In an apparent effort to post every day this week, here is my humble prediction for what could transpire when Kansas plays at Colorado this Saturday, 4:31 CST on ESPN (HD). Here's to hoping that the Kansas players have no trouble playing in front of an afternoon ESPN audience as this is the team's first appearance on ESPN in 12 years. Hot Toddy! Colorado, fresh off a dazzling 2-10 season, will be making their third appearance this year on the worldwide leader, looking less than stellar in their previous two, humbling losses to FSU and KSU. Despite their ineptitude in those games, experience is still experience, and that is an early edge for Ralphie. Despite what the Kansas players are saying – if they are acknowledging it, it's an edge – the Fuffaloes also have an edge in the stamina department, given that whole mile high thing. Then again, straight from Hot Toddy, "… I've been skiing before. I know what it's like. I'm not too worried about the weather." I like the attitude, but I saw Oklahoma look a touch below worthless in the fourth quarter just 3 weeks ago, so I'm not so sure skiing is exactly the same as battling a Big 12 opponent for 3+ hours.
...end up like this?
Kansas Offense v. Colorado Defense: Prior to last week's performance in the Rotten Apple, I was worried about this match-up. Thus far, Colorado and Texas are the only teams to hold Oklahoma to less than 41 points and the Buffs accomplished it in much more convincing fashion (allowing only 230 yards as opposed to 414). However, as luck would have it, both teams have played amongst the purple and the acid-washed jeans. In their respective games, one defense performed admirably, the other, much less so. In allowing 47 points, Colorado was literally run over by the Power Towels to the tune of 249 yards rushing. Their previous high games were 221 and 153 when playing against Missouri St. and San Jose St., respectively. Kansas, on the other hand, held the purple wildcats to 53 yards, second only to the 27 Auburn allowed (Auburn has also effectively shut down Tebow and McFadden). Since I pretty much know what the Kansas defense can do and I have seen the KSU rushing attack on more than one occasion, this tells me Kansas should be able to run the ball effectively. They will need to do more than that to win, but that is a good way to start when trying to win a conference road game.
Furthermore, this will be the third time Colorado has faced a balanced offense on the year. Their first went quite differently. Against ASU (in Tempe) they allowed 33 points on 407 yards (P-269, R-138) while they held OU to 24 points on 230 yards (P-112, R-118). Again though, they were still run on. Hence, Todd Reesing/pass-protection could be the difference. Sam Bradford has looked great in 6 games this year and like a red-shirt freshman in the other – that game was against Colorado. Since Kansas should be able to run, they need to utilize and expand upon that weapon with: 1) some play action; 2) some deep balls to spread the Buffs out; & 3) some quick hitters, especially to extend drives on third down. The Kansas offense has been brilliantly balanced all season long – if they can do it again, they should have no trouble putting enough points up to win the game. Edge: Kansas
Kansas Defense v. Colorado Offense: In previewing the CU/KSU game, I said little C-Hawk was starting to look like a legitimate Big 12 QB, but that he wasn't quite there yet. He went 19/41 for 223, 1TD & 3 INTs, or in other words, about as expected. All in all, he is a very serviceable quarterback but is learning on the job and prone to make a few mistakes each time out. If Kansas can get the same kind of pressure KSU did, I would expect similar results. If that happens and Kansas nabs 3 INTs, they will be sitting pretty. But stopping C-Hawk is not what will win or lose this game – stopping Hugh Charles on the other hand could be. He has missed some time, but still leads the team with 522 yards on 6.1 per carry and is coming off a great game last week in which he ran for 171. As a team Colorado ran for 188 yards and still lost by 27 – if the Kansas defense can keep them around 100 and eliminate any big pass plays, that should be plenty to win the game. Edge: Kansas
**One other note that applies to both** - Kansas is plus-9 in turnover margin while Colorado is minus-8. If that trend continues, advantage Kansas. Additionally, Kansas has only been penalized 22 times this year (least in the nation) while Colorado has garnered 50, rather average nationally. Penalties and turnovers can kill teams on the road – if Kansas can break-even in these two categories, the rest should take care of itself.
Special Teams: Though Kansas has scored 4 touchdowns on special teams, it proved against KSU that it doesn't need those points to win. However, getting them never hurts. All I want from the punt return unit is to secure the ball each and every time. Marcus Herford and the kickoff unit will hopefully do a bit more. Kansas leads the nation with a kick return average of 31.4 yards (2TDs) while Colorado allows 19.7 (28th) – he doesn't have to take it all the way, but unless that thin air floats all the kicks through the end zone, putting the offense around the 30 is a more than reasonable request. Basically, Colorado doesn't do anything spectacular here, but they don't get burned either. Kansas has burned several teams, but have also had some near "fuck my ass" moments – eliminating the latter would be just peachy. Edge: Kansas
As far as I can tell it, Kansas is better in every phase of the game. And not only that, they have proved it by emerging victorious where Colorado did not come close. In doing so, they fought off a few road demons and costly blunders that ultimately only prevented them from winning by a larger margin. One would like to think some of these mistakes will be eliminated by having now played and won on the road. If that happens and the altitude does not prove to be a huge factor, Kansas should be able to keep Colorado at least at arms-length. As most other teams are as well, Colorado looks to be a much different team at home, especially since their home is 5,430 feet above sea level. As Fuffalo Coach Dan Hawkins would say, "It's Division I football!! It's the Big 12!!!!" so anything can happen. Personally, I think the OU game was a bit of an anomaly. The pick: Kansas 34 Colorado 20
P.S. I realize these teams also have a common opponent in the Baylor Bears, but I didn't feel like wasting my time or yours in including them in the analysis. I'll say this though - Kansas played arguably as bad as they have all season and won 58-10. I didn't see Colorado's game so I can't tell you how well they played, but they also won comfortably, 43-23.