After yet another big win on Saturday, the Colorado football team maintained that it really has only one goal in mind.
Focusing on that goal continues to bring other rewards, however, and on Sunday, the Buffaloes (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) made a return to the national rankings, at No. 23 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls.
“It’s a great feeling when you win,” running back Phillip Lindsay said after Saturday’s 10-5 win at Stanford. “Great atmosphere when you’re winning. It’s beautiful. Everything is just coming together.”
On Oct. 2, the Buffs returned to the Top 25 for the first time in 11 years, but then lost at Southern California to fall out of the rankings. Since then, they’ve routed Arizona State, 40-16, and knocked off the defending Pac-12 champion Cardinal.
Facing a bye this week, the Buffs are likely to remain in the Top 25 next week, too. Of course, that’s not the main objective for this team, which is now bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.
“It’s a great feeling (to become bowl eligible), but to be honest, people were more thinking about the Pac-12 championship than just winning six and getting a bowl game,” safety Tedric Thompson said. “We’re still focusing on that Pac-12 championship.”
With four games to play in the regular season, it’s a realistic goal for the Buffs. They come into this week tied atop the Pac-12 South with Utah (7-1, 4-1). The 17th-ranked Utes will host No. 4 Washington (7-0, 4-0) on Saturday. The Huskies are leading the North division.
CU returns is off until Thursday, Nov. 3, when UCLA comes to Boulder for a prime-time, nationally televised contest.
The Buffs are sitting pretty despite an ugly win on Saturday, overcoming kicking woes and a sluggish offense to knock off the Cardinal.
“We just play Colorado football,” Lindsay said. “No matter where you go, you just have to play Colorado football. It’s you being gritty, it’s you being a dog, it’s you having that swag. At the end of the day, you play Colorado football, and that’s all we do. We make plays and we win.”
Heat of the moment
During the second half of Saturday’s win, head coach Mike MacIntyre and senior quarterback Sefo Liufau got into a heated exchange.
“That was just a way to try to spark me,” said Liufau, who had his worst game of the season, completing just 12 of 25 throws for 135 yards and a touchdown. “It’s all love of the game. Me and him have a big connection and it’s just heat of the moment.”
MacIntyre, in fact, said it’s the strong relationship the two have that allowed him to get on his quarterback like that in a tight game.
“I’m going to do anything I can to get him going,” MacIntyre said. “He knows my heart is there with him. He knows I have the best (interests) for him and everything we’ve been through.
“When you have a great, great relationship and it goes really deep, then you can do those kind of things. If you don’t have a great relationship, you can’t do those kind of things, and he understands that and knows that and so do I. He’s such a battler. It got the other guys riled up, too, so it was good.”
After the game, MacIntyre told Liufau, “you’re a warrior, I’m proud of you and keep fighting,” Liufau said.
A chance to heal
With several players battling bumps and bruises — including Lindsay’s ankle, tackle Aaron Haigler’s knee and kicker Davis Price with mononucleosis — the bye week probably comes at a good time.
“We need to get some energy back in us and we need to be ready to roll (against UCLA),” MacIntyre said. “It’s an interesting bye week. I haven’t been through one like this before where you play on a Thursday (after the bye). Then we get a couple more days to recover and then go to Arizona (on Nov. 12).
“I’m looking at it as a huge positive for us. It works out pretty good.”
Punt return battle
Receiver Jay MacIntyre was cleared to play against Stanford after going through concussion protocol. He did play on offense, but did not return punts, which he’s done all year.
Coach MacIntyre said Jay had not had any time to work on returns during the week. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver handled punt returns, and it’s possible that Oliver and Jay MacIntyre could split those duties going forward.
“It is a battle (between the two),” coach MacIntyre said. “It’s good we have two guys that can catch it now.”
Jay MacIntyre muffed two punt returns against Arizona State on Oct. 15, but has otherwise been solid as a returner.
On the recruiting trail, the Buffs picked up their first verbal commitment for the class of 2018 on Sunday, when Highlands Ranch High School safety Ray Robinson announced his pledge to CU on Twitter. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Robinson has a three-star rating from Scout.com.
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.