Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Game at a glance
Matchup: Colorado Buffaloes (2-1) at Oregon Ducks (2-1)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. MDT
Where: Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. Capacity: 54,000; Turf: Field Turf
TV: Pac-12 Mountain
Radio: 850 AM
Odds: Oregon by 10
Coaches: Colorado – Mike MacIntyre (12-28, 4th season); Oregon – Mark Helfrich (35-9, 4th season)
Series: Oregon leads 12-8
Before the season began, the Colorado football team locked in on one goal.
“Everyone wants to be Pac-12 champs,” quarterback Sefo Liufau said.
Of course, the Buffaloes are no different from the other 11 teams in the conference in that regard. But, for Colorado to be so bold in expressing that desire is somewhat surprising.
After all, since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffs have annually finished last in the South division. Every year, the South champion has finished with at least six conference wins. Colorado hasn’t won six Pac-12 games in five years, going 5-40.
This CU team doesn’t care about the past.
As far as these Buffs (2-1) are concerned, this week’s visit to Oregon (2-1) is the first step on the path to a championship.
“I can already tell that practices are way more intense and coaches are on us more because they know how big this is,” receiver Devin Ross said. “We have a big chance of being Pac-12 champions, so we just have to go in every week and go 1-0 and worry about Colorado football and we’re going to be just fine.”
Despite a 45-28 loss at No. 4 Michigan last week, the Buffs walked out of that game with a reassurance that they can compete in the Pac-12.
“The message to our team was we’ve got a football team,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We have to correct a few things there and when you’re playing another good football team, you have to do some of those things better than we did them (against Michigan). We’ll go back, correct them and move forward to the next game.”
Against the Wolverines, the Buffs jumped out to a 21-7 lead , but couldn’t sustain the energy for four quarters. Losing that lead has bothered and motivated the Buffs this week.
“We did what we were supposed do at the beginning of the game,” running back Phillip Lindsay said. “That’s how it’s supposed to look. Now, that’s how it’s supposed to look the whole game.
“We let the foot off the gas and that was on us.”
After finding success against Michigan, Ross said, “That’s the No. 4 team in the nation, so it was obviously great to be able to execute our offense against them, so I know we can do it against anyone.”
To do it against Oregon, the Buffs might need a monumental effort from backup quarterback Steven Montez.
Liufau injured his ankle against Michigan, has practiced on a limited basis this week, and might not be ready to play against the Ducks. Montez, a redshirt freshman, could get his first career start.
If Montez does play, the Buffs insist their confidence will be just as high as it would be with Liufau.
“It’s football, and the next person has to step up,” Lindsay said. “He’s been around Sefo for a while, he’s been around his teammates. Now it’s just about him going out there and making plays and being comfortable. That’s just going out there and just enjoying it and playing football, because it’s football.”
In the past, the loss of a key player might have been viewed as an excuse by Colorado. Now, it’s viewed as a rallying point for a team with lofty goals.
“You see how our offense is and we have a great defense,” Lindsay said. “That’s it right there. Defense wins championships, so we need to help our defense out. We need to go out there and score points and our defense is going to handle the rest.”
Whether or not the Buffs can finish in a better spot in the standings remains to be seen, but they at least go into their sixth season of Pac-12 play in a much better spot mentally.
“My first year (2013), we were not even close to how we are now, so I love the talent and I love the mindset of all the players and the coaches,” Ross said. “We’re ready to win. We have a winning mindset now. We’re just ready to prove it to the world.”
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.