CU at Utah: “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs’ Last Game in the Pac-12

… Related … If you prefer your predictions verbally (and from more than one voice), “CU at the Game Podcast: “T.I.P.S.” for CU at Utah, can be found at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or pretty much wherever you download your favorites. Or, if you would prefer, you can listen to this week’s CU/Utah preview podcast here .

It’s fitting that CU’s final game as a member of the Pac-12 will be against Utah.

Back in 2011, the Buffs and the Utes walked hand-in-hand into the Pac-10, which had last expanded in the late 1970s when the Arizona schools joined the Pac-8 to form the Pac-10.

Now, in a world where the orphan Pac-2 have been given (restricted, at least for now) control of the Pac-12 funds, the Four Corner schools will finish out the 2023 season playing against one another.

Arizona and Arizona State will face off for the Territorial Cup, a rivalry which dates back to 1899. The surprising Wildcats, with a little help from Oregon State on Friday, will be playing for a berth in the Pac-12 title game.

Colorado and Utah, meanwhile, will face off in a season-ending game … which has little meaning. Utah is the two-time defending Pac-12 champion, but was taken out of the Pac-12 race several weeks ago.

Utah leads the all-time series against Colorado, 34-32-3, but that wasn’t always the case. Colorado held a significant lead in the series when the teams joined the Pac-12, but the Utes have won 10 of 12 of the games played since 2011.

The Buffs won the first game between the two teams as Pac-12 members, with Jon Embree’s Buffs surprising the Utes with a 17-14 win in Salt Lake City.

Can the 2023 Buffs pull off a similar upset?

Let’s find out …


This Week’s “T.I.P.S” for Colorado at Utah – Saturday, 1:00 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks

T – Talent

If you haven’t been paying much attention to Utah this fall, you may be surprised that the Utes are heading into the 2023 finale with a 7-4 record. The Utes, after all, were two-time defending conference champions, and with all-everything quarterback Cam Rising expected back, a three-peat was a possibility.

But Rising never returned (though he will be back for the 2024 season … his seventh year as a collegian), and injuries have been the watchword for the Utes all season.

Heading into the CU game, the Utah defense will be down several starters. Defensive end Jonah Elliss, second in the nation with 12 sacks in ten games, is out for the year.  Linebacker Karene Reid, second on the team in tackles, will miss the CU game.  Safety Cole Bishop, third on the team in tackles, may play against Colorado, but is iffy.

The Utah offense, in the absence of Cam Rising, has turned to Bryson Barnes at quarterback. The junior had his first 300-yard passing game against Arizona, going for 320 yards on 31-of-53 passing, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Utes, though, were forced to turn to their passing game early against the Wildcats, falling behind 28-0 early in the second quarter. Overall, Barnes has not had a great season, with just over 1,500 yards passing, with nine interceptions to go with his 12 touchdown passes. Barnes, though, can take off with the ball, coming into the CU game as Utah’s third-leading rusher, with over 250 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Utah’s leading rusher is Ja’Quinden Jackson, a sophomore with 132 carries for 674 yards and four touchdowns. The Utes’ version of Travis Hunter, safety Sione Vaki, has almost 250 yards rushing on the season … but over half of his yards came in one game, a 15-carry, 158-yard effort against Cal a month ago. Against Arizona, Vaki had only four carries for 10 yards.

The Utes would prefer not to throw the ball, but, when they do, the main target is Devaughn Vele, who has 593 yards on 43 catches. Vele has come on of late, with two 100-yard games in his last two outings, including 111 yards and a touchdown on nine catches against Arizona.

Overall, the Utah offense is on par with that of Colorado, with the Buffs averaging 372.8 yards per game (76th in the nation), while the Utes are averaging 362.6 yards per game (83rd nationally).

If the game comes down to a field goal attempt, Buff fans may want to look away. Utah’s kicker is former Buff Cole Becker, who is 12-for-15 on his field goal attempts this season, with a long of 51 yards. Here’s guessing Becker would love the opportunity to kick a game-winner over the Buffs.


I – Intangibles

Who cares? … Trying to be clever here, but it’s an honest question.

ESPN clearly doesn’t care about the game between Colorado and Utah. The Buffs, former media darlings, and owners of some of the most watched games of the 2023 season, have been relegated to the Pac-12 Networks for the finale. ESPN had the choice between Arizona State/Arizona and Colorado/Utah, and opted for the Territorial Cup. With a berth in the Pac-12 championship game possibly in the offing in Tempe this weekend, the choice made sense.

But what about the participants in the game at Rice-Eccles stadium? The Utes are 7-4, and will go bowling next month, but the program is far from the spotlight it has enjoyed the past several seasons. The two-time defending Pac-12 champions are limping to the finish of the 2023 season, having lost three of their last four games.

Colorado’s woes – including a five-game losing streak – are well known to anyone reading these words and need not be dissected here, but what of the Utes?

Utah fell behind Arizona by four touchdowns, 28-0, sixteen minutes into last Saturday’s game.

Colorado fell behind Washington State by four touchdowns, 35-7, 26 minutes into last Saturday’s game.

Neither team has much reason to be excited about this game. The team which plays well early may gain an advantage which may carry through the remainder of the afternoon. The Utah crowd, which is often a big home-field advantage, may be a bit muted, what with the chilly kickoff temperature (in the 30s), and little for the home team to play for against an opponent they have come to see over the years as a guaranteed win.

Logic favors the home team in this scenario of a game of shrugged shoulders … but the Buffs do have a chance at a jumping on a down Utah team.


P – Preparation/Schedule

Shedeur? … As we speak, the status of Shedeur Sanders for the Utah game remains in doubt. Sanders, who left last week’s game in the first half with an injury, is day-to-day according to Coach Prime.

“Shedeur is not feeling well right now, it’s a day-by-day situation,” Coach Prime said Tuesday. “We’re praying that he gets healthy and he’s able to play because he is who he is. And when he’s on the field we have a tremendous chance to win” …

Similarly, Coach Prime, under the weather for the Washington State game, will have an extra day to get over his cold … and be at full strength for the finale.

If either of both Sanders is unavailable for the Utah game, keep watching the second half of the Ohio State/Michigan game (10:00 a.m., MT, kickoff, Fox), and just check in on the CU/Utah game during commercials, as it could be another blowout loss for the Buffs.

CU’s bowl game … Utah won’t be going to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 championship game, but will be going bowling in December. While a chance to play a 13th or even a 14th game in a season is uncharted territory for the Buffs, it’s old hat for the Utes. The Utah seniors and graduate students will have three more weeks of practices, and one more chance to don the jersey in 2023.

For the Buffs, however, this is the end of the season. One last chance to play collegiately, or to make an impression on the CU coaches for 2024 … or to put something on tape for schools scouring the Transfer Portal.

If not for team glory, one would hope that the Buffs are at least interested in playing well as individuals. That usually doesn’t work out to be in the best interests of the team, but at this point, anything which might motivate the players in the CU locker room would be welcome.


S – Statistics 

Third Down decisive … For a team which is going to need to take advantage of every possession against the Utes, the Buffs are going to have step up their game on third downs. On offense, the Buffs are 67th in the nation in third down conversions (.394), but on defense, the Buffs are ranked 117th in the nation, giving up first downs first downs 46% of the time. Utah likes to keep the ball (4th in the nation in time of possession, so the CU defense is going to have to really step up its game on third downs to make a game of it;

Turnovers … Once again, turnovers will play a significant role in determining the outcome. For the Buffs, that was evident in the two scoop-and-scores surrendered to Washington State. Still, with only ten turnovers on the season, CU is doing pretty well hanging on to the football, with the Buffs tied for 14th in the nation in turnovers lost.

Want to guess who is also tied for 14th in the nation in turnovers lost? Yup. Utah, with only one lost fumble (to go with nine interceptions), the Utes are also stingy when it comes to giving up the ball.

That will need to change if the three-touchdown underdog Buffs are to have a chance.

— Shedeur Sanders records watch … Shedeur Sanders is on pace to reset most of the single season passing in CU history, and is among the national leaders in many categories. As the season is drawing to a close it’s time to track how Sanders is progressing:

  • Passing yards: 3,230 … CU single season record: 3,200 … Sefo Liufau, 2014 (Sanders’ total is currently 1st on the list)
  • Passing touchdowns: 27 … CU single season record: 28 … Sefo Liufau, 2014 (Sanders’ total currently 2nd)
  • Passing attempts: 430 … CU single season record: 498 … Sefo Liufau, 2014 (Sanders’ total currently 2nd)
  • Completions: 298 … CU single season record: 325 … Sefo Liufau, 2014 (Sanders’ total currently 2nd)
  • Completion percentage: 69.3 … CU single season record: 68.4 … Koy Detmer, 1995 … If maintained, Sanders will set a new school record
  • Total offense (plays): 541 … CU single season record: 567 … Sefo Liufau, 2014 (Sanders’ total is currently 2nd)
  • Total offense (yards): 3,153 … CU single season record: 3,336 … Sefo Liufau, 2014 (Sanders’ total is currently 3rd)

Prediction … 

Two years ago, a 4-7 CU team ventured into Rice-Eccles stadium looking for an upset over Utah, with the Utes favored by three touchdowns.

The Buffs had a chance to make some noise early, intercepting Cam Rising on Utah’s first drive. The chance came and went though, with the CU offense gaining zero yards on three plays, settling for a field goal. A second Cole Becker field goal, this one from 56 yards out on the last play of the first half, coupled with a Nikko Reed 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the second half kickoff, made it a 21-13 game early in the third quarter.

After that … CU’s offense had the ball five times … and gained a total of 51 yards … losing 28-13.

If Shedeur Sanders doesn’t play, all bets are off, and Utah will be able to name its score, with it doubtful that the Buff offense will break into double digits.

If Shedeur Sanders does play, I can see a slow, methodical win for Utah. The Utes will run the ball, run the clock, and slowly strangle the Buffs.

It may not be a complete blowout unless the Buffs fall behind early and give up (see: Washington State), but without scores by the defense and/or special teams, CU is not going to win this game.

Go Buffs! …

Prediction … Utah 28, Colorado 13

2023 Predictions: Straight up: 7-4; Against the Spread: 6-5

  • Prediction: No. 17 TCU 33, Colorado 21 … Actual: Colorado 45, No. 17 TCU 42
  • Prediction: No. 22 Colorado 34, Nebraska 21 … Actual: No. 22 Colorado 36, Nebraska 14
  • Prediction: No. 18 Colorado 42, Colorado State 17 … Actual: No. 18 Colorado 43, Colorado State 35, 2OT
  • Prediction: No. 10 Oregon 40, No. 19 Colorado 17 … Actual: No. 10 Oregon 42, No. 19 Colorado 6
  • Prediction: No. 8 USC 45, Colorado 24 … Actual: No. 8 USC 48, Colorado 41
  • Prediction: Colorado 31, Arizona State 21 … Actual: Colorado 27, Arizona State 24
  • Prediction: Colorado 31, Stanford 17 … Actual: Stanford 46, Colorado 43, 2OT
  • Prediction: No. 23 UCLA 34, Colorado 2o … Actual: No. 23 UCLA 28, Colorado 16
  • Prediction: No. 16 Oregon State 30, Colorado 2o … Actual: No. 16 Oregon State 26, Colorado 19
  • Prediction: No. 23 Arizona 31, Colorado 17 … Actual: Arizona 34, Colorado 31
  • Prediction: Colorado 27, Washington State 24 … Actual: Washington State 56, Colorado 14

  • 2022 Predictions … (Straight up: 10-2; Against the Spread: 9-3) …
  • 2021 Predictions … (Straight up: 9-3; Against the Spread: 7-5) … 


5 Replies to ““T.I.P.S.” for CU at Utah”

  1. “…keep watching the second half of the Ohio State/Michigan game and just check in on the CU/Utah game during commercials, as it could be another blowout loss for the Buffs”

    …this is what it’s come to 🙁

  2. I think Utah will grind it out and pull away slowly putting an end to a good season that went sour at the end.
    CU 10 UTAH 38

  3. Is it me or did CP just throw Rusty under the bus? I know Shedeur is the answer but I also like to think “Next man up” has some value.

  4. Uffff!!!!
    Hate too see fball end, but this train wreck needs to go back to the drawing board, get some quality recruits, and DEFINITELY try to get better coordinators.
    And I don’t think it will be this close-
    Utah-48 CU-10
    ATS 5-6, SU 8-3

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