We preview the WSU vs. Colorado game with help from the Boulder Daily Camera's CU beat writer, Brian Howell

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Colorado may be 4-7 this season, but don’t let that fool you, folks. Behind the sub-500 record lies an eager-Beaver team that’s champing at the bit to notch an upset that will turn their program around. The Cougars can’t afford to overlook the Buffs this weekend.

Brian Howell, Colorado football beat writer for the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera, explains why in this Q&A that we exchanged this week.

Question: What have you seen from backup quarterback Cade Apsay, and how does he compare to Sefo Liufau? Does Colorado have to parse down the offense for him? Or is he pretty well-versed in everything. What are his strengths/weaknesses?

Howell: Apsay is a solid, young quarterback who is very accurate with the ball. In fact, last week vs. USC was the first extensive playing time of his career, and his completion percentage (.783, 18-for-23) was the second-best in school history for games with 20-plus attempts. I don’t think CU will change the offense much, except that they won’t do as many designed runs. Apsay (6-1, 190) is a lot smaller than Liufau (6-4, 240), who had developed into a major weapon in the run game. While he is an accurate passer, Apsay still has to learn how to deal with pressure. He’s played four quarters of football during Pac-12 play and been sacked once every 3.5 throws. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington State came after him quite a bit.

Question: Colorado has been close in so many games this year but has been unable to close out. What do you think is the main reason for this?

Howell: This has been a problem for Colorado the past two years. They are 1-15 in Pac-12 play the past two seasons, with seven losses by a touchdown or less (three times this year). Those losses have come in a variety of ways, but the bottom line is that they shoot themselves in the foot at the worst times. They rarely fumble, but had a huge one that led to a TD last week vs. USC. They’ll turn 3rd-and-2 situations into 3rd-and-7 with a bonehead false start. They’ll convert third-and-1s all night, but then figure out how to come up short on those plays in the fourth quarter. Lots of things like that pile up in those close games.

Question: What would you say are this team’s biggest strengths?

Howell: The biggest strength of this team is that is just doesn’t quit. Two, three years ago, they quit a lot, in my opinion, when things got tough. This team doesn’t do that. While they haven’t found a way win, they’ve found a way to compete nearly every week. That’s a huge step for this team. Aside from that, I think their receiving corps and secondary are major strengths. They have great talent in both of those position groups.

Question: Under what circumstances can you see Colorado upsetting No. 24 WSU on Saturday?

Howell: If Apsay can stay poised throughout the night and the offensive can avoid turnovers, CU’s got a real chance. The Buffs know Washington State is going to put up some yards and points, but they want to limit the Cougars’ opportunities. The best way to do that is to keep long, sustained drives going throughout the night, and that means converting third downs and protecting the football. Of course, they also need to turn those drives into touchdowns instead of field goals. A couple weeks ago at UCLA, CU did just about everything right, except for turning those long drives into seven points.

Question: How has Mike McIntyre been able to keep the team engaged in the midst of yet another losing season? What has he done to keep the locker room together?

Howell: From what I can tell, this team has bought into the program, and they really, truly see the progress they are making. A lot of these kids were here in 2012 and 2013, when the Buffs got blown out and manhandled nearly every week in the Pac-12. Now, they walk off the field most weeks feeling good about how they competed physically. To them, that is tangible evidence that things are improving. It hasn’t been easy, because losing is always difficult, but there are enough young guys on this team that they’ve been able to buy into the vision MacIntyre has for the program. They truly believe they are about to turn the corner, and I think that keeps them engaged.

Now, some links:

— In case you missed it, Luke Falk has been named one of the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s 15 players to watch for the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s annual player of the year award. The list consists of five QBs, five RBs and five WRs. Falk’s quarterback competitors are: Navy’s Keenan Reynolds, TCU’s Trevonne Boykin, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.

— If you’ve ever wondered where the song “Wazzu” that’s played before Cougar games at Martin Stadium comes from, check out this profile I wrote of WSU’s talented safety and budding musician Taylor Taliulu, who’s eyeing the vibrant Los Angeles entertainment scene as his next stop after he’s done with football.

— Jacob Thorpe takes a closer look at what the Cougs defense will face against Cade Apsay, the Buffs’ backup quarterback who is now the starter.

— CougCenter.com’s Britton Ransford has this story about DL coach Joe Salave’a Polynesian pipeline. We also wrote this story about Salave’a Samoan recruiting train last month.

— ESPN.com’s Pac-12 blog writers say Mike Leach and Stanford’s David Shaw are the frontrunners for Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors.

— The ESPN.com blog staff is also all aboard the WSU bandwagon in making their picks against the Colorado Buffaloes for this week.

— SB Nation looks at how WSU went from being the Pac-12’s laughingstock to one of the league’s most dangerous teams.

— Mike Leach talked about WSU’s season on NBC Radio.