to be upset.
      Perhaps the Buffs will shock the world, and raise the hopes of CU fans for the future, but I’m afraid we are girding for the worst – another long season with no reasonable expectations (from recruiting, coaching, NIL, or Transfer Portal) of better days.

      1. I will be the 1st to admit, I am not the excited. Every year I count the days to kick off. But EXACTLY what you said contributed to my lack of excitement for the Buffs, and college fball altogether- NIL being the biggie, the transfer portal, then the lack of quality classes coming in……Winning cures all

  3. So I watched McChesney’s YouTube interview with Klatt. I found it real interesting that he was worried about the o-line last year and he is much more positive this year. Both him and Klatt say the lines will determine how we do.

  4. Your predictions last year were pretty good. Actually, except for CAL and MINN the Buffs looked more competitive than anticipated. The CAL loss was our annual QB/offense stinker on the road. MINN was just a debacle. I take the good– CU played AtM stout, shutout AZ, beat WA and Utah was closer than anticipated. If CU can hit above its weight a bit more, perhaps we get a few more wins.

  5. Shrout should be the QB, but Dorrell wants the incumbent ? Who has a losing record, is gun shy and had a ‘meh..’ camp? Dorrell loses this game if he stubbornly sticks with Lewis, who can’t throw as well as JT. Buffs by 4 if Shrout is the guy and airs it out.

  6. Game will be decided by QB play. TCU has better and more experienced QBs. CU will see improvement there but not enough. Maybe my koolaid is in need of a little something… extra. TCU 34 CU 27

  7. Can’t wait to see this game Friday. We’ll learn a lot about what we got this year. My concern for this game is TCU’s got experienced QB’s, along with big, fast, experienced and NFL talented receivers. That could cause pwobwems, new scheme or not. Their question marks on offense may be their o-line. So hopefully our front seven can get some pressure, or it could be a long night trying to stop them.

    Offensively for our Buffs? No clue what to expect. We’ll find out. Looking forward to seeing two QB’s get their shot, sounds like. Hopefully Turley’s program – and a little luck – keeps the starting offensive line healthy, or we’ll find out in a hurry whether there’s really quality depth, or not.

    Go Buffs

  8. Will TCU be able to install and operate the Air Raid system effectively on their first game? They probably will have some success and move the ball while CU’s DBs get going, but if the Buff’s defense can apply enough pressure to hurry the QB and take a little pressure off the DBs then the question is can the Buffs slow them enough to keep up on offense?

    On offense, I think the Buffs have so much opportunity for measured improvement that it could out right surprise people.
    * CU didn’t have a QB room last year. I think this hurt QB play more than outsiders are giving weight to, Lewis wasn’t allowed to play free and run the way he is used to playing, no threat to pass and opposing teams able to stack the box, gave him less time and more pressure. And JT is a different kind of QB and sounds like he has faster reads and release… Plus a back up or two. Way better than one guy running for his life and not able to get into any grove.
    * The Buffs got a new OC that may be better than most think. Just because he was let go, fired actually reported, the first thing people think he was a bad OC. But was he? He was running the HC’s offense, not his own. He was replaced by a coach the HC has worked with in the past and just wanted more. He is 100% an upgrade over last year’s OC at Boulder, with five new coaches too.
    * CU didn’t have a very good O-line or O-line coach and both supposedly have improved, along with depth. This along with depth at QB should make the offense much improved, add [massively] improved play calling and flexibility with a pocket passer and a mobile QB and who knows how much improvement there will be?

    The biggest improvement on defense will be time on the field, a more productive offense that can move the ball means less time on the field for the defense and if they developed the depth that the coaches are claiming, the defense’s numbers should improve from last season.

    And that’s the last part, TCU is coming in expecting to be a 11 point favorite (thinking, but not earned) while the Buffs are feeling out right underrated and dissed, who actually plays the better game wins.

    Buffs 34 – TCU 31

    If TCU’s defense struggles and their first game playing the air raid system has growing pains too, then I can see the Buffs winning by 9 or more. But it looks like TCU has two good options at QB too so I expect both teams to score.

    CU better want it more! Four and a half days to find out!

    Please, BUFFS D, play like the first games of 2020 and hold those horny frogs!

  9. I wish I could do it, but I see nothing to believe in until proven otherwise
    TCU-31 CU-17
    Prove me wrong Buffs!!!!

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