The most important game of the football season for the Colorado Buffaloes is Thursday night at Folsom Field.

It wasn't that way when the season started and wouldn't be the case had the Buffs not fallen on their faces in September against the likes of Colorado State, Sacramento State and Fresno State. But those losses created an impression of CU football and where things stand in coach Jon Embree's rebuilding project in Boulder.

While Embree's team will play on national television for much of the remainder of the season, it won't play another game in which the rest of the college football world and its future recruits are all watching (7 p.m., ESPN).

This is the Buffs' best opportunity to change some of those opinions formed after September flops. CU doesn't necessarily have to win, but it must avoid being embarrassed.

Yes, this is what it has come to around here.

And avoiding further ridicule won't be easy.

Arizona State has played its first five games like a bona fide Pac-12 title contender. This week coach Todd Graham said he believes his team is basically one play -- at Missouri -- away from being 5-0. ASU might have a hard time beating Oregon -- we'll find out next week -- but it certainly appears capable of winning the South Division.

The Sun Devils are scoring 38 points a game while stifling opposing offenses with the 10th ranked defense in the nation. And unlike the Buffs, all but one of the Sun Devils' opponents have been BCS conference teams.


Embree didn't take the bait this week when asked about the significance of playing in front of the nation -- aside from the political junkies who might be watching the vice presidential debate and its aftermath. Embree insists tonight's game isn't any more important than the others on the schedule.

"That it's Thursday night on ESPN doesn't make it any bigger than it already is," Embree said. "It just happens to be on national television. That's our approach and we'll never change that."

Students have organized a blackout and the home team will wear those popular black helmets. So how do the 1-4 Buffs allow their fans to storm the field at the end of the night to celebrate the first win at home this season?

They will have to have success in at least three areas where they've enjoyed little of it this season.

Run the football -- The Buffs are 104th in the nation on the ground but use an offense that often relies on play-action passing and hoping the defense is concerned about the running game. Success on the ground gives the defense time to rest and it will need to considering the Sun Devils have 20 scoring drives this season that took 3 minutes or less.

Get some turnovers -- CU has forced just seven turnovers in its five games and has given it up 11 times. The numbers are exactly opposite for the Sun Devils, who already have eight interceptions this season.

Make big plays in the kicking game -- The Buffs have been mediocre in some areas of special teams and just plain bad in others, such as kickoff return where they're 116th in the nation, allowing 28 yards per return. This is a team that plays at altitude and should have no problem kicking the ball deep into the end zone if not out the backside.

Success in all three areas won't guarantee victory, but it would give CU a much better chance.

A raucous crowd and plenty of emotion also would help. The Buffs need all the help they can get because they haven't shown they have the talent to go head-to-head with the best in the conference. They're coming off a 42-14 loss to UCLA 12 days ago and allowed at least 40 points and 500 yards of total offense to five straight Pac-12 opponents at one point last season.

Graham said he expects CU to have an extra bounce in its step playing a high-profile game at home with several key veterans returning from injury. Senior linebacker Doug Rippy is expected to play for the first time since Week 2 and center Gus Handler will be back for the first time in three weeks.

Senior safety Ray Polk is likely a game-time decision nearly six weeks after suffering a severe high-ankle sprain in the season opener. "You're going into someone else's place," Graham told his team this week. "You have to be the most passionate and disciplined team on the field. No one is just going to lie down for you."

While Embree took the "just another game" approach this week, it was clear some of his players couldn't help themselves. Linebacker Derrick Webb sees Thursday's game as more than just the next one on the schedule.

"It's a time to lay it all out and show everyone what your team and what the program is all about," Webb said. "It's just a great opportunity. It's a Thursday night game. Everyone is going to be watching. It's a big game for Colorado, period. We're all very excited. A game like this is the reason we play college football."