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CU’s 2024 Schedule Countdown – The Buffs’ Six “Easiest” Games

Last season, in the first year of Colorado football under Coach Prime, there were many unknowns. Would the complete overhaul of the roster work? Could Coach Prime take a 1-11 team – one of the worst programs in the nation in 2022 – and not only find a way to respectability, but to victories on the field?

The schedule did the Buffs no favors, with half of CU’s games being played against teams ranked in the nation’s Top 25. The Pac-12 took advantage of the Coach Prime notoriety, scheduling CU’s first two conference games against Pac-12 heavyweights Oregon and USC.

No. 10 Oregon – with first-round quarterback Bo Nix – on the road to open Pac-12 play? Then a home conference opener against No. 8 USC – and defending Heisman trophy winner Caleb Williams – a team which CU had never beaten in its history?

The Pac-12 wanted to strike while the Coach Prime iron was hot … which worked to the development of the program overall.

While there was certainly hope for the Buffs entering the 2023 season, there were a few games, like the road game against Oregon and the home game against USC, which were games which CU fans could pretty much pencil in as losses. The Ducks were national title contenders, and, well, the Buffs had never beaten the Trojans in their history.

This fall, in Year Two under Coach Prime, there may be only a few games which CU fans should be able to pencil in as sure wins, but, for the first time in seemingly forever, there are also only a few games which should be penciled in as sure losses.

It’s going to be a season of “toss up” games, which makes the following all the more difficult … ranking CU’s 2024 opponents from what should be the easiest games, to those which should prove harder to win.

Below are six of CU’s 12 fall opponents, including information on some preseason national rankings. These are the six games which I am labeling as the “easiest” on CU’s schedule, based upon factors including the opposing team’s talent overall levels, returning starters, together with when and where the teams play. My follow up Essay will rank CU’s most difficult six games of the 2024 season.

(Note … For point of reference and comparison, at Lindy’s, Colorado is rated as the No. 49 team in the nation; No. 50 at Athlon’s, and, in the ESPN Football Power Index, CU comes in at No. 36)

The list …

No. 12 … Thursday, August 29th – North Dakota State … No. 2 in FCS preseason polls

North Dakota State won 11 games in 2023 … and the season was a disappointment. The Bison went 11-4, falling in the FCS semi-finals. Eleven wins would be a banner year for most programs, but for a team which has won nine national championships, and has posted 60 wins and two titles in the past five years, last year failed to meet expectations.

New head coach, Tim Polasek, an NDSU staffer under Craig Bohl and Chris Klieman, takes over for the Bison. Polasek’s most recently role was that of offensive coordinator for Bohl at Wyoming, so he is familiar with what it takes to win big in Fargo. Oh, and North Dakota State has a history of knocking off FBS opponents, having won six straight against the Power Five before barely falling to Arizona, 31-28, in 2022.

Starting quarterback Cam Miller and two quality offensive linemen return. On defense, the Bison return three first-team all-conference players and one second-team all-conference performer.

At the end of the day, however, for me it comes down to this … The Buffs will have to absorb the early blows which NDSU will throw at them by a program considering this game to be their Super Bowl. The game will be close for a quarter or quarter-and-a-half, but then CU’s talent level will take over, and the Buffs should pull away for a comfortable opening victory.

No. 11 … Saturday, September 14th – at Colorado State … Lindy’s No. 87 … Athlon’s No. 78 … ESPN Football Power Index (FPI) No. 105 …

While North Dakota State will enjoy having all Fall Camp to prepare for Colorado, the same won’t be true for the Rams of Colorado State.

First and foremost, a sincere “thank you” to CU athletic director Rick George for not allowing this game to not be the opener. The only times CU hasn’t been able to handle the Rams is when they have to play CSU the first game of the season. In the 40 years since the series was resumed, CU has lost to CSU only once when the game was played after Game One (the forgettable debut of Dan Hawkins in 2006, who lost to Montana State before losing to Colorado State).

Instead of preparing all of August to play CU, the Rams have to face a top five team in Texas on the road to open their 2024 campaign. CSU will then have a breather of a game against Northern Colorado while the Buffs are taking on Nebraska in Lincoln, but the Texas game will tell us a great deal about how good the Rams are in 2024.

It will be a war in Ft. Collins on September 14th, but I can see the Buffs (and the fans making the trip north) being equal to the challenge. The only question: Can the CU secondary figure out a way to cover all-conference wide receiver Tory Horton, who killed the Buffs with underneath crossing pattern last season?

CSU has no cornerbacks – and only two safeties – returning from a passing defense which was 106th in the nation, so Shedeur Sanders (and Travis Hunter) should have a field day against the Rams.

CU has won six straight wins in the series, and this will be the final game against the Rams until 2029. The Buffs should pick up a seventh straight win against the Lambs … and put them in their rear view mirror for the foreseeable future.

No 10 … Saturday, September 21st – Baylor … Lindy’s No. 50 … Athlon’s No. 66 … ESPN FPI No. 55 …

The Bears wen 3-9, 2-7 in 2023, and head coach Dave Aranda, more than any other coach in the Big 12, enters the 2024 season on the hot seat. Baylor had an absurd eight home games last season, but failed to take advantage, losing seven. Dropping of seven of eight home games did nothing to endear Aranda to the Bear faithful.

Baylor is starting over at quarterback, picking up a three-year starter through the Transfer Portal. Dequan Finn was a three-year starter … but at Toledo.

The schedule doesn’t do Baylor any favors. After a layup game against Tarleton, the Bears must travel to Salt Lake City to face Utah before returning home to face Air Force (and Buff fans are all too familiar with the difficulties which come with facing the Falcons’ offense). Baylor’s Big 12 opener (the Utah game is a previously scheduled non-conference game) will then be on the road at altitude against CU in Boulder.

Baylor struggled to run the ball last year (109th nationally), and were a Big 12 worst in sacks allowed, with 34 (yes, CU gave up 56, which only reinforces the reality of how bad CU’s offensive line was in 2023).

On defense, Baylor was 110th in total defense and 113th in scoring defense.

CU got a break from the Big 12 schedule makers. A year after opening conference play on the road against No. 10 Oregon, getting struggling Baylor at home for the CU’s first Big 12 game is a gift, and the Buffs will need to win this game if 2024 is going to be a successful season.

No. 9 … Saturday, October 26th – Cincinnati … Lindy’s No. 79 … Athlon’s No. 73 … ESPN FPI No. 65 …

After Cincinnati’s 3-9, 1-8 debut in a Power Five conference in 2023, it became clear that this was not Luke Fickell’s (off to coach Wisconsin) Cincinnati Bearcats. This fall, Cincinnati will turn to Brendan Sorsby to be their answer at quarterback. Sorsby threw for 1,500 yards for Indiana as a redshirt freshman, and has running back star Corey Kiner to rely on. The offense, though, which ranked 5th in the nation in rushing, and has five returning starters along the offensive line, is not the problem. The Bearcats were 100th in scoring defense in 2023, and didn’t make great strides in upgrading the unit this off-season.

Cincinnati has a number of winnable games before facing CU in late October. The Bearcats play Towson, Miami (Ohio), Houston, and Arizona State in the first half of the season, so Cincinnati could meet or beat last season’s win total before they come to the elevation of Boulder for the first time in school history in late October. Buff fans, and the rest of the Big 12, will have a much better idea of what to expect from Cincinnati by the time the teams meet at Folsom Field.

No. 8 … Saturday, November 9th – at Texas Tech … Lindy’s No. 41 … Athlon’s No. 44 … ESPN FPI No. 29 …

Texas Tech went 7-6 in 2023, including 34-14 Independence Bowl win over Cal. Like many teams in the Big 12, the pundits don’t know what to make of the Red Raiders, though ESPN’s FPI has Texas Tech just outside the Top 25. The Red Raiders have only four returning starters on offense, and only three on defense, which contributes to the uncertainty. Want another “sounds like CU” stat? The Red Raiders will be starting four transfers along the offensive line, and have a new offensive line coach.

What has me rating the Red Raiders as one of my top six “easiest” games are two scheduling factors. First, the Buffs get to play Texas Tech after a bye week, giving CU an extra week of rest in November. Meanwhile, Texas Tech’s game against Colorado represents Texas Tech’s only home game in a four-game stretch. In order, the Red Raiders much play at TCU; at Iowa State; CU; at Oklahoma State.

With CU facing a tough slate of games at the end of the season – Utah; at Kansas; Oklahoma State – Buff fans may be looking at the Texas Tech game as the last best chance to secure a sixth win and a bowl bid.

No. 7 … Saturday, September 28th – at Central Florida … Lindy’s No. 43 … Athlon’s No. 48 … ESPN FPI No. 32 …

Central Florida finished 6-7 in 2023, but did get to a bowl game, falling to Georgia Tech in Gasparilla Bowl. Like Colorado, Central Florida will have a quality starting quarterback, with KJ Jefferson coming to Orlando by way of Arkansas. Jefferson was a three-year starter for the Razorbacks, leaving Fayetteville with Arkansas career records for passing yards, completions, and touchdown passes.

Jefferson takes over an offense which was in the top ten last year … in rushing offense … so it will be interesting to see how the offense adapts to Jefferson’s style of play. The Knights were a good rushing team last year, but lousy at stopping the run, coming in at No. 122 nationally.

The schedule for the Knights is a mixed bags for Buff fans looking for an edge. Central Florida gets a bye the week before facing the Buffs, but UCF also has a rivalry game against Florida the following weekend. Not that the Knight players, many of whom didn’t receive scholarship offers from Florida, will be looking past CU for a chance to one up the Gators … but then again, maybe they will.

If CU is to go bowling, the Buffs must win at least six games. To be sure, there will be several opportunities in the six games below to pull of a victory, but, if Colorado is to turn the corner and become a recognized national program, it will start with the six games discussed above.

So, take a look at the list below, the six games which I would rate as the “most difficult”. The order of these games will be presented in my next Essay. In the meantime:

  • Would any of these games make it onto your list of the six “easiest” games, replacing one of the six discussed above?
  • Five of the teams below are in the preseason Top 25 for both Lindy’s and Athlon – do you agree with the opinions of the national pundits?

The six “most difficult” games (in chronological order):

— Saturday, September 7th – at Nebraska … Lindy’s No. 38 … Athlon’s No. 33 … ESPN FPI No. 41 …

— Saturday, October 12th – Kansas State … Lindy’s No. 21 … Athlon’s No. 17 … ESPN FPI No. 22 …

— Saturday, October 19th – at Arizona … Lindy’s No. 23 … Athlon’s No. 23 … ESPN FPI No. 24 …

— Saturday, November 16th – Utah … Lindy’s No. 16 … Athlon’s No. 14 … ESPN FPI No. 27 …

— Saturday, November 23rd – at Kansas … Lindy’s No. 20 … Athlon’s No. 21 … ESPN FPI No. 17 …

— Friday, November 29th – Oklahoma State … Lindy’s No. 12 … Athlon’s No. 19 … ESPN FPI No. 26 …

Program Note … If you would like to hear my full rankings, from No. 12 to No. 1, as well as hear what Brad and Neil had to say, the latest CU at the Game Podcast is entitled: “Schedule Countdown: Ranking the Buffs’ 2024 Opponents”, and can be listened to at all of your favorite podcast sites, or here on the CU website.


2 Replies to “Schedule Countdown – CU’s Six “Easiest” Games”

  1. I had never considered that the PAC 12 screwed us on purpose to take advantage of Prime noteriety for Oregon and USC the darlings of the PAC12.. thinking about it now I could totally see it. Screw that conference. The refs were horrible, the game times were even worse, and now I have this running around in my head….. good riddance.

    I find myself strangely disconnected this year. Last year our talent definitely improved, especially in the skill positions. But the results last year came in under my expectations….. now it was a super hard schedule (see notes above about the Pac12) but still under expectations. So I am unsure what to expect. Can CU beat these team. They should be able to. Will they, I have no clue.

  2. Stuart has TT & UCF neck in neck in his rankings, based on that I looked at the dates and decided to switch the schools and vote for the first of the two meetings with UCF being in Sept v. TT being in Nov; maybe early on with the Buffs having a bye the week before catches UCF at the right time.

    It seems like everyone in the Big12 are improved one way or another and UCF & TT resembles CU transfer upgrades and losses from the portal, a little lees, while starting from a position of 6 wins last year. If CU is as “Well Off” as the team’s media outlet is promoting, the Buffs should have five wins to start the season and should be wrapping up their sixth win in early Oct. If they’re “just” good enough the Buffs should have six wins by the end of Oct; anything less and… i don’t want to go there.

    By the last three in Nov, the hardest part of the schedule, either CU is bowl eligible and then some competing for the Big12 or they’re not as “Well Off” as we’re being told.

    Crazy thing is there could be 5 or 6 teams with two losses each going into the last two or three games of the season with all of them in play for a chance for the Big12 Championship.

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