Game at a glance
Matchup: No. 20 Washington State Cougars (8-2, 7-0 Pac-12) at No. 12 Colorado Buffaloes (8-2, 6-1)
Kickoff: 1:35 p.m.
Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Capacity: 50,183; Turf: Grass
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM).
Odds: Colorado by 6
Coaches: Colorado - Mike MacIntyre (18-29, 4th season; 34-50 career); Washington State - Mike Leach (29-31, 5th season; 113-74)
Series: Colorado leads 5-4
Reading the eyes of his players has always been important to Mike MacIntyre.
The Colorado head coach can tell a lot about his team when he looks directly at them as he talks to them and listens to them.
As the 12th-ranked Buffaloes spent this week preparing for the program's biggest game in more than a decade, Saturday at home against No. 20 Washington State, MacIntyre saw a change in the eyes of his players.
"I have noticed a confidence in their eyes, a sense of wanting to accomplish something," MacIntyre said. "You can kind of tell. There's a brightness. There's a focus.
"They understand what's at stake and they're enjoying the moment."
CU (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12 South) enters Saturday's game against Washington State (8-2, 7-0 Pac-12 North) in sole possession of first place in the South division. For the first time since 2005, the Buffs have a chance to win a conference championship.
Ranked 12th by the Associated Press and No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Buffs could have much more at stake, too. The way the dominoes keep falling — and another big one fell Thursday night when Louisville was upset by Houston — it's not inconceivable to think the Buffs could play for a national title this season.
It's a remarkable place for the Buffs to be, considering that prior to this year, none of these players had even come close to bowl eligibility, let alone playing for championships.
"I think it's awesome," senior linebacker Kenneth Olugbode said. "The further we go, the better each game gets and the more fun they get, too."
If the eyes are the true barometer for MacIntyre, he would have been pleased to see the eyes of his players light up this week when they were asked about the opportunity in front of them.
"Who's not excited to cover that? Who's not excited to play in it?" quarterback Sefo Liufau said. "We're 8-2 and to finally get over the hump and we're not losing all the time, and we're playing for something in November ... the November games matter.
"It's an exciting time. We're just excited to play. It'll be a big game on Saturday, and I'll be excited for everyone to come out and witness a good football game."
By the end of the day on Thursday, CU had sold nearly 47,000 tickets for Saturday's game. With a strong final push for ticket sales, Folsom Field has a chance to be filled to capacity (50,183) for the first time since Oct. 4, 2008, when Texas came to town.
Those who do show up will see two ranked opponents on the Folsom Field turf for the first time since early in the 2002 season. It'll be the first battle of ranked teams in Boulder this late in a season since the famous 62-36 rout of Nebraska on Nov. 23, 2001.
"It's just something that Boulder hasn't seen in a long time and we're happy to bring that back here," Olugbode said.
The heat of the spotlight has been known to melt plenty of players and teams over the years, but MacIntyre believes that embracing the attention and a higher level of intensity is important for the Buffs.
"There's part of embracing the moment that relieves a lot of the pressure, too," MacIntyre said. "You're living it, you're doing it and you don't get a chance to live it again."
Several former Buffs who played for MacIntyre over the past three seasons have reached out to him this week to congratulate him for the success.
"They all want to be back in this (locker) room," MacIntyre said. "They're all a part of this; they helped us build this."
MacIntyre told the current players: "Guys keep playing, because you're not only honoring yourselves; you're honoring them."
While the Buffs are trying to embrace the moment, they're also preparing to put on a championship-caliber performance by sticking to what got them here.
"I've felt we were ready since Day 1," Olugbode said. "It's just a matter of all of us going out there and everyone doing their job. I think everyone is on the same page. We all have one goal in mind and everyone wants to reach it."
That goal has always been to win the Pac-12 championship. With two games remaining on the schedule, that goal is within reach, and MacIntyre knows his players are ready to fight for it.
"The most fulfilling thing you get as a coach, my thought on it, is to see those guys' eyes and see their faces and see them enjoying it and seeing them accomplish something no one thought they could accomplish," MacIntyre said. "Not many times do you get a chance in life to do something that nobody thinks you can do, and you might have even doubted it. Then you overcome doubt and you overcome fear and you can't teach a better life lesson than that.
"When I look at that and I see those types of things happen, that excites my heart."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.