Editor’s note: Saturday Out West’s annual Crystal Ball prediction series will preview every team in the Pac-12. Today: Colorado.

Already covered: UtahOregonUSCUCLAOregon State, Washington State, Washington, Stanford, Cal, Arizona  and Arizona State.


On the rise just 2 years ago, when Karl Dorrell navigated his first season in a COVID-shortened schedule with aplomb, Colorado thought they had their man. The Buffaloes handled the half-season so well that Dorrell became the first conference coach to win Coach of the Year honors with two programs. That he did it in his first season with the Buffaloes was commendable, and it showed that Colorado was full steam ahead.

Well now the wheels have come off following a 4-win season, and things don’t look any brighter for 2022. With a brutal schedule and scarce returning talent and reinforcement, Colorado would be lucky to just match that win total this year. Even escaping one of the country’s toughest nonconference schedules with 1 win will be a task.

Take a look below at what’s holding the Buffs back …

How do the Buffaloes navigate the most difficult schedule in the Pac-12?

You know it’s bad when missing Washington State is a cause for celebration. Colorado could not have possibly set itself up for a more trying 2022, and it starts right away.

The Buffaloes’ September schedule ranks the 6th-hardest in college football, according to On3 Sports. TCU is tough. Air Force is tougher. Minnesota is the hardest to beat out of the trio. And that’s just the first 3 weeks. There’s not a cupcake to be found in the entire slate. What about the last four, which see Colorado face Oregon, USC, Washington and Utah in the final month? Ouch. A lot of ouches.

What can Colorado do about the offense?

In just about every metric aside from touchdown/interception ratio, Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis struggled last year. He completed 58 percent of his passes at an average of 6.0 yards per completion. He was sacked 31 times for negative-201 yards and managed just 188 rushing yards himself.

Lewis hasn’t quite distanced himself from JT Shrout in the quarterback competition, and even if he does, he’ll have to an offense that loses its top running back, Jarek Broussard, who wasn’t all that productive last year with 661 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Brady Russell is back, as well as Daniel Arias, but they combined for just 44 catches for 544 yards and 1 touchdown. RJ Sneed comes in from Baylor and should have an impactful season, but he’s not a future pro.

How are the Buffaloes expected to take a step forward without an infusion of talent?

Is Karl Dorrell the answer for the Buffaloes?

UCLA football fans remember with horror Dorrell’s run as head coach from 2003-07, when, despite immense individual talents, the Bruins finished with 6 wins 3 times, 7 wins once and 10 wins once.

That would be Colorado’s best stretch since Gary Barnett.

But Dorrell does not have anywhere near the natural recruiting advantages in Boulder that helped him during his time in Westwood. And without a clear vision for the future and another bad season, Colorado fans could turn on him quickly.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 1: vs. TCU (L)

Forget September to Remember — Colorado’s September to Forget launches with a difficult home test with the Horned Frogs, who’ve fallen from their once-mighty perch but still have more talent than the Buffaloes. New head coach Sonny Dykes has Pac-12 experience from his time with Cal, and the Frogs will ruin Colorado’s home opener with a close win.

Week 2: at Air Force (L)

Matchups between these Centennial State rivals have been exceedingly rare since the mid-’70s. They met in 2019, a 30-23 AFA win, for the first time in 25 years. Before then, they’d met every year from 1958-1974, with Colorado winning 12 of 16 games.
With the Falcons’ unique offense, it’s going to be a tough task to adjust to them from Dykes’ version of the Air Raid.

Week 3: at Minnesota (L)

The Buffaloes’ brutal nonconference slate continues with a talented Minnesota team.

This home-and-home engagement started a lot like their back-to-back in 1991-92. Only in reverse. Back then, it was Colorado steamrolling the Golden Gophers, 58-0, in 1991 and 21-20 in 1992. I’ve got a feeling Minnesota won’t let this one be quite that close.

Week 4: vs. UCLA (L)

The Bruins have dropped 3 straight in Boulder, but the talent and experience disparity has grown to the point that UCLA should be able to make it 2 straight in the series after dominating in the Rose Bowl last season, 44-20. The Bruins have a lot to play for this season, and after a cupcake nonconference schedule, they’re going to want to prove to some doubters that they can handle Pac-12 opponents the way they should be handled.

Week 5: at Arizona (L)

For the first time in this lopsided rivalry, Arizona captured the momentum with 7 wins in 8 games between 2012-19. Before then, Colorado had been 12-0 against the Wildcats.

And since then, the Buffaloes have gone 2-0, with a 24-13 win in 2020 and a 34-0 home shutout in 2021. Coming off such a one-sided affair, how can Arizona be projected to win? Simple: This isn’t the Arizona of last year.

Week 6: Bye

Week 7: vs. Cal (W)

Colorado has a track record of pulling off big Pac-12 upsets even in down years. Last year, the Buffaloes claimed surprise wins over Oregon State (37-34 in overtime) and Washington (20-17). In 2019, when they finished 5-7, the Buffaloes won at No. 24 Arizona State, 34-31, and also beat Stanford and Washington. In a 5-7 2018 campaign, Colorado beat UCLA and Arizona State.

All of that is to say, even if Cal isn’t a world-beater, a win over the Bears would be nice, and the Buffaloes are due.

Week 8: at Oregon State (L)

Leave it to the Beavers to have their best season in years last year, yet still lose to the Buffaloes in overtime. They’re not going to let the same mistake happen twice. Oregon State has a big season in sight, and the Beavers can’t afford a letdown against Colorado on their home turf. This one won’t be particularly close.

Week 9: vs. Arizona State (W)

In a shockingly close back-and-forth over the past 5 years, Colorado has gone 3-2 with a 1-point overall advantage 145-144. But Arizona State’s defense stifled Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis in a 35-13 win last year, and because neither team improved much in the offseason, the Sun Devils will keep the momentum.

Week 10: vs. Oregon (L)

The Ducks have dominated Colorado over the past decade, and they have an overwhelming talent advantage this year, particularly in ways that can hurt the Buffaloes. Oregon’s defensive front seven and offensive line are simply more talented than Colorado’s counterparts, and that talent edge will enable the skill position Ducks to thrive.

Week 11: at USC (L)

In a down season last year, USC managed to look like USC for at least one day, smashing Colorado, 37-14. Coming into this one with an 8-1 record, the Trojans aren’t about to look past the Buffaloes.

Week 12: at Washington (L)

Colorado has had some success against the Huskies over the years, but not this time around. While Washington is going to have an interesting year breaking in former Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., the Huskies are definitely a more talented team than the Buffaloes.

Week 13: vs. Utah (L)

Lumped together by virtue of proximity, the Utes and Buffaloes don’t have much else in common at this point. Utah has been among the most stable programs in the country for nearly two decades; Colorado has turned over coaches on the regular for a dozen years. The Utes have thrived by recruiting system players and focusing their efforts on the defensive side; the Buffaloes have seemed aimless on the recruiting trail for years.

This has and will continue to translate on the field, including this season.

2022 Projection: 2-10 (2-7)


What is there to say? Colorado has little talent and littler depth, few playmakers and few returning veteran leaders who’ve produced over a sustained time. The Buffaloes don’t have very good prospects this year, with an anemic offense and a defense that allowed death by a thousand cuts last year.

Colorado finished a respectable 6th in scoring defense, but the Buffaloes’ 2nd-worst offense doomed the team’s fate. Unfortunately for Dorrell and the Buffs, they didn’t add enough reinforcements to write a different story.

The schedule pays the Buffaloes no favors, either, and after winning four games a season ago, Colorado will need to come together to reach any better than half that total.