Shay Fields, left, and the Colorado Buffaloes beat the Utah Utes 27-22 in a thriller last year at Folsom Field to win the Pac-12 South. Saturday they will square off in Salt Lake City with both teams needing a win to become bowl eligible.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Shay Fields, left, and the Colorado Buffaloes beat the Utah Utes 27-22 in a thriller last year at Folsom Field to win the Pac-12 South. Saturday they will square off in Salt Lake City with both teams needing a win to become bowl eligible.

CU opponent glance

Opponent: Utah Utes

Game time: Saturday, 8 p.m. MT, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City

Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 13th season (109-56)

Record: 5-6, 2-6 Pac-12

Last week: Lost 33-30 at Washington

Key players: CB Julian Blackmon, So. (43 tackles, 2 INT, 5 PBU); WR Darren Carrington II, Sr. (60 catches, 854 yards, 6 TD); PK Matt Gay, Jr. (25-of-29 field goals, 33-of-33 PAT); S Chase Hansen, Jr. (45 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT); CB/PR Boobie Hobbs, Sr. (27 tackles, 1 INT; 20 ret., 239 yards); QB Tyler Huntley, So. (187-of-286, 2,246 yards, 15 TD, 10 INT; Rushing: 143 att., 480 yards, 4 TD); DT Lowell Lotulelei, Sr. (10 tackles); OLB Kavika Luafatasaga, Sr. (72 tackles, 2.5 TFL); RB Zack Moss, So. (168 att., 827 yards, 7 TD; 27 catches, 209 yards, 0 TD); WR Raelon Singleton, Jr. (32 catches, 425 yards, 4 TD); MLB Sunia Tauteoli, Sr. (62 tackles, 10 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT).

Notable: CU leads the all-time series 32-28-3 with a 14-16-2 record in Salt Lake City. Utah, however, owns a 4-2 record against the Buffs since the two teams joined the Pac-12 together in 2011. … Each of the last six meetings between these teams has been decided by seven points or less. … The Utes began the season 4-0 and reached No. 20 in the Associated Press rankings. … Four of Utah’s losses have come by one score (eight points or less). … Utah is seeking its 13th bowl appearance in the last 15 seasons, coming up short only in 2012 and 2013 – finishing 5-7 both years. … Dating back to last year, the Utes are just 1-5 in their last six Pac-12 home games. … Gay is 5-for-6 on field goal attempts from 50 yards and beyond, with two coming from 56 yards.

It’s not a marquee matchup. It’s not a game that’ll make much of an impact nationally, or even in the Pac-12.

Yet, when Colorado (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) visits Utah (5-6, 2-6) on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, it’ll mean a lot to both teams.

The Buffs and Utes both need the win to achieve bowl eligibility, which is typically the minimum goal for Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams each year. The loser will get its offseason underway.

“If you win, you get to keep playing,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “That’s the fun the part of it, so hopefully our guys understand that and want to do that.”

CU has been in this position before, taking a 5-6 record into game No. 12 with bowl eligibility on the line.

In 2007, the Buffs knocked off Nebraska, 65-51, at Folsom Field in the finale and earned a spot in the Independence Bowl.

The next year, the Buffs were once against 5-6 heading into the finale against the Cornhuskers, but this time lost 40-31 in Lincoln, Neb., in one of the more painful losses for the Buffs in recent years. CU led 31-30 heading into the final two minutes.

In 2010, the Buffs went back to Lincoln with a 5-6 record and got crushed, 45-17, to end the season.

The Buffs are certainly hoping for a better result this time around, and felt good about the week of practice they had during their bye week.

“We know we’re right there, and we know what we have to do to be able to break through,” cornerback Isaiah Oliver said. “Hopefully it can come this week, and we win this game and go bowling.”

Both teams are in this position because of missed opportunities.

CU has three close defeats, perhaps none more painful than a 41-30 loss at Arizona State on Nov. 4. The Buffs had three separate 10-point leads before being outscored 24-3 in the fourth quarter.

Utah has had four one-score losses, including Saturday’s heartbreaking 33-30 loss at Washington. The Utes were on their way to an upset of the Huskies, holding a seven-point lead with about a minute to go. Washington scored a tying touchdown with 58 seconds left and then kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.

“We have one more opportunity,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told the Deseret News after the game. “We all know if we can win the next one we can get to a bowl game. And so that is the objective. It’s been the objective for a couple of weeks now, and that’s where we’re at.”

Around the country, 78 teams will play in bowls, and heading into this week, 70 have already reached the six-win mark.

CU and Utah will play in one of four bowl-or-bust games this week. Also in the Pac-12, California (5-6) and UCLA (5-6) will play for bowl eligibility. Other 5-6 vs. 5-6 matchups include Indiana at Purdue and Old Dominion at Middle Tennessee.

In addition to those eight teams, there are 10 others entering this week with five wins, and three that enter the week at 4-6 with two games to play.

Near the bottom

Four games into the season, the Buffs ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring, and MacIntyre said at that time, “I expect us to be better, and we won’t end up 11th. We’ll end up somewhere higher than that. I hope it’s higher than 10th, but we won’t end up 11th.”

With one game to play, the Buffs are still 11th in scoring, at 27.6 points per game. They’ve scored just two points less than Cal (27.8) and just 16 points less than Utah (29.1), so the Buffs could move up, but they’ll need a good week to avoid an 11th-place finish.

This is familiar territory for CU, which has typically had one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the Pac-12 since joining the conference in 2011. They were 12th in 2011 and 2012, 11th in 2013 and 2015, 10th in 2014 and seventh a year ago.


Southern California (10-2, 8-1) will represent the South in the Pac-12 title game Dec. 1, but the North title is still undecided. Stanford (8-3, 7-2) is a half game ahead of both Washington (9-2, 6-2) and Washington State (9-2, 6-2). Washington and Washington State play on Saturday in Seattle. If Washington wins, Stanford will take the North title. If Washington State wins, it will win the North. … The Pac-12 will wind up with nine bowl eligible teams. Currently, seven are bowl eligible, and the winners of the Utah-CU and Cal-UCLA games will join the list.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or