Jalil Brown of CU runs back an interception against Kansas that set up a CU score.
Jalil Brown of CU runs back an interception against Kansas that set up a CU score. (Cliff Grassmick)
What are the Colorado Buffaloes going to be for Halloween?

The question is on the minds of fans of the football program and maybe even some of its members today as coach Dan Hawkins` team plays host to the Missouri Tigers for homecoming at Folsom Field

(11:40 a.m., FSN) in a pivotal game for both teams.

The Buffs have been wildly inconsistent from one week to the next all season. Their past two efforts form a perfect example. CU beat then-No. 17 Kansas at home two weeks ago but mangled any momentum from that win in a shoddy performance on the road at Kansas State last week.

Eight games into Hawkins` fourth season at CU, they are still trying to find an identity beyond 'young` -- the word Hawkins has been using to describe them for nearly three full seasons now.

He also used the word 'fragile` this week. It`s the same term he used a year ago in his postgame remarks following a 58-0 beatdown suffered at Missouri.

What better day for the Buffs to figure out who they really are, and where they are going, than a day in which anyone is allowed to be whatever they want?

More than a few Buffs called last season`s loss to the Tigers the most embarrassing game of their lives. At least they know what they want to avoid --- a repeat performance.

"Last year, to be honest, was the most embarrassing game I`ve ever been a part of, in terms of score and how I felt walking off that field," wide receiver Scotty McKnight said. "So, I mean there is a little extra motivation there.


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We`ve got to kind of instill that in some of the young guys that weren`t there because, like I said, it was the most disappointing loss I`ve ever experienced before in my life."

The Buffs made beating the Tigers one of their preseason goals after losing the past two meetings with the two-time defending Big 12 North Division champs by the combined score of 113-10.

Missouri comes to town on a three-game losing streak and in must-win mode. It is eerily similar to the situation last year when the Tigers had lost two in a row prior to pancaking the Buffs.

Missouri can`t afford to drop to 0-4 in conference play and still harbor hopes of winning a third consecutive division title, even as mediocre as the division appears to be.

"With what`s going on in the North right now, that motivates everybody," Missouri All-Big 12 linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said in a statement that really applies to both teams today. "We know that there`s a lot still out there."

Colorado is 2-5 overall and 1-2 in conference play and still has hope in the division race. This is a program, after all, that won two division titles while players and coaches sat on their couches on the final day of the2004 and 2005 seasons watching other games unfold. The Buffs won through tiebreakers with a 4-4 record and a 5-3 record respectively in those seasons.

A bowl game might actually be the less likely scenario at this point for CU. With one more loss, the best the Buffs can do is finish 6-6 and that might not be good enough to secure a bowl berth this season.

"I think as a team we want to definitely come out and get a win against them because of how they embarrassed us," CU cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "So practice has been amazing the past two days. The intensity and everyone has been flying around making plays.

"We have to win out to go to a bowl game."

It has been a strange week at CU. It began with a player`s only meeting on Monday aimed at finishing the season strong and raising the bar of expectations in the locker room.

Hawkins followed Tuesday during his weekly press conference by presenting his case for why he and his assistants are doing a good job even though the results haven`t shown up in the standings or on the scoreboard.

Hawkins, who prides himself and his program on never getting too high or too low emotionally, twice referred to today`s game as 'monumental.`

"Your back gets a little closer to the wall, but I think all the things we want to accomplish and hope to accomplish are still there," Hawkins said. "But this is a big week for us, obviously."

This definitely isn`t the same Missouri team that spent much of the past two seasons in the national rankings and the spotlight. It`s a young team trying to find its way without former stalwarts such as Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin. But it`s still loaded with talent and hungry to get back to winning.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is still looking for his first Big 12 win as the Tigers` starting quarterback. He has struggled since suffering an ankle injury against Nebraska three games back. All five of his interceptions have come in conference play and the Tigers haven`t rushed for more than 100 yards in a game in more than a month.

Colorado knows all about offensive struggles. The Buffs continue to rank at or near the bottom of most major offensive statistical categories in the conference.

It`s a four-year trend sophomore quarterback Tyler Hansen hopes to change as he prepares for his third consecutive start today. He said what the Buffs need more than anything is a sense of confidence in themselves.

"I just think now we have this perception and attitude of our program that we`re not used to winning yet," Hansen said. "We`re not accustomed to that. I think we have to get it. We have to win a couple games in a row and get that mojo working a little bit."