Each week during the Pac-12 season, we'll try to hook up with our fellow SB Nation sites across the conference. This week we're talking with my friends here in the gorgeous state of Colorado. Jack Barsch is a writer at the excellent CU SB Nation site, The Ralphie Report, and he shares his thoughts on a steadily improving Buffaloes program and some new and old enemies.
Bruins Nation: I've watched CU go from a team that got drubbed every week a couple years back to a team that played several games to the wire last season (including pushing UCLA to double OT) to finally, after 14 straight Pac-12 losses, getting that long awaited conference win last week, and on the road no less. Were the fans and the team seeing the improvement coming along and what did finally getting over that hump last Saturday mean to everyone?
Jack Barsch: Yes, fans were seeing the improvement, though it wasn't as fast as people liked, and getting over the hump meant so much. It really can't be overstated. Just going back through Twitter, the outpouring at 1 AM on a Sunday from so many fans shows you how long we have all been waiting for this program to be good. Of course, you'll also run into a lot of criticism for the OC Brian Lindgren, but you take the good with the bad. Coach Mac has this team playing and behaving a team, and while that might be the basest of expectations for a program like UCLA, you don't know how far down the bottom goes until you hit it. Mac has the team on the rebound.
BN: We all knew QB Sefo Liufau and WR Nelson Spruce would be a potent combination again this year, but WR Shay Fields has been the big play threat this year for Colorado, especially against the Arizona schools. You just happened to call that one before the season started, by the way - well done! What makes Fields such a great playmaker and how much has having two great receivers helped the Buff offense this year? How would you scheme for the Buffs if you were an opposing defensive coordinator?
JB: Well, the Bruins may get a little luck as Shay Fields may be still be sidelined with his high ankle sprain, though he says he is playing. But Fields is everything he was cracked up to be when he came in to Boulder. He has the speed to get behind defenses, the technical skills to get open short, and the vision to make people miss on the open field. Not to look too far ahead, but without Spruce here next year and Fields adding even more strength as a junior, he might be one of the best wideouts in the conference. He has me really excited about his future. His emergence and the continued presence of Spruce has taken a little bit of pressure off of Sefo because he really doesn't have to throw anyone open and he can usually just toss it up. However, with this Frankenstein O-line, there hasn't been as many chances as they would like. As for as stopping the Buffs, conference don't seem to have too much trouble. The offense is very predictable- usually one or two runs up the middle, and then a short pass to a boundary receiver. Sometimes they'll sprinkle in a sweep or a deep ball, but that's all the variety you're gonna get (unfortunately). Stop the run, bracket Spruce, and you should see a lot of punts.
BN: The CU defense has allowed an average of 511 yards of offense in each of its 4 conference games so far, and Bruin fans are relatively pleased with the offensive production (if not the play calling) from QB Josh Rosen and RB Paul Perkins. Are the Buffs' new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and the move to the 3-4 just taking some time to get going, and what does CU need to do to contain the Bruins balanced attack?
JB: The outside perception of Leavitt surprises me to an extent because the fans treat him like a rock star. He has brought along a complete mentality shift to the team and drastically improved the scoring defense, the most important part. CU has very much been a bend, don't break unit so far, but they've broken quite a bit in conference play. Leavitt's putting them in the right spot, but it seems like he doesn't have the horses he needs. All the fans are very excited to see what he can do when he builds the roster his way. As for containing the Bruins, they'll just have to hope Jim Mora told Paul Perkins to take this week off and Josh Rosen laments the loss of his hot tub. The best bet would be to stop the run and trust a good secondary, but if the Buffs can't stop Ryan Nall of OSU, I don't know what Perkins will do to them.
BN: Before the season, I suspect most Buff fans would have considered getting to 7 wins and bowl eligibility to be a really solid step in this program's development. Colorado sits with 4 wins right now (stupid Hawaii game) and still needs 3 more. Do you think CU can get them and if so, where do they come?
JB: No, I don't think they'll get the wins. It's a veritable murderer's row the rest of the way and CU has started too slow to reach a bowl game. Arizona, and possibly Oregon, SHOULD have been a win, which is a huge shift from previous years, but the same ‘ol Colorado team dropped those games. Five wins would satisfy almost all fans, as that means this team beat UCLA, Stanford, USC, Wazzu, or Utah. That would be huge.
BN: This is Colorado's 4th year in the Pac-12 (and as a Bruin transplanted to Colorado, I'm thrilled we're in this together). Has that been long enough to see any signs of developing hate for anyone in the conference the way you hate Nebraska, or is that one just always going to be too far out of reach?
JB: As CU continues to play the PAC-12, natural animosity seems to crop up. A large contingent isn't fond of ASU one bit (I'm one) and wishes Todd Graham would jump ship like he usually does already. The beatdowns they hand out to the Buffs don't help either. If CU somehow beats Utah at the end of this year, that would go a long way to furthering the manufactured rivalry, as it would count as a signature win for Coach Mac. But to answer your question, Huck the Fuskers.
Thanks again to Jack and The Ralphie Report for their time and thoughts. For all the best news and analysis on CU sports, check out their fantastic site here and you can follow TRR on twitter at @RalphieReport.