No. 16 Colorado faces Arizona with Pac-12 South lead
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — When Arizona and Colorado last met a year ago in Boulder, the Wildcats were playing well and the Buffaloes were laboring through an injury-riddled season.
As they head into Saturday night's game in the desert, the roles have reversed.
Arizona has been decimated by injuries, particularly in the offensive backfield, has yet to win in the Pac-12 and will not be going to a bowl game for the first time since 2011.
No. 16 Colorado is relatively healthy, already bowl-eligible and has plenty to play for, leading No. 13 Utah by a game in the Pac-12 South.
"I do think our guys have been in that situation before," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said of Arizona's struggles. "They understand everybody's going to show up to play. It doesn't matter what everybody else says or what everyone's saying in the classroom. They've been in that exact same situation. Hopefully they feed off that memory."
Colorado (7-2, 5-1) has been one of the biggest surprises of the college football season.
The Buffaloes were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South this year after winning five Pac-12 games in five seasons since joining the conference, including a 1-8 record in 2015.
Colorado is already bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007 after wins against Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA, teams the Buffaloes were a combined 0-18 against prior to this season.
Colorado moved up to No. 12 in the second College Football Playoff rankings and can take the Pac-12 South if it wins the final three games.
"They've stayed healthy, they've played hard, they're well-coached and they have a lot of confidence right now," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They're playing really good football and we'll get a really good team coming here on Saturday night."
Rodriguez's team has struggled.
A year ago, the Wildcats were hit hard by injuries at the linebacker spot. This season it's been the offensive backfield.
Arizona (2-7, 0-6) has its top quarterbacks, Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins, healthy again, but had to use a third-string tight end at quarterback at one point. The running back depth got so bad that Samajie Grant, a midseason convert from wide receiver, has become the starter.
The Wildcats will not become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011 and are coming off a 69-7 shellacking by Washington State.
"There's no excuse for that poor performance," Rodriguez said. "You have to look at it and learn from it. There's a lot of young guys that are playing that need to learn from it."
A few more things to look for when Colorado plays at Arizona on Saturday night:
ARIZONA RUN GAME: The Wildcats have racked up more than 1,400 yards rushing in their past four games combined against Colorado. They'll have a tough time keeping up that pace on Saturday. Rodriguez said this week that Nick Wilson, Arizona's main running back to start the season, likely won't play the rest of the year due to his latest injury. Arizona was already thin at running back and while Grant has been solid after switching positions, the Wildcats may have a hard time running the ball against the Buffaloes.
LIUFAU'S TASK: Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau was banged up against UCLA last week and has struggled to get Colorado's offense running at full speed the past two games. He'll have a chance to break the Buffaloes and himself out of that funk this week against Arizona. The Wildcats have the nation's 117th-ranked overall defense and are giving up 272 yards passing per game, 111th in the FBS.
COLORADO'S START: Colorado has a chance to start a season 8-2 overall and 5-1 in conference for the first time since 2001, when it played in the Big 12. The Buffaloes also are looking to win two straight league road games for the first time since winning three straight in 2004, when they beat Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma State in the Big 12.