Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Game at a glance
Matchup: Southern California Trojans (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (4-6, 1-5 Pac-12).
Kickoff: Friday, 7:06 p.m. MDT.
Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Capacity: 50,183; Turf: Grass.
Radio: 850 AM/94.1 FM. Pregame starts at 5 p.m.
Odds: USC by 16.5.
Coaches: Colorado – Mike MacIntyre (10-24, third season; 30-45 career); USC – Clay Helton, interim (3-1, first season) .
Series: USC leads 9-0, including 4-0 in Boulder.
Throughout this season, Colorado offensive tackle Stephane Nembot has been so focused on trying to help the Buffaloes win that he hasn’t noticed the nearing end of his career.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Nembot said. “I haven’t realized I was a senior.”
Nembot is one of 15 players on the CU roster who will play in their final home game on Friday night when the Buffs (4-6, 1-5 Pac-12) host the USC Trojans (6-3, 4-2).
“Hopefully, when you get the flowers and everything, maybe it will hit me then,” Nembot said of the pregame senior day festivities.
As has been the case with the past several CU senior classes, this one is likely to leave Boulder without ever experiencing a winning season or a trip to a bowl game. Yet, as the end approaches, they are, for the most part, starting to get sentimental about their time as Buffs.
“It feels like something that flew by,” running back Christian Powell said. “I remember playing my first home game and it’s crazy to think it’s already my last.”
Receiver Nelson Spruce has had one of the greatest individual careers in CU history, and it started to hit him this week that after Friday he will never play at Folsom Field again.
“It’s going to be a weird feeling,” he said. “You don’t really see the end coming when you’re younger, but I’m actually going to be playing at Folsom for the last time. It’s going to be special, obviously, a night game and having my family down there, but it’s probably going to be pretty emotional.”
It is an odd home finale in that it comes so early in the season. The Buffs still have two games after this one, both on the road. In the last 40 years, the Buffs have closed with back-to-back road games just two other times, in 1989 and 2011.
“Obviously, I’m going to cherish this night, but we have to come back and have two more games,” Spruce said.
During the final three games, Spruce and the rest of the seniors are hoping CU can take one more forward step before they leave.
“We have a very small margin for error,” Spruce said. “If we do come for all four quarters, that’s going to be the key for us. Just playing a complete game. I don’t think we’ve really done that.”
While CU’s inability to play a complete game has contributed to the seniors posting a 14-45 record (since the start of 2011), they do believe they are leaving the program in good hands.
“Obviously, moral victories don’t mean much for us,” Spruce said, “I didn’t get the wins here I wanted, but looking back at my time, that’s the legacy I want to leave, setting the foundation. I think this program is heading in the right direction, so just being one of the guys that set the foundation for that, I feel like that would be a good legacy to have.”
While progress is slow, in terms of wins and losses, the seniors have no doubt that progress is being made.
When many of them started their careers, CU was a weekly punching bag in the Pac-12 Conference and fans stopped showing up. When they did show up, they left early because the Buffs were often blown out by halftime.
CU hasn’t started winning with regularity, but this senior class has helped establish a competitive nature that has kept the Buffs in most games. Fans aren’t all the way back, but they are throwing more support behind the Buffs than they did a few years ago.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs, especially for me and the things that I’ve seen,” said sixth-year senior safety Jered Bell. “I’ve seen the program go up and down and now it’s back up again, rising. The fans are supporting us. They’re not leaving in the second quarter anymore. We’re grateful for that.”
They’re also grateful to have been a part of the rebuilding process.
The seniors are surrounded by better athletes, better coaches and brand-new facilities.
“Collectively, we’ve seen the program start to move up,” Powell said. “You see players starting to gain confidence. That’s definitely a positive.”
No, the wins haven’t been there, but there’s no question this group of seniors has pride in being CU Buffaloes.
Before they say goodbye to the home fans, though, this group would love nothing more than to give them something to cheer about.
“Getting one big win, especially in my last home game, would be awesome,” Spruce said.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.
Vincent Arvia, OL, 5-11, 300: Walk-on from San Diego has been a valuable member of the practice squad the past couple of seasons.
Jered Bell, S, 6-1, 195: Sixth-year senior missed two full seasons with knee injuries but has also been a starter for a good portion of his career.
Ed Caldwell, OL, 6-5, 300: A walk-on from Highlands Ranch, he always dreamed of running behind Ralphie. He fulfilled that dream and became a key backup for the Buffs.
Kenneth Crawley, CB, 6-1, 180: He’s been a staple in the secondary since he arrived in 2012, starting 39 games. It’s been an up-and-down career for Crawley, but he ranks among CU’s top 10 in career pass deflections.
John Finch, FB, 5-11, 210: A walk-on from Park City, Utah, Finch has made his mark as a scout team player.
Colin Johnson, WR, 6-0, 185: A walk-on from Saratoga, Calif., Johnson has never caught a pass, but has served as a holder on field goals and extra points.
Marques Mosley, DB, 6-0, 180: He had a great start to his career as a defender and returner, but injuries have limited him to just two games over the past two seasons.
Jordan Murphy, FB, 6-0, 230: A transfer from CSU, Murphy has become a team leader and a key member of CU’s special teams units.
Stephane Nembot, OT, 6-7, 315: A native of Cameroon, he is still relatively new to football. Originally a defensive lineman when he got to Boulder, he developed into one of the cornerstones of the offensive line. He brings a streak of 36 consecutive starts into Friday.
Christian Powell, RB, 6-0, 235: Originally recruited as a fullback, Powell switched to tailback as a freshman and led the team in rushing in 2012, 2013 and 2014. He’s one of just 18 players in CU history with more than 2,000 career rushing yards.
Hunter Shaw, OLB, 6-3, 215: A walk-on from Atherton, Calif., Shaw has been a key part of the scout team. He’s also played a few snaps in four games this year.
Wyatt Tucker Smith, LS, 6-3, 230: A transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, Smith has been CU’s long snapper the past two seasons and has been nearly flawless in his snaps.
Justin Solis, DT, 6-2, 325: A regular in CU’s defensive line rotation the past three years, Solis has developed into a solid run stopper for the Buffs.
Nelson Spruce, WR, 6-1, 195: Statistically, he’s the best receiver in CU history. He holds career records for catches (272) and receiving yards (3,022).
John Paul Tuso, DL, 6-3, 270: A walk-on from Cherry Creek High School, Tuso had an injury-plagued career and is currently working as a student assistant coach.