When the Pac-12 season began in 2020, it was largely assumed that Colorado would field the worst team in the conference. New head coach Karl Dorrell was hired at the end of February, just days before coronavirus shut down college campuses, and he didn’t have the first practice with his players until six months later in October.
A new coach, a new system, and no practice time. It was going to be a rough season in Boulder.
That was the conventional wisdom beginning the season. By the end of the season, however, that was proven to be completely wrong. No team in the conference surprised more than CU, and no coach showed himself worthy of a second bite at the head coaching apple more than Dorrell. The former UCLA head coach who worked as an assistant coach for 13 years after that stint won the Pac-12 Coach of the Year award.
CU finished with a 4-2 record and was in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title as late as the final regular-season game. They did lose in the Alamo Bowl, but they were in a bowl, which was never supposed to be in the cards. And they achieved a top-25 ranking for the first time since October 2018.
2020 Season Results
One of the advantages of coming in with such low expectations and then exceeding them is that it takes a while for bookmakers to catch up. Colorado won its first four games, and in all four games, they covered the point spread – including the first two games by more than 12 points.
Game 1: 48-42 win vs. UCLA
Touchdown underdogs to UCLA; Colorado was actually leading this game as much as 35-7. The UCLA comeback caused some tense moments down the stretch, but with 525 yards of total offense and a strong defensive effort in the fourth quarter, it was a great start to the season.
Game 2: 35-32 win at Stanford
In almost a mirror of the game against UCLA, the Buffs were 9.5-point underdogs at Stanford, led by as much as 28-9, and the defense came up with enough big plays late in the game to hold off the Cardinal comeback.
Game 3: 20-10 win vs. San Diego State
This game was a fill-in for cancelations against Arizona State and USC, and bookmakers were now on to the Buffs and had them 6-point favorites against the visiting Aztecs. Fill-in or not, it was a dominant performance, as the defense allowed just 155 total yards and not a single second-half point.
Game 4: 24-13 win at Arizona
Favored this time by 9.5 points, it was a smothering defense and 301 yards rushing from Jarek Broussard that allowed Colorado to cover the spread. The team total in rushing yards for the day topped 400.
Game 5: 21-38 loss vs. Utah
The perfect season, both in the win/loss column and against the spread, came to an end against Utah. Colorado led 21-10 early in the third quarter, but this time they couldn’t hold the lead and stop their opponent’s big comeback. Jarek Broussard failed to break 100 yards for the first time all season.
Alamo Bowl: 23-55 loss to Texas
Getting to the Alamo Bowl was a consolation for not making it to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but the actual game itself was anything but consoling. CU lost by 32 and was 24 points short of covering the point spread.
Pac-12 Conference Outlook
In the Pac-12 North, it is Oregon that is once again expected to come out on top. Although they aren’t a serious contender for the national championship this season, and the difference between the Ducks and Washington isn’t all that great. The Huskies have the best defense in the conference, and don’t be surprised if they win the division in a mild upset.
Stanford has the inevitable task of playing 12 games against 12 Power Five conference opponents. The only slouch of the bunch in Vanderbilt, as they also take on Kansas State and Notre Dame out of conference. Still, Stanford should be good enough to hold off Cal and Washington State for third in the North.
In the Pac-12 South, the Buffs are once being overlooked. USC doesn’t have to play Oregon or Washington, which makes their run to the division title considerably easier. Arizona State is the media favorite this year, and no question they will be good. They have a top-tier front-seven and a great passing attack.
The threesome of Utah, UCLA, and Colorado are all in the mix for third in the South, but a considerably tougher schedule for the Buffs will probably be their undoing. The last half of the schedule features at Cal, at Oregon, at UCLA, vs. Washington, and at Utah. The lone should-be-a-win is a game in Boulder against Oregon State.
Third place in the division is unlikely with that stretch of games, and fourth place would be a nice feather in their caps. CU is going to be better this season, but the overall record probably won’t reflect that.
QB JT Shrout – Transfer from Tennessee
A former three-star recruit out of high school, quarterback JT Shrout played in eight games at Tennessee and finished his time with the Volunteers with 494 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions. He has a strong arm, good touch and will compete with Brendon Lewis for the starting job.
OLB Robert Barnes – Transfer from Oklahoma
A former five-star recruit and four-year player at Oklahoma, Robert Barnes is a graduate transfer with experience at both safety and outside linebacker. He played in 27 games with the Sooners and recorded 77 tackles and two interceptions. He’s ranked in the top-150 transfers in the country.
LB Jack Lamb – Transfer from Notre Dame
A third-down rotational linebacker in 2019, Jack Lamb had seven tackles with the Irish before going down with a hip injury. Last season he led the ACC in special teams tackles and should find even more playing time and success with CU’s defense.
OL Max Wray – Transfer from Ohio State
As a tackle coming out of high school, Max Wray was ranked as the 88th best player in the country. He appeared in three games in 2019 and started against Michigan State last season. He joins his brother Jake Wray in Boulder.
OL Noah Fenske – Transfer from Iowa
At 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, Noah Fenske is a big and versatile addition to the Buffs offensive line. He was a center at Iowa but can also play guard. He comes to Boulder with four years of eligibility remaining.
The Buffs have one of the most talented wide receiver groups in the conference, and two big recruits are adding to the mix in Chase Penry (6-foot-2) and Ty Robinson (6-foot-4). The prize of the class, however, is running back Ashaad Clayton. The four-star recruit from New Orleans has the highest rating of anyone in the CU class.
Defensive Coordinator Chris Wilson
Not a new addition since Wilson was the defensive line coach last year. But as the new defensive coordinator, he’s installed a new, more “player friendly” defensive scheme that involves fewer checks at the line of scrimmage and more instinctual play from his defense.
QB Sam Noyer – Transfer to Oregon State
Sam Noyer started all six games for the Buffs last season but was injured in the Alamo Bowl and missed all of the spring practice recovering from shoulder surgery. With new transfer JT Shrout and freshman Brendon Lewis expected to push him for playing time, in June, he transferred to Oregon State.
WR K.D. Nixon – Transfer to USC
With 104 career receptions at Colorado, including 15 last season (good for third on the team), wide receiver K.D. Nixon will spend his final year of eligibility at USC. The Buffs have a deep, wide receiver room, so his production will be covered. But CU will miss Nixon’s experience and leadership.
DL Mustafa Johnson – Graduated
Twice winning All-Pac-12 honors, defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson will be missed by the Buffs defense. He was the leader of the group the last three seasons but did miss a few games due to injury, which allowed some of the younger players to step forward.
2021 Schedule Breakdown
It’s always nice to be ranked near the top of your conference unless that ranking is the strength of the schedule. That is where CU finds itself. When the Pac-12’s strength of schedule rankings was released, there was Colorado, ranked No. 2 in the conference, only trailing Stanford.
Out of Conference
The first-week tuneup against Northern Colorado will help. It will be a chance for everyone to work out the kinks of the offseason and get on the same page. Up next, however, are back-to-back games against Texas A&M and Minnesota. Both games are in Colorado, but A&M is ranked No. 4 in the nation. That will be a loss, and probably a big one. Minnesota, however, is winnable if the Buffs bring their best.
The Pac-12 schedule does not start kindly for Colorado. They begin to play with a trip to one of the conference favorites, Arizona State. If they’re coming off a win over Minnesota, they might roll into Tempe with momentum. Otherwise, it could be a rough first Saturday in Pac-12 play. USC a week later doesn’t get any easier.
After an open week in early October, there are winnable games against Arizona and Cal. But on that last Saturday of October, the brutal end to the season begins. A visit to Oregon, a winnable at home against Oregon State, and then at UCLA, home vs. Washington, and at Utah to close things out.
It’s a schedule that should produce between four and six wins, and if things go well, the Buffs might get to seven wins. While a return to a bowl isn’t likely, it is a definite possibility.
There is agreement across the sports betting world. Almost every bookmaker has the over/under on wins for the Buffs this season at 4.5. Under 4.5 pays -115, while taking the overpays between -105 and +100.
It’s a tough schedule, and hitting the over will be a solid season in Boulder.
In terms of winning the Pac-12, Colorado is on the board at +4000. They have five conference road games, as opposed to just four at home. Both Oregon and Washington are on the schedule from the Pac-12 North, and Washington and USC burn a couple of their home games.
+4000 is the right line. It would send shockwaves through the college football world if CU was to win the conference. There is simply no way that it’s going to happen. And the even more unlikely scenario of CU winning the National Championship is paying +20000. That’s nothing more than a novelty bet for the most diehard of Buffaloes fans.