Game at a glance
Matchup: Arizona Wildcats (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12)
Kickoff: 6:07 p.m.
Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Capacity: 50,183; Turf: Grass
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Odds: Colorado by 7
Coaches: Colorado — Mike MacIntyre (5th season, 23-33; 39-54 career); Arizona — Rich Rodriguez (6th season, 38-30; 158-115-2 career)
Series: Colorado leads 14-5 (5-3 in Boulder)
Colorado spent the entire 2016 football season either alone or tied for first place in the Pac-12 South division.
Two weeks into the conference schedule this year, the Buffaloes are in last place and their margin for error has essentially evaporated.
"The mood of this team is that we can't lose any more," safety Evan Worthington said. "We've got to keep pushing."
On Saturday night, the Buffs (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) will take on Arizona (2-2, 0-1) at Folsom Field in what is virtually a must-win game.
To have any chance at repeating as South champions, the Buffs can't afford to lose at home to an Arizona team that, while improved, is still perceived as being at the bottom of the division.
Win this one, and the Buffs can remain in striking distance if others ahead of them falter. Lose this game, however, and the second half of the season could be a struggle just to reach bowl eligibility.
While the Buffs may not want to think about the negative impact of a loss, they know the importance of this game on the rest of the season.
"In practice I noticed the urgency got ramped up, we were a lot more focused, a lot more attention to detail," linebacker Drew Lewis said.
"We're going to treat it as the biggest game we have right now. Sticking in the back of our minds is that we lost these two last games. We don't want to focus on last week, but it's going to allow us to have a chip on our shoulder because we want to end that streak as soon as we can."
CU is no stranger to bad starts. This is, in fact, the fifth time in seven seasons since joining the Pac-12 that CU has started 0-2 in conference play.
The difference, of course, is that CU was expected to be last place in those other seasons — and that's where the Buffs ended up.
This team carried high expectations into the season, and isn't ready to let go of them because of a couple of losses. In fact, several players said this week that the 0-2 start is serving as motivation this week.
"We're definitely more motivated," Lewis said. "You can tell at practice that everybody is locked in and ready to do everything we're supposed to do. We need to get this W; that's all we're thinking about right now."
To get back on track, the Buffs are focusing on eliminating the self-inflicted wounds that have cost them this season.
In a 37-10 loss to Washington on Sept. 23, CU threw three interceptions, had a punt blocked and had made critical mistakes at times on offense and defense. Washington may have won that game anyway, but CU made it easier on the Huskies.
Last Saturday, in a 27-23 loss at UCLA, the Buffs dropped two touchdown passes in the end zone, had another touchdown waved off by a holding penalty and botched a fake field goal attempt.
"We've kind of been shooting ourselves in the foot," quarterback Steven Montez said. "There's really no team that we've played so far that's beat us; I think we've just kind of beat ourselves. I think that's how everybody sees it. It's extremely frustrating."
The Buffs made the same kind of mistakes in the first three weeks, but got away with them against lesser opponents. Seeing how costly those mistakes can be against Pac-12 foes, the Buffs know they have to sharpen their game from this point forward.
"Attention to detail is the biggest thing," Montez said. "Making sure that we have all those details fine-tuned so that plays run smooth. When big plays happen (we need to make sure) we're not holding downfield, and don't have any dropped balls, missed throws. All the things that can halt drives, we need to stay away from those from now on.
"I feel like we're extremely close. I feel like we've been extremely close since the second game of the season."
As the Buffs try to climb out of the Pac-12 South basement, being close won't cut it. Starting with Saturday's duel with Arizona, CU has to take its game to another level.
"This is an important game for us to win," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "A lot of our guys have played a lot of football now and understand the sense of urgency and making sure that we're taking care of business.
"Hopefully their intensity rises as the games get more and more important. They understand what we want to do."