Staff Picks: CU vs. No. 10 Wazzu

A Colorado football helmet during the 2014 Rocky Mountain Showdown at Sports Authority Field in Denver. (James Bradbury/CU Independent File)

The CU Independent sports team shares their weekly predictions for the Buffs as Colorado prepares to host the No. 10 Washington State Cougars this Saturday at Folsom Field.

Jack Carlough, Sports Staff Writer: Everyone loves a good underdog story and the Buffs certainly fit the part this week. With injuries aplenty and riding a four-game losing streak, we are only scratching the surface on what has gone wrong so quickly with this Buffaloes team.

Unfortunately, it’s not going to get any easier for the Buffs on Saturday with the No. 10 Washington State Cougars coming to town. The only thing hotter than Washington State is the seat head coach Mike Macintyre is on right now. Hopefully this heat provides a little extra motivation for the Buffs, but conquering the 8-1 Cougars will be no easy task. Wazzu is coming off a narrow 19-13 victory over Cal, extending the Cougs’ win streak to five games, while the Buffs are looking to reset after a 42-34 shootout loss against Arizona.

On Saturday, we’ll see two teams with very powerful weapons on the offensive side of the ball. WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew has been dominant all season, earning himself some Heisman recognition. Minshew is averaging over 390 yards per game while throwing for 27 touchdowns in just 9 weeks.

In order for the Buffaloes to match the Cougars’ offensive capabilities, they’ll need sophomore wideout Laviska Shenault back and healthy. As of right now, he will most likely be a game time decision, but his presence would definitely provide the Buffs with a much-needed boost. If indeed Shenault doesn’t partake, he’ll join senior wide receiver Jay MacIntyre and potentially sophomore K.D. Nixon on the list of hurt Buff receivers.

On the defensive side of the ball, concussed safety Evan Worthington, whose absence proved large in the Arizona game, will also most likely sit out. With a plethora of injuries and a Heisman level quarterback on the other sideline, this will not be a pretty game to watch if you’re a fan of defense. It’s going to be imperative for this team to have backups step up and make some plays if the Buffs are going to have a chance on Saturday. Looking at the bright side, the Buffs are still one win away from a bowl game and haven’t completely fallen out of the picture in the Pac-12 South. I believe that whichever team can make the most stops in the red zone and limit big plays will come out on top.

Score prediction: Colorado 17, Washington State 34

Alex Pepper, Sports Staff Writer: Another week, and you know what that means — another chance for the Buffs to throw their hopes of a bowl game right into the garbage. With a loss on Saturday, the Buffs would surrender another chance to become bowl eligible for the fifth straight week. If you couldn’t tell, I’m not too optimistic about the Buffs’ chances when Minshew comes to town this weekend.

With Minshew having a wide array of offensive options and the way our secondary played against Khalil Tate, I don’t see a way the Buffs can come out with a win. He can extend plays just as well as Tate can, and regardless of who is playing quarterback, it’s evident that CU can’t be trusted on deep balls. They were burned on 50-50 balls last week, and with Washington State being more talented and deeper at wide receiving than Arizona, things don’t bode well for the CU secondary. The front seven are going to have to help out the secondary by putting pressure on Minshew; otherwise, we may have a repeat of last week’s performance.

Sacking Minshew, or at least forcing him to throw off balance or out of the pocket, will be huge for the Buffaloes come Saturday. Regardless of how well the front seven plays, I think the Cougars are straight up a better football team. I don’t think the Cougars will drop this one, considering they’re still in the running for the College Football Playoff. I don’t believe in the Buffs enough to feel confident that they’ll stick with the Cougars for four quarters, and I expect them to allow 40 points for the third straight week.

Score prediction: Colorado 27, Washington State 45

Griffin Rucker, Sports Staff Writer: Let’s start with the good news. Despite Shenault still being considered day-to-day, the star’s latest Instagram post makes it appear that his return is imminent. Shenault was responsible for over 40 percent of the Buffs’ touchdowns in their first six games of the season and in the three games since his toe injury, Colorado’s scoring average has dropped by almost an entire touchdown. To say this is a different offense without him would be the understatement of the year.

Shenault’s return is massive but still doesn’t give me much confidence that CU can pull this off. The Buffaloes have given up 35.2 points per game the last four weeks and now have to stop a Washington State offense that is currently ranked 18th in the country. Minshew is the best quarterback the Buffs have seen this year and I expect him to continue his Heisman campaign by carving up their secondary.

CU’s only shot at an upset is to keep pace with WSU in a shootout, but with Nixon and MacIntyre both uncertainties for the game, I simply don’t see it happening.

Score prediction: Colorado: 25, Washington State: 43

Max Troderman, Sports Staff Writer: Let’s be real — ever since Shenault departed from the Buffs roster with turf toe, CU has been in the dumps. Coach Mac brought up an interesting point in an interview questioning what Washington state’s season would look like if their star QB Minshew went out injured like Shenault.

There’s no way to find this out, but MacIntyre may be onto something with this idea. Before Shenault left the game in the second half against USC, he had racked up 60 passes for 780 yards and six touchdowns on top of his five rushing TDs. When Shenault played the whole game, CU was 5-0. Since he has been out, the Buffs are at an abysmal 0-4, including an ugly loss to Oregon State. As he is still listed day to day, Buffalo fans everywhere hope for a healthy tag come game day. Who knows, maybe the Buffs can squeak out a win if their star receiver comes back.

Score prediction: Colorado 31: Washington State: 41

Zoe Collins Rath, Assistant Sports Editor: If by some miracle the Buffs can come out on top, then there is some chance for the season to be “successful”. However, the Buffs have lost four games in a row and their chances of making something of the rest of their season are low. There is a silver lining though, because Shenault is back.

While he is a game time decision, if he laces up his cleats instead of strapping on the boot he could be the spark the team needs. If he is still in a boot, then it’s going to be another ugly game. The defense has given up 141 points the last four games and this weekend the Buffs are playing a top-10 team who has the momentum to continue to have a successful season.

The Buffs have a tough task ahead of them and they could either come out victorious or end even more banged up and bruised.

Score prediction: Colorado 21, Washington State 48

Scott MacDonald, Sports Staff Writer: These are getting harder and harder to write as the weeks go on. Unfortunately for the Buffs, their schedule gets harder and harder too.

Minshew will be the bane of the Buffs on Saturday. The aforementioned not only leads the Pac-12 in passing yards with 3,517, but paces the entire FBS in the category. Unsurprisingly, he leads a Wazzu passing attack that is the best in the nation (397.4 yards per game).

Minshew completes 70.8 percent of his throws — again, tops in the conference — and his 27 touchdown passes are both sixth-best in the nation and the best in the Pac-12.

Minshew and the Cougars come at a terrible time for Colorado. CU’s secondary, whose jobs it will be to try and combat Minshew’s elite passing game, is very much desperate and depleted. Though not officially ruled out, Worthington, who’s been the Buffs’ best secondary player, is in concussion protocol and may miss the game. This leaves the job to the likes of the 5-foot-10 Ronnie Blackmon and a poor-performing Dante Wigley, who has been routinely picked on by opposing quarterbacks.

Without Worthington these past two games, the Buffs have allowed OSU’s Jake Luton and U of A’s Khalil Tate to post career-high numbers against the defense. So, yes, I would say Worthington is a big deal to the Buffs’ defense. Couple that with the fact that Colorado’s offense just hasn’t been the same without Shenault and may be without K.D. Nixon, who is battling a hip injury, this game already has the writing on the wall.

The Buffs haven’t allowed 50-plus points to an opponent since Sept. 27, 2014, a 59-56 triple overtime loss to Cal, but I have a feeling that might be the case this Saturday. Regrettably for the Buffs, MacIntyre and the bowl committees who are sure to be watching, this game will be at the forefront of the sports world: live on ESPN. Godspeed, Buffaloes, godspeed.

Score prediction: Colorado 24, Wazzu 51

Justin Guerriero, Head Sports Editor: There’s just no way to spin this one positively: Colorado is going to be in trouble this weekend, at least, that’s how it certainly feels. For me, the Buffaloes offense will need to fire on all cylinders — trips to the red zone must result in touchdowns. There will be little room for wasted drives and quick punts. Finally, CU’s offensive line has got to find a way to give some aid to senior tailback Travon McMillian.

That’s quite a laundry list of wrongs that’ll need to be righted come Saturday and I haven’t even talked about the defense. Even if Colorado’s offense does everything right — which it simply has not the last month — the Buffs’ defense, namely the secondary, will need to play sharp against Minshew and Co. I have sincere doubts about the likelihood of that happening.

The fact of the matter is this: if the Buffaloes have proved unable to iron out the many kinks that have plagued the team in 2018, why should I or fans be confident that they’ll miraculously do so versus the No. 10 team in the country, and furthermore, an offense that on paper should be the toughest that the defense has seen yet?

Maybe the Buffs will rally by the end of the year and get that elusive sixth win. Don’t expect it to happen against the Cougars this weekend.

Score prediction: Colorado 28, Washington State 49

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Jack Carlough at jaca3229@colorado.edu.

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Alex Pepper at alex.pepper@colorado.edu.

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Griffin Rucker at griffin.rucker@colorado.edu.

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Max Troderman at max.troderman@colorado.edu.

Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Zoe Collins Rath at zoe.collinsrath@colorado.edu and follow her on Twitter @zoerath99.

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Scott MacDonald at scma0899@colorado.edu and follow him on Twitter @ScottTopics.

Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at justin.guerriero@colorado.edu and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.

Justin Guerriero

Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero is a city boy from Pittsburgh, PA, who fell in love with the mountains upon touring CU Boulder for the first time prior to his freshman year. He is a diehard Pittsburgh sports fan and covers whatever needs to be covered at the CUI. Justin is a junior majoring in broadcast production with minors in history and communication. Follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo

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