Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
On Friday night, the spotlight will shine brighter on the Colorado Buffaloes than it has in years.
Luckily for the Buffs, they won’t be the only team dealing with it for the first time.
The ninth-ranked Buffs (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) will battle No. 4 Washington (11-1, 8-1) on Friday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
For both teams, it’ll be their first appearance in the Pac-12 title game, and the Buffs are hoping they can embrace the moment as they have all year.
“I think (the CU players) are a little bit more used to it now,” said CU head coach Mike MacIntyre, who has watched his team handle increased pressure and exposure each week over the past month.
“The great thing about the Pac-12 championship game is it’s an event, so we’ll be there and you go out there before the game a little bit earlier and you’re out there for the National Anthem. You’re going to be excited and you should be — you deserve it; enjoy the moment, but focus like crazy on what you do. They have to take all that in, and both teams are in that situation for the first time.
“It’ll be fun for them, but at the same time they have to understand all that is just pomp and circumstance. The real meat and potatoes is when the ball is kicked off.”
When the ball is kicked off, the Buffs and Huskies will battle not only for a conference title, but potentially for a national championship.
The winner of Friday’s game has a chance to land in the top four of the final College Football Playoff rankings that are announced on Sunday.
As the Buffs prepare for this high stakes game, however, they are once again trying to take a simple approach.
“We just have to come in, study film, get the reps in — get the mental reps, get film reps, the practice reps — get everything in as much as possible, as fast as possible,” senior linebacker Jimmie Gilbert said after clinching the Pac-12 South with a 27-22 win against Utah on Saturday. “We still have a job to do, we still have business. So I try not to celebrate too much on one victory because I know next week we have another fight on our hands.”
Somewhat lost in the euphoria of CU’s win against Utah was the exceptional play made by senior cornerback Chidobe Awuzie on the first play of the fourth quarter.
CU had taken a 20-13 lead on the final play of the third, and then kicked off. The Utes’ Kyle Fulks returned that kickoff 93 yards and would have scored a touchdown had Awuzie not tracked him down.
“I knew Chido was going to catch him, to be honest,” senior safety Tedric Thompson said.
The Buffs were fortunate that he did. Awuzie tripped up Fulks enough that he stepped out at the 3-yard line. From there, the defense rose up and stuffed the Utes’ offense, holding them to a field goal.
“To me, that was one of the big momentum plays in the game,” MacIntyre said. “I thought that was huge. His effort and tenacity on that play to stay after it was excellent.”
On Monday, Thompson was recognized as the Pac-12 defensive player of the week after he had two interceptions and four pass breakups in the win against Utah.
It was the second player of the week honor for Thompson, who earned recognition after CU’s 10-5 win against Stanford on Oct. 22. He’s the first CU defensive player to earn two conference player of the week awards in the same seasons since Steve Rosga in 1996.
CU has had nine conference player of the week awards this season, establishing a new single-season record for the program. The 2001 team had eight.
Senior receiver Jaleel Awini has been suspended indefinitely after an off campus altercation with teammate Chris Hill, a senior tight end, late Saturday night. Neither player will participate in Friday’s game. … Junior linebacker Christian Shaver is also serving a suspension for violating team rules. He has not played the last two games and will not play Friday. … CU announced on Monday that it will wear all white — helmets, jerseys and pants — against the Huskies. Washington is the designated home team. … CU’s mascot, Ralphie V, will not run at the Pac-12 title game, but is slated to be on hand for CU’s bowl game in December or January. Ralphie IV ran at each of CU’s four Big 12 title game appearances from 2001-05.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.