Nobody expected the Colorado Buffaloes to beat either the Oregon Ducks or the USC Trojans, but after getting blown out by the former on the road and surprising the latter at home with a comeback that fell just short, head coach Deion ‘Coach Prime’ Sanders’ 3-2 squad heads to the desert, expecting a win over 1-4 Arizona State.

   “This week is more about expectations than in many of the other weeks, because that’s the expectation that we have of ourselves — to go in and win this game,” Sanders said on Tuesday. “You want to win every game, but I mean, you really expect to win some games a lot more than others. This game, we expect to run the football. We’ve shown that we could last week. We expect to throw the ball successfully. We’ve shown that we can in totality during the whole season.”

   That much is certain. Quarterback Shedeur Sanders has been one of college football’s premium players, throwing for 1,781 yards (356.2 yards per game; second-most in the nation) and 15 touchdowns (tied for fourth-most). And, according to Shedeur, they’re still warming up. “I feel like we’re now settling in with the offense; with everything that’s going on, with the nuances of it,” he said. “Now we know what we like, what we don’t like. I feel like this is the second half of the season and we’re getting real comfortable.”

   The running game finally made an impactful appearance in the loss to USC, racking up a season-high 193 yards on 45 carries. Three Trojans sacks were the only things that kept the Buffs from a 200-plus-yard outing against a Top-10 team. The Buffs need that running game to take center stage this week, early and often.

   “We just have to have a consistency and a continuation,” ‘Coach Prime’ said. “Especially early. The challenge and the goal is we have to win the first and second quarter.”

When the Buffaloes have the ball

   Shedeur Sanders continues to be a revelation at quarterback; a cool customer under pressure with a NFL-caliber ability to quickly diagnose and break down defenses. Despite the fact that he’s had to target a number of different receivers, Sanders seems to have a rapport with each and every one of them.

   Freshman receiver Omarion Miller exploded onto the scene against USC, racking up 196 yards on his first seven catches of the season; one of them a touchdown. Miller stepped up in the absence of Travis Hunter — who’s expected to be out through the Buffs’ bye, giving him three more weeks to properly heal from a lacerated liver — and Saturday’s game will give him another opportunity to cement his status as a factor in Colorado’s explosive passing game. Xavier Weaver (41 catches, 490 yards, 2 touchdowns) leads the team, with Jimmy Horn Jr. (34 receptions, 327 yards and 4 touchdowns) functioning more in a possession role. Tight end Michael Harrison’s role has continued to grow following his clutch performance in the Rocky Mountain Showdown; his 20 catches, 179 yards and four touchdowns has diversified the looks that offensive coordinator Sean Lewis can throw at opponents.

   Freshman Dylan Edwards continues to lead the way on the ground with 40 carries for 201 yards; a 5-yard average that illustrates his explosiveness. Edwards has a single touchdown as a runner, but three as a receiver already. Anthony Hankerson, at 20-plus pounds heavier than Edwards, has given the ground game some needed power. The sophomore back hammered out 74 tough yards against the Trojans on 16 carries, as transfer Alton McCaskill continues to work his way back from knee surgery. McCaskill’s been active in the last two games, but only carried the ball a half-dozen times.

   The offensive line has been the Buffs’ biggest weak spot on offense, and unfortunately, starting right tackle Savion Washington will miss the game with an injury suffered last week. Graduate transfer Reggie Young replaced Washington, and is expected to start in his place this week. Expect the entire line to be tested; Shedeur’s been sacked 25 times already this season — tied for the most in college football — and despite his resilience, taking five sacks per game is a major health risk. Shedeur needs to be more willing to throw the ball out of play, and live to fight another down.

When the Sun Devils have the ball

   The Buffaloes are one of the nation’s best (plus-7 on the season) when it comes to takeaways. Safety Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig’s three interceptions leads the Pac-12, and Colorado’s 12 takeaways in total is good enough for a tie with Oklahoma for 10th place in all of FBS football. Had the Buffs had cornerback Travis Hunter in uniform for the last three games, or safety Shilo Sanders available in the last one, it could have been even more. Hunter, as explained, won’t play, but Shilo is expected to return to the lineup on Saturday, and touted recruit Cormani McClain stood out against the Trojans after being publicly scolded by ‘Coach Prime’ earlier in the week.

   That bodes poorly for the Sun Devils, who have had to start three different quarterbacks in their five games due to injury. That trio has thrown eight interceptions already, and head coach Kenny Dillingham’s team is a disastrous minus-12 in the turnover department on the season. Colorado will have an opportunity to break this game wide open if they can force expected starting signal-caller Trenton Bourguet into an error or two. The Buffaloes could probably do so if they got more out their pass rush, which has generated only nine sacks on the season; only 3.5 from linemen. If Colorado can somehow generate pressure on Bourguet without having to blitz, it’s a recipe for a Buffs blowout.

   Running back Cam Skattebo provides wild-card energy out of the backfield; leading the team with 318 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground as a runner, and finding himself in second-place on the team in receiving yards with 228 and another score. Beyond Skattebo, Dillingham’s squad doesn’t sport a lot of weapons; only wideout Elijhah Badger has more than 200 yards from scrimmage.

   Colorado’s defense sits outside the top-100 in FBS rankings, but on Saturday, they’ll need to put far more than what they’ve previously shown on display against a rebuilding Arizona State squad, and take control of this game.

What if?

      Looking to snap a two-game losing streak in what could be a “get-right” game for the Colorado, the Buffaloes’ improving ground game will need to take the next step. If they can build upon last week’s performance, then the offense should be able to earn an early lead, which lessens the pressure — and likely, the sacks — on Shedeur Sanders. “I don’t really understand what a ‘get-right’ game is,” Shedeur said. “But we approach each game with the same mindset — just go out there [to] dominate, and just take everything play-by-play. So on the road, it’s not really [different than] being at home. The game is the game, at the end of the day. Every field’s 100 yards that we’re playing [on], and we’ve just got to go out there and execute.”

   The Buffaloes are slight favorites, and can’t underestimate the scrappy Sun Devils, but if the game turns into a rout, it’ll almost certainly be on Colorado’s side. While Deion Sanders certainly isn’t expecting that as the head coach, it’s clear that he does expect his team’s best all-around effort in at least a month.

   “Our expectations of ourselves are a lot more lofty than expectations that you may have of us, but we have tremendous expectations for this season,” Deion explained. “And we are just getting started with it. We really are.”