Defend this turf.
It has been two weeks since the Colorado football team dispatched New Hampshire in the 2018 home opener. It was a pleasant exercise, a 31-point win on a sunny fall day that gave the upstart Buffaloes an unblemished 3-0 mark in nonconference play. Yet it is this Friday night's showdown against UCLA, the Pac-12 Conference opener for both programs, that feels like the moment the lights for the 2018 season will be turned on, both literally and figuratively, at Folsom.
The Buffaloes have been impressive. The opposition, as it turns out, not so much. But at 3-0 the Buffs are in the enviable position of being in charge of their own destiny. And at this point, winning their five quite winnable home games the rest of the way will give CU, at minimum, an eight-win season. That challenge begins Friday night against a Bruins club that fits the profile so far of a Buffs opponent — struggling and underwhelming.
The dawn of the Chip Kelly era at UCLA hasn't been pretty so far. As CU coach Mike MacIntyre pointed out this week, Kelly's monumental success at Oregon almost a decade ago was aided by his previous stint as the Ducks' offensive coordinator. When he was promoted, the program essentially didn't miss a stride. Without the aid of familiarity it hasn't been as smooth a transition at UCLA for Kelly, who is 0-3 and already has been forced to deal with public criticism from the father of freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
That 0-3 mark on the other side of the ball is a familiar one for the Buffaloes. CU's first three opponents so far have compiled a composite record of 1-10 — 1-4 for Colorado State, and 0-3 for both Nebraska and New Hampshire. That's not meant to diminish what the Buffs have achieved during what generally has been a crisp and authoritative start to the season. It's not their fault Colorado State lost to Illinois State, or that Nebraska laid consecutive eggs against Troy and Michigan. The Buffs got their wins, and any criticism they haven't yet been challenged doesn't take into account how CU needed to go the length of the field for a score with less than three minutes remaining in Lincoln while nearly 90,000 Cornhuskers die-hards screamed against them.
Still, the competition will only get more challenging from here, and it begins Friday night. UCLA played a solid nonconference schedule and even took an early lead at No. 6 Oklahoma. Given how Nebraska has gone on to lose to Troy and get destroyed by Michigan since the Cornhuskers were edged by the Buffs, UCLA, even at 0-3, counts as the best opponent CU has faced so far.
Which brings us back to protecting that home turf. Even winning four of the five Pac-12 home games on the ledger — UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon State, Washington State and Utah — would give the Buffs a minimum of seven wins and get them back in the bowl picture. The Buffs, of course, are thinking bigger, whether it's running the table at Folsom or picking up an as-yet unexpected road win against either USC, No. 11 Washington, Arizona, or No. 24 Cal. There are some that will point to the lowly mark posted by CU's opponents so far and wonder how just how good the Buffs are. It's a fair question, yet one the team can't actually do anything about beyond continuing to play well and pick up wins when they should. Like on Friday night.
After turning heads with the 3-0 start, the blueprint toward a winning record and a bowl berth is simple going forward. Protect that Folsom turf.