"Wow."

Colorado football coach Mike MacIntyre managed to dry the tears just long enough to offer this breathless assessment to the Pac-12 Network's Cindy Brunson moments after his Buffaloes completed a thrilling 41-38 win at Oregon.

Wow is right. Coach MacIntyre hit it on the head, as he did with just about every move his team made Saturday at Autzen Stadium. As he did moments later when he described the Buffs' effort as a "signature win."

Too often over the previous two seasons MacIntyre's club came close but couldn't finish the job. Too often the Buffs have lamented what could've been in the aftermath of gut-wrenching losses.

Not this time.

CU's victory at Oregon — where on Saturday the Buffs scored more points in the first quarter than they did in either of the two previous lopsided losses at Autzen — changes the entire complexion of the 2016 season.

With backup quarterback Steven Montez compiling 468 total yards in his first career start, the Buffs are showcasing the sort of depth that has "The Rise" on an accelerated trajectory.

Lose starting quarterback Sefo Liufau? No problem. Montez threw for 333 yards, rushed for another 135, and, more critically, displayed an impressive level of fortitude after two third-quarter interceptions made the finish far more nerve-racking than the Buffs would have preferred.


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Lose top edge rusher Derek McCartney? Oh well. Samson Kafovalu, Jordan Carrell, and Jimmie Gilbert each were credited with a sack, and CU's defensive front generally made it a painful day for Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop.

Get assessed a few penalties at inopportune moments? Whatever. This was a particularly damning issue for the Buffs in recent seasons, but not Saturday. When Tedric Thompson was flagged for a pass interference on Oregon's last-ditch drive, it was the sort of error that all too commonly has led to CU heartache.

Instead Thompson, who also dropped a likely game-clinching interception two plays earlier, was picked up by Ahkello Witherspoon, whose interception in the end zone began the victory celebration.

In the end it was the host Ducks who committed eight penalties for 75 yards, compared to five for 47 by CU.

From Bryce Bobo's sideline toe-taps and one-handed grabs to backup kicker Chris Graham knocking down both his field goal attempts, this was the very definition of a team win. It also was a victory that demands a reassessment of just how far the Buffs can take "The Rise" in 2016.

With CU likely to be a heavy favorite at home next week against Oregon State, competing for a bowl spot now feels like a foregone conclusion. A run at the Pac-12 South Division crown hardly seems out of the question. The next road date for the Buffs is against a USC squad that's already 0-2 in the league and facing the ire of its frustrated fans.

Arizona State entered its date late Saturday night against Cal with an undefeated mark, but the Sun Devils hardly looked invincible in wins against Northern Arizona, Texas Tech, and Texas-San Antonio. And the Buffs will get the division's remaining favorites, UCLA and Utah, at Folsom Field during a run of three of four games at home that completes the regular season.

Saturday's victory was the Buffs' biggest feel-good win since defeating a ranked West Virginia team early in the 2008 season that left CU with a 3-0 mark. Those good times didn't last, as the Buffs went 2-7 the rest of the way.

Don't expect that sort of letdown from this bunch. CU has ambushed all four of its opponents with an intensity that has produced a 72-14 first-quarter scoring advantage, and the Buffs have turned a burning desire to prove themselves into passionate play on the field.

It was a victory well-earned, and one MacIntyre and his charges deserve to celebrate. Yet come Monday, for the first time in ages, the Buffs will have to ply their newfound intensity and passion against teams that no longer will take them for granted.

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07