As Colorado team trainers tended to quarterback Sefo Liufau early in the fourth quarter on Saturday night, chants of "Sef-o!, Sef-o! Sef-o!" poured out of the stands at Folsom Field.

What a difference a few months make.

Throughout his four-year career at CU, Liufau has always been a tough, gritty player for the Buffaloes. It's taken until now, however, for the senior leader to be fully appreciated for what he's done - and what he's still doing.

In Saturday's 38-24 win against Washington State, Liufau had arguably the best game of his career, as he threw for 345 yards, rushed for 108 yards and three touchdowns and led his team to their biggest win in over a decade.

"I'm just one piece of the puzzle," said Liufau, who capped his night by missing a few plays with a sore hip and then coming back to direct one final, game-sealing touchdown drive.

Maybe he is just one piece, but Liufau is the centerpiece for a team that on Sunday took another leap in the national rankings.

The Buffs (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12 South) vaulted to No. 9 in both the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls, the first time they've had a single-digit ranking since the 2002 preseason poll. It's their highest ranking going into the regular season finale since 1996.

On Saturday, the Buffs will host No. 21 Utah (8-3, 5-3). If they win, they'll claim the Pac-12 South division championship and play in the conference title game on Dec.


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2 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

CU is a team loaded with seniors, loaded with leaders and overflowing with high-character young men.

At the top of the list is their quarterback, who spent a large chunk of the offseason not even knowing if he would play this season as he recovered from a Lisfranc injury to his left foot.

Liufau has battled back and, despite missing the majority of three games with a sprained ankle, he's putting together his best season. After going 8-21 as a starter during his first three years, he's 7-1 this year - and the in the game CU lost (at Michigan), the Buffs were leading when he went out with an ankle injury.

"To me, he's come full circle," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "It really means about almost everything to me that he's able to be the one to do it. I said it for a long time, once our team caught up with Sefo, we would be successful."

It would be unfair to the rest of the Buffs to say Liufau put the team on his shoulders and carried them to the win against Washington State. Several other Buffs were exceptional in that game. But, Liufau certainly led the charge, and his team followed him.

"He just has that will power right now," MacIntyre said. "He has that 'it' factor. Every once in a while you see that with a quarterback at certain times. I'm just happy he's getting to do it, with all he's overcome."

Liufau epitomizes an entire team that has overcome adversity over the years.

CU was an abysmal 10-27 during the previous three years. The Buffs were laughed at when they talked about winning a Pac-12 title, but can you blame those who were laughing?

This is a team that had done nothing but finish last in the South in the previous five years of the Pac-12's existence. They were 5-40 in conference games over that time, while everybody else had at least 13 conference wins.

Led by MacIntyre, Liufau and a host of others, the Buffs held firm in their belief that they had turned a corner.

Yet, as they sit at 9-2, on the verge of a conference title and knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff (they were ranked No. 10 going into this past week), they aren't shocked.

"I'm not amazed at all," senior cornerback Chidobe Awuzie said. "Going into any game, you expect to win. When the expected happens, you go, 'Ok, I expected that to happen.'"

While they expect it, they also aren't letting this ride get to their heads.

"At the end of the day, we know that being humble is one of our competitive forces," Awuzie said. "It helps us stay level headed, stay competitive and really respect our opponents.

"Being humble is one of the things our team has grown to be. Being humble, tough -- mentally and physically -- and playing fast, playing for four quarters. Those are just some of the things that our team has really grabbed on to."

Those are the characteristics displayed by Liufau throughout his career, and as the Buffs continue to strive for greatness, they'll look to him to lead the way.

"He's just going to keep us going and he's our leader," running back Phillip Lindsay said. "We're going to ride on him."

Notable

In addition to falling in the AP poll, Utah fell to No. 20 in the Coaches poll after its loss to Oregon on Saturday. ... Washington State (8-3, 7-1) fell to No. 23 in both polls after the loss to CU. The Cougars are still tied atop the North, however, with Washington (10-1, 7-1), which is No. 5 in the Coaches poll and No. 6 in the AP. Those teams meet on Friday for the North title. ... USC (8-3, 7-2) moved up to No. 12 in both polls. The Trojans would claim the South if CU loses to Utah.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.