The Colorado Buffaloes are 4-2, and with a win on Friday over Stanford at Folsom Field, they could move to within a single win of bowl eligibility… which, let’s face it, would be a foregone conclusion. Under head coach Deion ‘Coach Prime’ Sanders, Colorado has become the story in college football; Friday’s fifth nationally televised game of the season confirms that the Buffaloes have truly become America’s team.

   The National League Championship series-bound Philadelphia Phillies have even embraced the Buffs, with superstar Bryce Harper and slugger Nick Castellanos sporting ‘Coach Prime’ gear on their way into the stadium for Game 2 of the NL Division series.

   Castellanos hit a home run in Philly’s Game 3 win, and Harper doubled that up with a pair of dingers. Philadelphia went on to knock Sanders’ old team — the top-seeded Atlanta Braves — out of the postseason in Game 4 on Thursday night.

   The Buffs are the more talented team in Friday night’s matchup, as the 1-4 Cardinal have now dropped four straight games. But if the Buffs can’t get off to a good start, they’ll make their jobs much harder than they have to be. Colorado has been outscored 121-72 in the first half this season, and Sanders has had enough of it. “It’s not becoming of us. It’s ridiculous… I hate it,” he said. …”It’s something that we’ve got to do much better; we’re better than that. We’re better than what we’re showing — and we’re going to prove it.”

When the Buffaloes have the ball

   Shedeur Sanders has been able to overcome the Buffs’ slow starts with canny, clutch play, authoring a trio of late-game comebacks for Colorado this season. The FBS passing leader with 2,020 yards, Sanders is tied for third in touchdown passes with 16, to only a pair of interceptions on the season. Despite last week’s comeback victory at Arizona State, Shedeur will be looking for a bounce-back performance after a 239-yard outing that saw him complete a season-low 61.9 percent of his passes.

   Taking fewer sacks would facilitate that — Shedeur also leads FBS football with a whopping 30 of them — but the Buffs are clearly taking a calculated risk: they believe that extending plays in the hope of generating big gains are worth the trade-offs in the sack column. So far, at least, it’s been hard to argue with the results, but watch out for Cardinal linebacker David Bailey; the sophomore has already racked up four sacks on the season, good for seventh place in the high-flying Pac-12.

   According to coach Sanders, Shedeur has a “tremendous chance” to get his biggest playmaker back on Friday. Travis Hunter, who suffered a lacerated liver on a penalized cheap shot against Colorado State, could potentially return after missing nearly a month of action. “There’s a tremendous chance he could play,” ‘Coach Prime’ said. “It goes by how he looks, how he performs in practice, how his wind is — he has to be in shape.” Despite having only 16 catches on the season, Hunter’s 213 yards still ranks fourth on the team. That said, given the depth at the wide receiver position, it might be best for Hunter to play only at cornerback, where the need is greater… and where he can hit instead of getting hit.

   Xavier Weaver (43 catches for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns) leads the Buffs at the wide receiver position, but while he and Jimmy Horn Jr. (39/376/4) have been constants all fall, Omarion Miller (8/205/1), Tar’Varish Dawson (14/124/1) and Javon Antonio (8/123/1) have each had a huge game this season. Tight end Michael Harrison (26/215/4) has Shedeur’s trust, and running back Dylan Edwards (20/193/3) is explosive in the receiving game. Finding open targets shouldn’t be an issue against a Stanford defense that’s mustered only a pair of interceptions on the season and allows the most passing yards per game (305.8) in the conference.

   The Buffs’ running game is starting to round into form, and finding a balanced attack will be critical for the remainder of Colorado’s brutal Pac-12 conference schedule. Edwards (47 carries for 217 yards and 1 touchdown) has burst, but has cooled off a bit in recent weeks, while his larger backfield mate Anthony Hankerson (48/214/1) has stepped up. Sy’Veon Wilkerson (20/60/1) has struggled on the ground, leading to hope that former Big 12 Freshman of the Year Alton McCaskill (6/22/0) continues to show improvement after missing all of last season with a knee injury. ‘Coach Prime’ said that while the best is yet to come for McCaskill, he doesn’t feel that the Houston transfer will become the anointed starter anytime soon. “I think we brought everybody in to be ‘that guy.’ We have a plethora of running backs that can all be ‘that guy,’ based on opportunity. He’s been banged-up, he’s been injured; he’s just really getting back to game speed,” Deion explained. “We’re doing our best to play all of our backs. That’s probably the best collective group on our team; the running backs. Those guys are really good… but it’s just tough to get them carries. It’s a daunting task to get all these guys their touches; we’ve got to do a better job doing that.” Stanford’s rushing defense is porous; surrendering a Pac-12-worst 4.81 yards per carry.

   ‘Prime’ paused, before noting that McCaskill is going to get a longer look. “You’re going to see him this week. You’re definitely going to see him this week.”

When the Cardinal has the ball

   Head coach Troy Taylor switched starting quarterbacks again for last week’s loss to Oregon, replacing Ashton Daniels with sophomore Justin Lamson. He’s less of a passer than Daniels, but far more mobile, rushing for 49 times for 186 yards (3.80 per carry) if you remove his 11 sacks. And that’s the challenge for the Cardinal; who’ve surrendered 18 sacks and another 42 tackles for loss this year; their offensive line challenges mimicking the Buffaloes’ own. Daniels has only thrown three touchdowns to a pair of interceptions, but Taylor isn’t afraid to switch to either of his quarterbacks; in-game, if necessary.

   Stanford hasn’t been able to get much going through the air, and that’s reflected in the receiving numbers. Benjamin Yurosek leads the way with 227 yards, and Elic Ayomanor has chipped in another 207. No other receiver even has 150 yards, and though each of the two have caught touchdown passes, the entire team has three on the season — all from Daniels.

   The Buffs’ defense is allowing 302.5 passing yards per game (only Stanford is worse in the conference), but they’re still not likely to be tested by this group, especially if Travis Hunter returns and plays corner. Look for one of the Buffs’ ball-hawks to nab at least one interception if Stanford has to chase points.

   Though their carries have been reduced since they’ve been trailing so often, Stanford can generate yards on the ground with a pair of rushers — Casey Filkins and E.J. Smith — who average over six yards per rush. Wide receiver Bryce Farrell has a pair of touchdowns on reverses, so the Buffs need to be cognizant of those. Colorado’s 163.0 rushing yards per game allowed is dead last in the Pac-12; Taylor and the Cardinal will look to keep the game on the ground for as long as possible, and if they can, they’ll have a puncher’s chance to keep the game close. It’s up to Colorado’s front seven to stiffen up and make Stanford’s quarterbacks put the ball up for grabs.

What if?

   Bowl eligibility would be tantalizingly close if the Buffaloes can take care of business at home on Friday; not that Deion Sanders will admit to thinking about that sort of thing. “We want to win. I don’t care about no bowl right now; we want to win,” he explained. “If that’s part of the package at the conclusion of the season — of winning — I’m all for it… but one of my least concerns is a bowl.” He’s right to look at it that way; the point is getting to five wins, and then to six, one at a time. The rest will take care of itself; bowl committees will be fighting tooth and nail over the right to host the Buffs even if they end up 6-6.

   That’s a story for a another day. First things first. Expect the Buffaloes to come out with fire, looking to put Stanford away early. If the Buffs can take a two-score lead into halftime, they should walk away with a win. But if they can take take a two-score lead in the first quarter, expect a stampede of points the rest of the way, and for the Buffs to fully capitalize on their unprecedented exposure once again. Maybe the whole Phillies team will join Bryce Harper next time around. After all, Deion’s the only person to ever play in a Super Bowl and a World Series. The ‘Prime Effect’ seems to know no bounds.