BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Star sophomore Laviska Shenault Jr. indicated on Instagram that he’d be back on the field Saturday when slumping Colorado hosts No. 10 Washington State.
His return would provide a big boost for the banged-up Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4), who were once the last remaining unbeaten team in the Pac-12 but now face the possibility of missing out on a bowl berth that was in their grasp two weeks ago before they blew a 28-point second-half lead to lowly Oregon State.
“The return of 2Live ..” Shenault posted Sunday night.
Buffaloes coach Mike MacIntyre was more cautious, saying Shenault “did a little bit” in his return to practice Monday but labeling him “still day to day.”
“Hopefully we’ll get him back sometime before the year is over,” MacIntyre said.
The Buffs were 5-0 when Shenault got hurt at USC, and Colorado lost that game and the next three without the superstar receiver who had six TD receptions and five TD runs before getting injured.
Shenault was a Heisman hopeful as he piled up 780 yards on 60 receptions and 87 yards on 15 rushes, and his return took on more urgency when Buffaloes receivers Jay MacIntyre (concussion) and K.D. Nixon (hip) got hurt last week at Arizona.
So, Shenault’s social media post was an encouraging sign as the Buffs prepared for the Cougars (8-1, 5-1, No. 8 CFP) who are the Pac-12’s last remaining hope for a College Football Playoff berth.
Coach MacIntyre doesn’t want to make excuses, but acknowledges Shenault’s injury was a backbreaker.
“I think when you take a Heisman Trophy candidate out of the picture, it’s a big deal,” MacIntyre said. “If you had taken Rashaan Salaam off the ’94 team, I don’t know they might still have been really good, they had a lot of great players. But you take a Heisman Trophy candidate out at the time he left, he was leading the country in every category kind of like (Washington State QB Gardner Minshew).
“If you take Minshew out, it might change Washington State. We haven’t had our best football player on the field since halfway through the USC game, so he only played five and a half games.”
Other subplots in the 12th meeting between the Cougars and Buffaloes:
CLOSE CALLS: The Buffs’ losses during their skid have come by a total of 40 points and include two one-score heartbreakers.
“All four losses were close games,” Colorado linebacker Rick Gamboa said. “It’s not like we’ve gotten blown out or anything. In all games, we had a chance to win. Just little things and corrections we need to make. We are preaching that in practice.”
MAGIC MINSHEW: Minshew is the nation’s leading passer with 3,517 yards, 27 TDs and seven interceptions.
“He makes all the right throws,” MacIntyre said. “He’s from Brandon, Mississippi, I know right where he’s from. I used to recruit in that area when I was at Ole Miss. That’s a football area right there, right outside of Jackson. He has mobility, he’s making throws.”
COUGARS O-LINE: MacIntyre said the unsung heroes of the Cougars’ Air-Raid offense is the O-line.
“Nobody hardly gets near him very much. They do an excellent job. The offensive line is big and athletic, they’ve done a good job with those guys,” MacIntyre said. “I’ve been very impressed with their offensive line, that’s helping it flow like they want it to.”
POINTS OF PRIDE: A week after winning a shootout against Stanford, Washington State bogged down and needed a late touchdown catch by Easop Winston Jr. to edge Cal 19-13 last week. They converted just 4 of 12 third downs and scored just two TDS in five red zone trips.
“I’m proud of my team,” Cougars coach Mike Leach said. “Those are very tough opponents. This whole conference is tough.”
BIG BUFF FAN: One Buff who really impresses Leach is … Ralphie, the live buffalo mascot.
“Their mascot is just outstanding,” Leach said. “Him and Mike the Tiger (from LSU) are the best. … I grew up in the west,” Leach added. “A buffalo is hard to argue with.”
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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