The Washington State Cougars have been one of the top defensive teams in the country over the last couple of years, and it's not hard to understand why.
They tend to hire good coordinators.
For the second consecutive year, the Washington State defensive coordinator is nominated for the Broyles Award, which is given annually to the nation's top assistant. Cougars defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys is one of 53 finalists in his first year on the job.
Last season, Alex Grinch was the Cougars' nominee before he moved on to Ohio State.
Claeys and the eighth-ranked Cougars will take that strong defense into Boulder on Saturday to face the struggling Colorado Buffaloes. Washington State (8-1, 5-0 Pac-12) is riding a five-game winning streak.
The Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4) have lost four straight after a fast start to the season. Colorado's last home game was the lowlight of its season. The Buffaloes led Oregon State 31-3 in the second half but lost in overtime with a chance to become bowl-eligible.
Coinciding with Colorado's struggles has been the loss of dynamic wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. The sophomore was tearing up the competition before going down with a toe injury in a defeat against Southern California that started the losing streak. He had 60 receptions for 780 yards and six touchdowns as well as five rushing touchdowns before getting hurt.
The Buffaloes haven't been the same since.
"Well, I think when you take a Heisman Trophy candidate out of your picture, it's a big deal," Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre said earlier this week.
Shenault is considered day-to-day, and his return would be a big help going against the Cougars' formidable defense. Washington State is allowing 23.8 points per game, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the conference. However, the Cougars are allowing just 325.4 yards per game, which ranks 23rd nationally.
Colorado's defense took a hit when strong safety Evan Worthington sustained a concussion against Oregon State and didn't play at Arizona last week. The Wildcats' Khalil Tate had 350 passing yards and five touchdowns in a 42-34 win over Colorado.
Even with the injuries, Washington State coach Mike Leach isn't taking the Buffaloes lightly.
"They've got quality players every year," Leach said. "There's a lot of guys running around from Colorado that are pretty good players. So they're kind of like they always are. They have some good players at some key positions."
Washington State's high-powered offense is looking for a rebound after the Cougars eked out a 19-13 win over Cal last week. The Cougars were held 16 points under their season average but still were able to get the victory.
"I thought that it would be a war, and it was," Leach said after the game. "We hung in there, kept our composure and did it."
They want to keep that momentum going into their last road game of the season. If Shenault can't play, it would make the job a little easier, but Colorado can be tough to beat at home -- despite the collapse against Oregon State.
--Field Level Media