Colorado is not exactly Colorado this season.
The Buffaloes, who have beaten Missouri in 16 of the teams’ past 18 matchups, have taken a Big 12 Conference nosedive. In losing three straight conference games for the first time since 1984, Colorado, the two-time defending Big 12 North Division champ, plays with one of the worst defenses in the nation and one of the worst rushing offenses.
“Doggone it, we can’t seem to put it all together,” Colorado coach Gary Barnett said.
Barnett said his team’s 3-6 record and 1-4 conference record stem from several helpless factors. His schedule is tough, his team is young and many players in the once-prolific program are injured.
For Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose team plays at Colorado at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, each reason is as inconspicuous as who the Tigers play next week.
“Don’t let them fool you,” Pinkel said. “They are still a good football team. This, ‘Woe is Colorado,’ I don’t … I’m scared to death like I’m supposed to be.”
The Buffaloes have played three ranked teams: No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 3 Florida State and then-No. 23 Colorado State. Then-unranked Washington State, who the Buffaloes lost to 47-26 on Sept. 13, is ranked No. 12.
“They’ve got one of the toughest schedules in the country by far, so 3-6 isn’t meaning a lot when you look at the teams they’ve played,” Missouri offensive tackle Rob Droege said.
Fifteen of Colorado’s starters are freshmen or sophomores, Barnett said, which leads to unpredictability.
“The inconsistency right now is what we’ve been playing with and it’s been really frustrating, and the fact that we’re so young,” Barnett said. “You can’t use that as an excuse, and no one’s trying to, but it’s a reality that you have to deal with.”
Also, numerous Buffaloes have been injured for extended periods.
Bobby Purify, a two-time All-Big 12 senior tailback, injured his ankle against Washington State and might gain a medical redshirt. Defensive end Marques Harris broke his leg against UCLA on Sept. 6, and 13 other players are listed on the Buffaloes’ injury report.
The Tigers have not had any major injuries, but Pinkel understands the impact they can have on a team.
“We are all victims of the injury bug,” Pinkel said. “If by some chance that hits you at a high level, your whole football team can change dramatically.”
Colorado is in the bottom 10 in rushing offense and total defense, and its coverage team has allowed six punt returns for touchdowns.
There is a bright spot for Colorado, though. Senior wide receivers D. J. Hackett and Derek McCoy lead the Buffaloes offense, which averages 289.7 receiving yards per game, No. 18 in the nation. Hackett is second in the Big 12 with 59 receptions and McCoy is sixth with 51.
“They aren’t leaning on the run like they have in the past, they’re going the direction of throwing the football,” Pinkel said. “(Hackett and McCoy) can flat run. They’re big, and very very impressive and make a lot of plays.”
Missouri cornerback Calvin Washington said the Buffaloes’ disappointing season thus far could have happened to the Tigers.
“Sometimes they haven’t been able to get it clicking on both sides, just like us,” Washington said. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to pull out some games. I still think they’re a good team and they can surprise a lot of people.”