CU Buffs vs. Utah football: 4 things to know, key matchups and predictions

Colorado (4-7, 3-5 Pac-12) at No. 16 Utah (8-3, 7-1); 2 p.m. Friday, Rice-Eccles Stadium (Salt Lake City, Utah)

TV/Radio: KDVR-31/850 AM, 94.1 FM

Line: Utah -23.5, 52.5 over/under

Weather: 48 degrees, mostly cloudy

What to know

Back to reality? After promising performances against Oregon and Oregon State, QB Brendon Lewis and the CU passing game took a step back with zero touchdowns, four sacks allowed and just two completions longer than 20 yards the past two weeks. The Buffs enter their final game 126th in passing yards/game (135.5) in FBS, ahead of only the service academies and New Mexico. With receiver Brenden Rice sidelined, Lewis is down one of his top targets. Not a great place to start against a Utah secondary that’s allowed just 209.8 pass yards/game (34th in FBS).

Walking wounded. One recurring theme with the CU linebacking corps in the second half of the season: injuries. Last week’s hero Jack Lamb (fumble return TD vs. Washington) is just the latest to be sidelined, with Buffs coach Karl Dorrell telling reporters the Notre Dame transfer is unlikely to play against Utah. While Dorrell didn’t rule out the return of inside linebacker Nate Landman, any meaningful down the senior plays Friday will be his first in a month.

Full steam ahead. For the third time in four years, the Utes will represent the South Division in the Pac-12 title game. Utah sewed that up with a 38-7 rout of Oregon last weekend, a win that ensured the conference will miss out on the College Football Playoff for the fifth consecutive season. That means the Utes technically have nothing to play for Friday, except extending a four-game win streak that’s seen them score an average of 43.0 points per game.

One-sided “rivalry.” The Buffs and Utes are travel partners in the Pac-12, but the “Rumble in the Rockies” has yet to take hold as a true end-of-season rivalry game since both schools joined the conference in 2011. The stakes are often low (at least for CU) and the results one-sided (Utah’s won 8 of 10 since ’11). A win Friday would give Utah five straight over CU and push them ahead of the Buffs in the all-time series (currently 32-32-3).

Key matchups

Utah RB Tavion Thomas vs. CU front seven. The Utes’ offensive turnaround began with QB Cameron Rising taking over for Charlie Brewer midway through Week 3. It went to another level with the emergence of Thomas, a 6-foot-2, 221-pound Cincinnati transfer who’s run for 702 yards and 15 touchdowns in his last six games. Which CU run defense shows up? The one that held Washington to 38 yards on 28 carries last week? Or the one that was gashed by Oregon (36-256), Oregon State (43-220) and UCLA (41-244) in its three previous games.

Utah LB Devin Lloyd vs. CU O-line. Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux gets the big headlines, but there’s been no more productive linebacker in the Pac-12 than Lloyd. With 21.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks and three interceptions, the 6-3, 235-pound junior is the likely conference defensive player of the year. Priority No. 1 for CU: figuring out where he’s lined up every play.

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Predictions

Scott Monserud, AME/sports: Utah 42, CU 17

Utes put exclamation mark on superb regular season with dominating performance led by run game.

Sean Keeler, sports columnist: Utah 31, CU 17

Coming off a statement stomping of Oregon and with the Pac-12 title game up next, how badly will the Utes want this one? Probably badly enough to get the job done, and probably not badly enough to kick the Buffs in the teeth.

Matt Schubert, deputy sports editor: Utah 37, CU 13

All CU has left to play for is pride. That might be enough at home against a UW team that can’t stop shooting itself in the foot. But it’s not near enough on the road against a Utes team that’s likely the best in the conference.

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