Game at a glance
Matchup: Colorado Buffaloes (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) at Utah Utes (5-6, 2-6)
Kickoff: 8:05 p.m.
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Capacity: 45,807; Turf: FieldTurf.
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Odds: Utah by 10 ½
Coaches: Colorado — Mike MacIntyre, 5th season (25-37; 41-58 career); Utah — Kyle Whittingham, 13th season (109-56)
Series: CU leads 32-28-3, but Utah leads 16-14-2 in Salt Lake City
Throughout this season, the Colorado Buffaloes haven't always played great football.
That's evident in the 5-6 record they take into Saturday's regular-season finale at Utah. Despite some disappointing moments, the Buffs enter the final game with a determination to salvage this season.
Beat the Utes (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) and the Buffs (5-6, 2-6) will reach a bowl game for the second year in a row. They haven't done that since 2004-05.
"Nobody wants to go home right after Thanksgiving," senior defensive lineman Leo Jackson III said. "That's always the goal is to keep it going.
"We have to get it done. We have to get this W. There are guys who are freshmen on the team who came in and they want to go to a bowl so they're willing to put in the work, as well. The guys who have been here and got the taste of it last year, we want to go back."
Of the 130 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, 78 will get to a bowl game. Whether that's too many is a debate for another time, but there's no question that being one of the 78 will be a boost for the CU program.
"Number one, this university has a great history," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "For years, you didn't even think about (CU) not going to a bowl game. I think from 1987 to 2004, they missed two in that time period, and there wasn't as many bowls at that time. That tradition is here, which it should be."
That tradition was lost for a while, as the Buffs missed a bowl every year from 2008-15, finally breaking that streak by reaching the Alamo Bowl a year ago.
Last year, of course, was dubbed as "The Rise," with CU aiming to make that the start of their return to winning football. Lose to the Utes and "The Rise" stalls — at least for a year.
"Last year, the guys got it started and this year they want to keep it going," MacIntyre said.
Keeping it going is important not only for the momentum of the program, but to make an impression on future Buffs.
"It's very important," said co-offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator Darrin Chiaverini. "It's important just for the perception of where we're heading this thing. To get to a bowl game in back to back years, it hasn't been done here in a long time. It shows growth in our program, even though we haven't had the year that we all wanted to have. That's life and that's football. You keep fighting and you find a way to get things done and this would be a big win for us and a big win for our program."
Junior linebacker Rick Gamboa doesn't believe missing a bowl game would hurt the program, but said it would be a disappointment to the players who have helped to turn the Buffs around — especially the seniors.
"We had the goal of winning the Pac-12 title going into it," he said. "We didn't get that goal and now our goal is to get to the bowl game. Not getting to that would, I think, really hurt us, especially the senior class. I think it would be a real disappointment to them."
With a bye last week, the Buffs have had extra time to prepare for this game against the Utes, and their focus has appeared to be as sharp as it's been all year.
"I think we have to forget about the games we've already played," quarterback Steven Montez said. "There's nothing we can do about the games that we lost or the games that we won at this point. All that really matters is us going into Utah and hopefully getting this win."
Senior running back Phillip Lindsay said winning this game comes down to the Buffs making plays and making breaks happen — as they did a year ago.
"Last year we had a lot of older kids that understood what it took to make those happen," he said. "This year we have some younger kids that this is their first time playing or their first time being starters, and they didn't really understand that you have to dig deep at the right times."
There is a belief that the understanding and sense of urgency is there now as the Buffs take their final shot at bowl eligibility.
"We have this fire because we have an opportunity to do something that hasn't been done for (12) years, which is back-to-back bowl games," Lindsay said. "That would be special for me because of how far this program has come since I've been here to now."