CU opponent glance
Opponent: No. 20 Washington State Cougars
Game time: Saturday, 1:30 p.m., at Folsom Field in Boulder
Coach: Mike Leach, 5th season (29-31; 113-74 career)
Record: 8-2, 7-0 Pac-12
Last week: Beat California, 56-21
Key players: QB Luke Falk, Jr. (354 of 479, 3,610 yards, 33 TD, 6 INT); WR Gabe Marks, Sr. (68 catches, 709 yards, 12 TD); RB Gerard Wicks, Jr. (71 carries, 403 yards, 11 TD); LB Peyton Pelluer, Jr. (64 tackles, 6.5 TFL); S Shalom Luani, Sr. (45 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 INT).
Notable: The Cougars are ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls. … Wazzu was No. 25 in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings. … Colorado has lost 23 consecutive games against ranked opponents. … Wazzu is 4-5 against the Buffs and 3-2 in Boulder. … On Saturday, Marks became the Pac-12’s all-time leader with 295 receptions. He broke the previous record of 294 set by former CU star Nelson Spruce just last year. … The Cougars have won eight in a row after an 0-2 start.
Shortly after the Colorado football team polished off a relatively easy victory at Arizona late Saturday night, the calendar flipped to Sunday, and the focus of the Buffaloes flipped to the next challenge ahead.
Head coach Mike MacIntyre couldn’t help but smile as he was asked about his Pac-12 South division-leading Buffaloes hosting the North division-leading Washington State Cougars this Saturday at Folsom Field.
“Isn’t that exciting?” said MacIntyre, who is making a habit of conducting jovial post-game press conferences. “How many of y’all predicted this?”
Uh, that would be nobody, but suddenly all eyes will be on Boulder this week.
On Sunday, the Buffaloes (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12), who beat Arizona 49-24, made another jump in the national rankings, landing at No.12 in both the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls. Washington State (8-2, 7-0) made a move, too, vaulting to No. 20 in both polls.
When the Buffs and Cougars meet up on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., it’ll mark the first matchup of ranked teams at Folsom Field since Sept. 14, 2002.
“It’s exciting for both teams,” MacIntyre said. “It’s exciting for Washington State and (head coach) Mike Leach and it’s exciting for the University of Colorado and our staff.
“I’m so pumped up for our fans.”
The university will break for the Thanksgiving holiday after Friday, but MacIntyre joked that all the out-of-state students need to change their flights and stick around for the game.
“This is a special time in Colorado football,” MacIntyre said. “Our young men have taken us from good to really good and we can move to great next weekend. We need everybody there.”
Last place in each of their first five seasons in the Pac-12, the Buffaloes were predicted to finish last again this season. Washington State was picked to finish fourth in the North.
This, however, could wind up being the first of two matchups between the Buffs and Cougars over the next few weeks. Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game, both could wind up facing each other in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2.
The opportunity to prove themselves against the North division leaders has the Buffs eager for Saturday.
“We’re excited,” receiver Shay Fields said. “This is where we wanted to be, top of the Pac-12 South facing the top of the Pac-12 North.”
There’s plenty at stake for the Buffs in this one.
CU comes into the weekend with a half-game lead in the South over 15th-ranked USC (7-3, 6-2), which handed the Buffs a loss earlier in the season. No. 11 Utah is just a game back and eagerly awaiting its trip to Boulder on Nov. 26.
There is no margin for error if the Buffs are to win the South.
“We know that, but we have our eyes set on that one goal (of winning the Pac-12) and that’s what we’re going for,” linebacker Kenneth Olugbode said. “It’s big. That’s what we have to do every single week, go 1-0 every single week.”
The way the dominoes are falling around the country, this game could have national title implications, as well.
Last week, the Buffs were slotted at No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Although CU is a bit of a long shot to reach the top four and get into the playoffs, five of the top nine lost on Saturday, and the Buffs are almost a lock to move into the top 10 when the CFP rankings are released on Tuesday. Keep winning, and it’s not out of the question for CU to get into the top four.
Continuing to win gets tougher each week.
“It’s a challenge,” CU defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt said of playing late season, pressure-packed games.
While the head coach at South Florida in 2007, Leavitt took the Bulls to No. 2 in the BCS rankings. They then lost three in a row, by a total of just 15 points.
“We came back in November and won three, but it’s hard because there’s distractions, and it’s hard especially for young guys to not be distracted,” Leavitt said. “I was really concerned about it when I was at South Florida.”
Leavitt doesn’t have the same concerns about the Buffs handling the pressure.
“I think this team doesn’t even think about it,” he said. “They’re just playing. I don’t know if they know better, because they’ve never been there. I don’t know if it’s hit them.”
CU is among the top 15 in the rankings for the first time since 2002. … The Buffs are ranked for the fourth week in a row, also a first since 2002. … Fox Sports will broadcast Saturday’s game, with former CU quarterback Joel Klatt providing the color commentary. Gus Johnson will be on play-by-play and Shannon Spake reporting from the sidelines. … CU had hoped that ESPN would come to Boulder for it’s College GameDay special this week, but ESPN elected to visit No. 14 Western Michigan (10-0), which is one of just two undefeated teams in the country.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.