Nothing to say…a lot to prove…
The Colorado football program certainly enjoys its catchy clichés once the wins start rolling in. Much like “The Rise” of 2016, the above mantra has become the rallying cry for a surging Buffaloes team that already has exceeded expectations with a 5-0 start and is taking aim at a second berth in the Pac-12 championship game in three years.
Never mind how repeating something, anything, over and over and over again is, in itself, actually saying something. For instance, co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini tweeted some form of the “Nothing to say” phrase to his 13,000-plus Twitter followers five times on Wednesday alone. He relented Thursday, yet that remains an excessive amount of chatter for a group that has nothing to say.
Nevertheless, the 19th-ranked Buffs indeed still have a lot to prove. And proving something to the USC Trojans on Saturday night at historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum would be a bigger step forward than anything the Buffs achieved while proving the rise was real two years ago.
In 2016, as “The Rise” was just gaining traction after 10 consecutive losing seasons, a 4-1 Buffs team visited the Coliseum in a similar position as this squad — a group that had turned heads but still had much to prove in terms of being a national power. Two weeks previous the Buffs posted a season-changing, confidence-building win at Oregon, but the momentum didn’t continue in Los Angeles. The Buffs lost 21-17, with 358 passing yards and three touchdowns by now-New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold keeping CU at bay despite rallying from a 14-0 halftime deficit.
It wasn’t a devastating loss. The Buffs continued marching through their self-proclaimed rise, winning the next six games to earn a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. Buffs fans are painfully aware of what came next. A 31-point loss against Washington in the title game. A 30-point loss against Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl, followed by the drama surrounding the domestic abuse charges against former assistant coach Joe Tumpkin and the botched handling of the situation by CU’s brass that very nearly derailed the momentum gathered during that memorable 2016 run.
That momentum has returned. At 5-0 the Buffs are in control of their own destiny as they near the season’s official midway point, and even a loss in the upcoming back-to-back road games against the Trojans and No. 7 Washington wouldn’t necessarily derail the conference title dreams. Given every other team in the Pac-12 South enters the weekend with either one league loss (USC, Arizona) or two (Utah, ASU, UCLA), it’s not inconceivable the Buffs could lose both road challenges and still play their way into the Pac-12 title game, though they’d need a little help.
But CU needs to strive for more. “The Rise” was marred by defeats against each of the top-level opponents the Buffs faced that season, from an early loss at Michigan to the back-to-back blowouts at the end. With the possible exception of a winning-ugly 10-5 victory at Stanford, in 2016 the Buffs defeated every opponent they were supposed to, but not the any of the more formidable foes.
USC isn’t the same team as 2016. Freshman quarterback JT Daniels might someday be the next Darnold, but he’s not there yet. The Buffs also aren’t the same team as 2016. With quarterback Steven Montez playing at a much higher level than the green signal-caller that started at the Coliseum two years ago, and Laviska Shenault gathering hype for a Heisman run, and a defense making a habit out of shutting the door after halftime, these Buffs have a chance to be better.
Finally toppling one of the big boys would count as a prove-it moment for CU. And even though the silence has spoken volumes so far, the Buffs then could say all they want.