It's what the season has come down to for the Colorado football program.
No, it's not the win the Buffs already collected way back in mid-September against Colorado State in Denver. It's the one win they're trying to secure before time runs out later this month and 28 seniors are forced to hang up their helmets and shoulder pads never to receive another opportunity. It's one win before coaches and underclassmen are forced to wait out another long nine months before next season and new life arrives.
Sure, it's sad that it has come to this in coach Jon Embree's first season and the school's inaugural year in the Pac-12 Conference. It's November and most programs around the nation still have big dreams. For some, it's a conference title and BCS bowl game. Others are simply harboring hopes they can make a run and get to the postseason.
The Buffs, at 1-8, will settle for one win to end their six-game losing streak and go from there. If they get more, hallelujah, but one win is the goal.
Colorado will take it how it can get it at this point, but it would be a little sweeter to somehow upset the No. 21 Southern Cal Trojans Friday night in Folsom Field in front of a national television audience on ESPN. It would serve notice that while most of the college football world has left the program for dead the players and coaches inside the walls of the Dal Ward Center haven't quit and didn't give up. Put simply, it would be a building block, or brick if you prefer.
"Just being a competitor and being a guy in that locker room, you just have to find a reason why you go out there and compete," Embree said this week, discussing how he motivates players. "Just try and find a way. Don't get discouraged, you have to keep fighting, you have to keep competing. You have to, if you are a competitor and football is really important to you, then you have to have something in you that you are not looking at the scoreboard, but you are playing in a matter that says, 'this play counts. This play means something.' And we don't always do that."
This is the fifth game in a five-game stretch vs. top-notch teams in the Pac-12, but the Buffs had this one circled months before the season started because it's USC on the east sideline. Regardless of their current circumstances regarding NCAA sanctions for rule breaking, they remain the standard-bearer for excellence over time in the conference and they are a new South Division rival, a team CU will play each season for years to come.
CU is hoping USC arrives disinterested after a heartbreaking loss in triple overtime to Stanford last week and a win over Notre Dame the week before. The Trojans are 6-2 and don't have much to play for with a postseason ban in place and only Oregon remaining as an opponent to get their blood pumping.
Colorado's talented senior running back Rodney Stewart plans to return after missing two games because of a sprained knee. It's probably at least one game earlier than he should be back, but he wants to play against the Trojans.
Ditto for sophomore wide receiver Paul Richardson, who counts three former high school teammates on the USC roster, including wide receiver Robert Woods, who partners with quarterback Matt Barkley to form the most dangerous passing connection in the Pac-12.
That duo alone will be a challenge for a CU defense that has collapsed under the weight of the past four opponents it has faced. Stanford, Washington, Oregon and Arizona State have rolled up nearly 200 combined points and more than 2,100 total yards of offense against the beat-up Buffs who have been without numerous injured and suspended players in the past month.
The past four games have been over by halftime. CU players and coaches are hoping to keep this one close into the second half and be able to rely on a crowd dressed for a blackout to push them over the top.
Getting Stewart and Richardson back should at least help the offense move the ball more effectively and score more points. Together they have accounted for 46 percent of the Buffs' total offense this season, despite the games they have missed.
"Both of those guys are playmakers. Both of those guys force defenses to play us differently," Embree said. "Having both of those guys back close to healthy makes a big difference."
Does it make enough of a difference to earn the Buffs one win?