ASU football heads to Boulder for divisional battle with Colorado

Two of the top teams in the Pac-12 South square off when the Sun Devils clash with the Buffaloes

Who: Arizona State at Colorado

Where: Folsom Field

When: 5 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks

Series: ASU leads 7-0 all-time

Last meeting: Sun Devils won 48-23 on Oct. 10, 2015 in Tempe

Before Oregon State’s free fall into the depths of the Pac-12 cellar, Colorado was the perennial punching bag for ASU football and the conference’s more established powers since the Buffaloes (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) left the Big 12 for the Pac-12.

After then-No. 21 Colorado fell to USC 21-17 Saturday, the Trojans (3-3, 2-2 Pac-12) and the Sun Devils (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) remain the only Pac-12 teams to have an undefeated record against the Buffaloes (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) – USC is 11-0 and ASU is 7-0 against Colorado all-time.

The #Pac12AfterDark phenomenon has documented the absurdity that is the Conference of Champions, illustrated by the chaos in just Week 6 alone: Oregon State knocked off Cal, Washington State dropped 42 points to beat a ranked Stanford team on the road and No. 5 Washington ended a 12-game losing streak against Oregon, smashing the Ducks 70-21.

When Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott met with the media during his visit to Sun Devil Stadium for ASU’s 51-41 win over Cal on Sept. 24, he described Colorado’s three-point victory over Oregon as a “paradigm shift” for the program.

The praise that the Buffaloes have garnered under head coach Mike MacIntyre (who was hired by Colorado in 2013, a year after Graham signed with ASU) would seem to reflect that.

“He’s a coach’s kid,” Graham said at Monday's press conference. “You always gravitate toward certain people when you go meetings and things like that. He’s just a guy that really impressed me, impressed me when he was at (San Jose State) and what he did there.”

Graham went on to say that every time the Sun Devils have faced the Buffs it's been a challenge that they were fortunate enough to win. 

However, the scoreboard might disagree – the Sun Devils have won each of their meetings with Colorado by an average of nearly 30 points, with the closest margin (14) coming in 2014.

But there appears to be a consensus that these Buffaloes are going to be a much more formidable challenge than Colorado teams in years past.

"I knew what we were going to do," Richard said Wednesday. "I was telling you all, I knew what we were going to do. Everybody else doubted us, if you look at the situation, the two teams that are in first place in the South were voted sixth and fifth in the conference, in the Pac-12 South.

“Now the people who were doubting us, are all of a sudden, oh ya, ya, ya, but you voted us fifth and sixth for the conference in the South."

Colorado averages just a tick under 200 rushing yards per game, fourth-best in the Pac-12, and 306 passing yards per game, good for 13th in the country. Combined, the Buffaloes have the ninth-most total yards among FBS teams, better than the AP top five ranked teams, respectively: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Michigan and Washington.

Like ASU, Colorado will be facing uncertainty at quarterback after redshirt freshman Steven Montez suffered a first-half injury and returned after junior Sefo Liufau (nursing an ankle injury himself) spelled his backup for three plays. Liufau said he’s day-to-day, according to Colorado’s official athletics site.

Junior wide receiver Shay Fields is the top deep-threat for the Buffaloes, with five touchdown receptions and 492 yards in six games, emerging as the No. 1 target for Montez this season after learning the ropes as a freshman and sophomore alongside Colorado’s all-time leading receiver Nelson Spruce, now with the Los Angeles Rams.

Junior running back Phillip Lindsay is the team’s leading rusher, with 395 yards and six touchdowns on 81 carries.

Anchoring the Colorado defensive unit and its eight returning starters is senior strong safety Tedric Thompson, who has two of his team’s seven total interceptions and is sixth among his teammates with 18 total tackles.

Senior outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert has a team-high 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles-for-loss.

This group of Buffaloes is on pace to allow its fewest amount of points per game in seven years, averaging just 20 points allowed in six games.

True freshmen Dillon Sterling-Cole and Jack Smith are quarterback No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, if redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins (the opening night starter) is not cleared to play. If that remains the case, Richard will be key from a leadership standpoint. Graham has referred to his top running back as a “stabilizing” factor.

Graham did say Thursday that Wilkins is likely to play, but did not specify for how long. When Graham made similar comments about redshirt senior Tim White's availability prior to the UTSA game on Sept. 18, White did not enter the game until the second half.

“In general, we do have a base offense that we like to start with,” said offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey on Wednesday. “(Sterling-Cole) is pretty comfortable with that, he just needs live experience.”

Some players shy away from the spotlight as the stakes intensify – Richard seems to relish it, as well as the challenge of playing on the road.

“I’m excited,” Richard said. “It’s gonna be an epic battle. It’s up there in Boulder, their fans are very into the game … I can’t wait.”

An ASU win would result in the team’s second 6-1 start in three seasons and be Graham’s 40th victory as head coach of the Sun Devils.

Reach the reporter at or follow @StefanJModrich on Twitter.

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