The University of Colorado Buffaloes football season continues as the team travels to Pullman, Washington to play the University of Washington State Cougars, both matched at 4-6. A mere month ago, these opposing programs were seen as the two biggest success stories in the early college football season. Much has changed in the time since as the Buffaloes and Cougars now meet in the second to last game of the regular season with their seasons in shambles.
At one point this season, Colorado and Washington State peaked in the national rankings at No. 19 and No. 13, respectively. Since then, the Buffaloes, who started the season 3-0, have lost six of their last seven games, and the Cougars, who started the season 4-0, have lost their last six straight. The Pac-12 regular season has not been kind to either team. These programs are tied for last place in the conference with a 1-6 record.
However, a win on Saturday may be the momentum Colorado or Washington State needs to finish their season strong and secure the necessary sixth win to qualify for a bowl game this winter.
What to watch for on the Colorado side: Colorado’s cornerback duo of the future
When Deion Sanders was appointed the head coach of the FCS program Jackson State University, not much was expected to come of it. Although he brought new energy to the sport, Jackson State was too small of a program to be relevant. It wasn’t until his third season, when he flipped five-star cornerback recruit Travis Hunter to join him at Jackson State, that people started to really pay attention. Since Hunter’s unprecedented decision, he and Coach Prime’s destinies have become linked, bringing them both out west to Boulder.
It was less of a shock when another five-star cornerback, Cormani McClain, committed to coach Sanders and Colorado the following year. With two ultra-talented, young cornerbacks at Colorado’s disposal this season, it’s been a whole lot of Hunter, the Buffs’ leader in interceptions and passes defended, and very little of McClain. But, during last weekend’s game against the University of Arizona, McClain started and played the entire game opposite Travis Hunter.
“I’m really, really proud of Cormani… He played a viable game,” coach Sanders said at a press conference. “With his play, we could’ve won the game.”
All indications point towards McClain starting against Washington State this week, one of the most pass-heavy teams in the country, and he will be tested once again. If McClain continues his development, there’s a possibility that Buffs fans could witness one of the most talented duos at the cornerback position in college football history take the field next season.
What to watch for on the Washington State side: Cameron Ward’s fumbling problems
At one point, Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward held a top-five spot in many Heisman award watchlists, but the Cougar’s current losing streak has hurt both his Heisman award and NFL prospects.
Take Washington State’s loss to the University of California last week. Despite throwing for 350 yards and producing four touchdowns, Ward’s three lost fumbles were the story of the game. Two fumbles were returned for a touchdown, and the third was followed by a California touchdown a few plays later. That’s a 21-point swing.
“When he makes the amazing play, everyone celebrates it, but when it goes wrong and there’s not ball security… he understands the consequences,” said Washington State Head Coach Jake Dickert at a Tuesday press conference.
Ward is tied for the lead in fumbles lost in all of college football this season at 11. The Washington State pass protection has struggled, giving up an average of 3.1 sacks per game, a contributing factor to Ward’s ball protection struggles. The Buffaloes may be able to exploit this weakness to overcome Cameron Ward this Saturday.
Senior defensive line duo Stone and Jackson
The Washington State defense is anchored by its pair of sixth-year defensive ends, Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson. Both have been named to the second-team All-Pac-12 over the past two seasons.
Stone, the son of a former NFL offensive lineman, has produced three sacks and two forced fumbles this season. One of the leaders of the Washington State football team, Stone commented on the losing streak before last week’s game,.
“We’re all frustrated,” he said at a press conference. “We’re the ones that are responsible for where we’re at and obviously, we want to do better than where we’re currently at.”
Jackson, Washington State’s most productive pass rusher, leads the team with 6.5 sacks on the season.
“When Brennan plays free without hesitation and is really confident in himself, he’s one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” said coach Dickert about his edge rusher at a press conference earlier this week.
Stone and Jackson have both been on the Washington State football team since 2018 and are roommates off the field, a benefit for their on-field chemistry. Once again, Colorado faces a formidable opponent in the trenches, a place where they struggle.
Vegas currently has the Cougars favored by 4.5 points over the Buffs. Expect the Buffaloes to make it a close game and lots of points to be scored this weekend.
The game will be played at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington at 8:30 p.m. MT this Saturday and will be broadcast live on FS1.
Contact CU Independent staff writer Charlie Hewitt at firstname.lastname@example.org