Colorado linebacker Jeff Smart hasn`t wavered. Not a bit.

Not in the wake of a disappointing loss to Colorado State to open the season. Not in the wake of a shocking defeat at Toledo, and not with a schedule ahead that will see the Buffs play high-powered West Virginia, No. 2 Texas and No. 18 Kansas in the next three weeks.

"We`ve never lost confidence," Smart said Monday afternoon at the Dal Ward Center. "Honestly, there`s never been even a doubt.

"We`re still a very good team and our attitude is that a lot of our goals are still in front of us. We haven`t even started in the Big 12 yet. We had a good game against Wyoming and we`re building from that."

Safe to say, Smart`s positive outlook isn`t being shared by many Buff fans these days. Even the most hard-core of Buff faithful are wondering if 1-5 isn`t a foregone conclusion. The upcoming stretch of games is almost certainly the toughest on CU`s schedule this year, and even the best of preseason scenarios didn`t see CU emerging from this portion unscathed.

Now, a significant part of Buff nation is simply hoping for signs of improvement, beginning with Thursday`s matchup in Morgantown.

"You don`t let the outside stuff get to you," Smart said. "You learn to tune that stuff out. Really, it`s just someone`s opinion. Everyone`s entitled, but we`re the ones playing the games."

Still, Smart has found himself counseling some of his younger teammates over the last few weeks with those same words.


"It`s difficult when you`re a younger player," Smart said. "A lot of these guys come from programs where they won all the time. They`re not used to what happened to us early. It`s difficult for them not to treat it like it`s the end of the world."

Smart also admits that the win over Wyoming came at the perfect time.

"You want to know that the work you put in is paying off," Smart said. "Older guys know that. They can deal with the ups and downs. But for the younger guys, it shows that we`re still on track."

Even though it`s just the fourth game of the season, Thursday`s game against the Mountaineers is being looked upon as a barometer of sorts for the Buffs.

If they can give a good account of themselves, it will mean that a measure of respectability can still be carved out of this season. But another debacle along the lines of the Toledo game will reawaken and magnify the cacophony that followed CU`s 0-2 start while leaving any prospects for a successful conference campaign growing dimmer by the moment.

Simply, Thursday may go a long way in determining which direction the team goes for the remainder of the season.

"I remember looking at them last year and being amazed at how much team speed they had," Smart said. "It`s the same thing this year. They`re fast. They`ve got a lot of guys who can make plays.

"But we did a good job against them last year, and we just have to do that again. We have to stick to our assignments, keep people in front of us and not let them hurt us with the big plays. If we do that, we`ll be OK."

Certainly, Smart didn`t expect an 0-2 start to the season -- and he certainly didn`t expect CU`s defense to be such a major contributor to the early season woes.

But he still believes that the program is close to turning the corner. He`s been through tough times -- plenty of them -- and he vows that improvement and better days are not far off in the future.

"No question," he said. "You look at the great athletes and great people they`ve brought into this program, and there`s no doubt we`re going to get there.

"This thing is going to crack for us. It`s going to turn. Nobody on this team believes otherwise. It`s going to happen."

In the eyes of Buff fans, Thursday would be a nice place to start.