Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
When the national rankings came out two weeks ago and the Top 25 included the Colorado Buffaloes for the first time in 11 years, it brought a whole new level of attention to the program.
Turns out, the spotlight blinded the Buffs a bit that week.
“We went to USC week and we weren’t as focused,” running back Phillip Lindsay said.
It showed, as the Buffs, for the only time this season, weren’t sharp throughout a 21-17 loss to the Trojans that knocked them out of the rankings.
“(There was) all this outdoor stuff coming in, but then we had to get refocused,” Lindsay said.
An impressive 40-16 win against Arizona State last weekend seemed to get the Buffs (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) back on track and they believe they’ve learned from that mistake two weeks ago.
On Saturday, the Buffs will visit Stanford (4-2, 2-2) and they seem undaunted by the fact that they are not only in the thick of the race for the Pac-12 South division title for the first time since joining the conference, but that they control their own destiny in that race.
Although tied with Utah (6-1, 3-1) atop the division, the Buffs know that if they win their games, they’ll play in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2.
“When they come to practice and they watch film and they realize there’s something on the line that hasn’t ever been there before for them, that’s exciting,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said.
Through the first half of the season, CU proved it could take one game at a time and focus only on the task at hand. The only exception was the game at USC, but even then, the Buffs nearly pulled off a victory. Quarterback Sefo Liufau believes that the team’s performance against ASU last week re-established that mindset.
“I think that the really good teams don’t dwell on past success; they focus on the upcoming game at hand,” Liufau said. “Especially in the Pac-12 when you play so many great teams in a row, you always have to be ready for your next opponent. We’ve done a really good job of that this year.”
Doing that down the stretch could get tougher, as the intensity and pressure mounts. MacIntyre, however, has faith in his team to continue doing what they’ve done all year.
“It makes it easier to preach to be honest with you,” he said. “When you’re winning and you know the next game’s bigger, they get up for it. It’s harder to preach when you’re losing. You’ve got to get them up and find more motivation. (Now), I don’t have to motivate them. They’re going to play Stanford, they’re in first place in the Pac-12 South and they’re rolling and they want to keep doing that.”
Linebacker Jimmie Gilbert said winning has actually brought some calm to the team.
“You can have fun when you’re winning; it’s not fun when you’re losing,” he said. “Now that we’re finally winning, it’s kind of relaxing.”
That doesn’t mean the Buffs plan on taking the foot off the gas.
In fact, despite finishing in last place in each of their five seasons in the Pac-12 South, the Buffs are remarkably acting like they’ve been here before.
“For us it’s just been doing what we do every day, come out and bust our butts in practice,” Gilbert said. “Now we’re just finally showing everyone else what we’ve already seen, what we’ve been already doing. It’s just now being put on display for everyone else.”
Putting it on display has been fun for the fans, and for the Buffs. Unlike two weeks ago, however, the Buffs realize they have to balance fun with business.
“When you’re winning, you have to learn how to practice while you’re winning and having fun,” Lindsay said. “It is fun, but you have to also know that we’re not where we want to be. We’ve worked so hard to get to where we are so far right now.
“Now we have to stay consistent and that’s about us being older and learning how to win, and learning how to take the good and to continue to roll with it. To have fun but understand focus. Stay focused, stay in your lane, and let’s play Colorado football.”