Rick Scuteri / FR157181 AP
Young Kwak / FR159675 AP
Pac-12 South race
With two weeks to play in the regular season, Colorado, Southern California and Utah all have a chance to win the Pac-12 South division. Plenty of scenarios could come into play for each team, but here is the easiest path to the title for each of the contenders (listed in order of current standings):
1. Colorado (8-2, 6-1): Win the last two – home against Washington State and Utah – and the Buffs take the division.
2. USC (7-3, 6-2): Trojans need to beat UCLA in their Pac-12 finale on Saturday, but also need CU and Utah to each lose once.
3. Utah (8-2, 5-2): Like CU, the Utes will win the South by winning their last two – home against Oregon and at CU.
With two weeks to play in the regular season, the path to the Pac-12 South championship goes through Boulder.
“We win out and we go to the Pac-12 championship, so it’s exciting,” Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Sitting alone atop the South, the 12th-ranked Buffaloes (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) do control their own destiny. They also know, however, that No.15 Southern California and No. 11 Utah are ready to pounce if the Buffs fall.
Starting with Saturday’s showdown against No. 20 Washington State (8-2, 7-0) at Folsom Field, the Buffs have no margin for error if they are to complete their season-long quest for the Pac-12 championship.
“It is a playoff mentality for us,” junior running back Phillip Lindsay said. “We don’t want to lose. We’ve worked so hard for this opportunity here.”
For the first time since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffs go into the last two weeks with a shot to reach the conference title game, to be held Dec. 2 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
To get there, the Buffs likely need to beat Washington State on Saturday and then knock off Utah (8-2, 5-2) on Nov. 26. Winning both games assures the Buffs of a trip to Santa Clara.
Lose one of them, and the Buffs could be in trouble.
USC (7-3, 6-2) has just one conference game remaining – Saturday against UCLA – and the Trojans are an 11-point favorite. If USC wins that game and CU loses once, the Buffs can’t win the South.
A USC loss would give the Buffs a little wiggle room, but not much, so in essence, CU has to be in playoff mode from here on out.
“There’s more at stake with a win, so I’m hoping their intensity is always high and ready to go,” MacIntyre said. “Our guys will be fresh and ready to roll.”
They have no choice, but Lindsay said this is what the players have wanted all along, to have this opportunity this late in the season.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this point and this moment. We’ve shed a lot of tears and blood. We just have to stay focused on the task at hand. We just need to go out there and play Colorado football.”
Outside of Michigan and USC – which both beat the Buffs – Washington State presents arguably the toughest challenge CU has faced.
“Our intensity has to go up a level,” Lindsay said. “We’re about to play a real good team; a real good team. Defensively, they’re going to be one of the best defenses we’ve played this year. Offensively, they move the ball just like us. All of us are going to have to do it.
“Our intensity has picked up. It’s picked up because we’ve got two more games to define where we want to be. We’re so close, so we have to stay focused and we’ve got to stay intense.
“We’re not playing tight. We’re still the same. We just know that we have to handle our business.”
Praise for Falk
Washington State head coach Mike Leach has always been known for getting excellent production out of his offense. This year is no different, as the Cougars rank eighth nationally in scoring (44.3 points per game) and 10th in total offense (517.5 yards per game).
MacIntyre had high praise for the man running that offense, quarterback Luke Falk. The junior leads the country in completion percentage (73.9) and he ranks 12th in pass efficiency.
“No. 1, their quarterback is extremely accurate,” MacIntyre said. “No. 2, their running game has improved this year. It’s giving them another dimension. Falk does a great job of getting them into runs and getting them into runs that Mike wants to get them in to.
“Their quarterback completely thinks like Mike does out there, and I think that’s why they’re so productive.”
Falk has thrown for 3,610 yards, 33 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Left guard Gerrad Kough, who sprained his ankle in Saturday’s win against Arizona, did not practice Monday. MacIntyre said the Buffs are hoping he can do more as the week goes along. … Left tackle Jeromy Irwin (illness) and right tackle Sam Kronshage (shoulder), who both missed the Arizona game, practiced Monday. … Tight end Sean Irwin, who tweaked his knee against Arizona, was “moving around some” at Monday’s practice, MacIntyre said. The Buffs are optimistic he will play Saturday.