Two unlikely foes will meet for the right to be crowned champions of the Pac-12 tonight at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The No. 9 Colorado Buffaloes (10–2) will battle the No. 4 Washington Huskies (11–1). This matchup was certainly not what experts predicted at the start of the season.
The Buffs totally exceeded expectations, which is why they are one game away from snatching the Pac-12 away from Washington. The Huskies are playing for more than the Pac-12, as they have a chance to solidify their spot in the College Football Playoff. With a win, Washington will have a compelling case to stay in the top four. Colorado has a very slim shot at the CFP, but they could easily get into the Rose Bowl with a victory, which would be remarkable considering where this team was a year ago.
Last season, the Buffaloes went just 4–9 with a record of 1–8 in the Pac-12. This season, Colorado finished 8–1 in Pac-12 play, which included wins over top teams like Washington State and Utah. Both Colorado and Washington lost to USC, while the Buffs also lost at Michigan. Led by Coach of the Year Mike MacIntyre, Colorado’s calling card is definitely their defense. Colorado enters Friday’s game with the 13th best defense in the country. This unit is led by senior Chidobe Awuzie, who has 54 tackles, 10 pass break-ups, and four sacks this season. Also leading the way for the upstart Buffs is safety Tedric Thompson, who recorded seven interceptions this year, which tied a school record.
Washington’s defense is almost as good as Colorado’s. Washington has the 10th most interceptions in the country this season (16). The Huskies lost starting linebackers Azeem Victor and Joe Mathis during the season, but redshirt freshman D.J. Beavers seems to be filling in quite nicely. Beavers recorded four tackles with a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and an interception last week against Washington State. The Huskies secondary headlines this unit. Junior safety Budda Baker compiled 60 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. Cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Kevin King have 67 tackles combined.
While Colorado’s offense isn’t explosive, they do have a way to combat Washington’s excellent secondary. Senior quarterback Sefo Liufau is rated as the second best quarterback on deep passes by Pro Football Focus. Liufau has thrown for 2,150 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, while also rushing for 483 yards and seven scores. Running back Phillip Lindsay has rushed for 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns, and has also compiled 371 receiving yards.
Washington’s attack is more dynamic, as they ranked third in scoring with 44.8 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning has been mentioned in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy after his performance this season. Browning has thrown for 3,162 yards and 40 touchdowns, while throwing only seven interceptions. Sophomore running back Myles Gaskin has rushed for 1,180 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Colorado averages only 16 yards less than Washington on offense, so there isn’t much of a difference between those two units. Colorado will look to keep this a low-scoring-game, while Washington will probably prefer to make this game a shootout.
Photo credit: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images