BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — A night game televised nationally on the conference network. Largest Folsom Field crowd expected in nearly five years. At least a share of the top spot in the Pac-12 South at stake.
All just more signs that Colorado (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) has its football program trending in the right direction as the Buffaloes host Arizona State (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday.
Colorado is counting on plenty of Folsom Field clamor against a Sun Devils team that’s 7-0 all-time against the Buffs and has outscored them by an average of 26 points. There could be more than 46,000 fans for this homecoming game in a stadium that should be much louder since the completion of the Champions Center on the northeast side to trap the noise.
“I love night games, and I think most of the guys on the team love night games, and that kind of atmosphere,” Colorado receiver Bryce Bobo said. “We’re just trying to come out with a big win.”
Big wins have been rather rare for the Buffaloes since their last bowl appearance in 2007. This team, though, has been making strides all season, such as earning the Buffs’ first ranking in 11 years before falling out of the polls this week after a 21-17 loss to Southern California.
The turnaround in Boulder has certainly caught the attention of Arizona State coach Todd Graham.
“They’re a football team that’s playing very hungry,” Graham said. “This team is capable of big plays and they have been playing very well at home. So, we need to go out there and find a way to win.”
Both teams enter the game with QB quandaries. The Buffs will decide between freshman Steven Montez and senior Sefo Liufau, who’s dealing with a sprained ankle that’s sidelined him for the last three games.
The Sun Devils may have Manny Wilkins in the huddle again. He missed last week’s 23-20 win over UCLA with a leg injury. They’re also preparing Dillon Sterling-Cole and Jack Smith with Brady White out for the season after suffering an injury against the Bruins.
“We don’t really worry about (who’s at quarterback). We worry about us,” Colorado safety Afolabi Laguda said. “We have to come out there and worry about filling our gaps right, covering the right people and making plays.”
Here are some other things to watch as the Sun Devils try to spoil Colorado’s homecoming:
THE LOCAL KID: Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre had a simple answer for stopping the Sun Devils’ version of the Wildcat formation.
“Tackle No. 7,” MacIntyre said.
That would be Kalen Ballage, who the Buffaloes know very well after heavily recruiting the 6-foot-2, 227-pound running back from Peyton, Colorado. Ballage had eight total TDs in a game earlier this season against Texas Tech — quite a few off direct snaps out of the formation they call “Sparky.”
“The main thing is No. 7. He’s pretty wicked,” MacIntyre said.
FOOT NOTE: The Sun Devils have one of the best kickers in the game in Zane Gonzalez, who connected on three field goals last weekend to become the NCAA’s all-time leader. He has 89 career field goals, moving him by Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins, who had 88 from 2009-12. Gonzalez is nine points away from breaking Hopkins’ FBS record for career points (466) by a kicker.
THIS & THAT: With a win, the Sun Devils would move to 6-1 for the second time in the past three seasons. What’s more, Graham would pick up win No. 40 at Arizona State.
SEFO’S NUMBERS: In three games against Arizona State, Liufau has thrown for 836 yards, which is the most versus one opponent in school history. It’s one of 78 school marks that Liufau has either set or tied.
ATTENDANCE SURGE: The Buffaloes are averaging 43,172 at home this season — a figure sure to climb after this weekend. The last time Colorado averaged more than 40K was 2012.
“It’s going to be a tough test for us here. I’m glad we’re playing at Folsom,” MacIntyre said. “Our kids love playing at Folsom.”
By Pat Graham, AP Writer
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