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Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
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Game at a glance
Matchup: Colorado Buffaloes (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) at California Golden Bears (6-4, 3-4)
Kickoff: 5:10 p.m. MT
Where: California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif. Capacity: 62,467. Turf: FieldTurf.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Odds: Cal by 12
Coaches: Colorado — Kurt Roper, interim (0-0); Cal — Justin Wilcox, 2nd season (11-11).
Series: Cal leads 5-4, including 3-0 in Berkeley
Outside of the Colorado locker room, there aren’t many expecting the Buffaloes to win a football game on Saturday.
Just six short weeks after being the only undefeated team in the Pac-12, Colorado is suddenly the only team in the conference that can’t figure out how to win.
CU (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) takes a six-game losing streak into Saturday’s matchup at California (6-4, 3-4) and, for the first time since 2012, the Buffaloes will play without Mike MacIntyre on the sidelines. The six-game skid and lack of overall results over the past six seasons led to athletic director Rick George firing MacIntyre on Sunday.
Odds are against the Buffs, who have tried and failed several times — nine, to be exact — in the past two seasons to reach bowl eligibility. Yet, as they head into Saturday’s game at Cal, bowl eligibility is all that’s left to play for, and the Buffs haven’t lost sight of what it would mean for the program.
“We want to not only send our seniors out right and give them a second bowl game chance,” sophomore linebacker Nate Landman said, “but for us to build that on the future and give us a foundation that we’re a good team and we can build on that and continue to grow.”
Despite all that’s gone wrong in recent weeks for the Buffs, a bowl game would still be a nice reward for a program that’s only played in one since 2007. A trip to the Alamo Bowl in 2016 remains the lone bright spot over the past decade.
“I don’t know if I can overstate it,” interim head coach Kurt Roper said of what a bowl appearance would mean to the program. “This season started a long time ago. It didn’t start in August. These guys sacrifice a lot to be a good football team and be a good football player. A lot of weight lifting goes into it and a lot of running and a lot of time on their own, a lot of contact on the practice field.
“Going to a bowl game is a huge reward. Hopefully we can help this team accomplish that.”
CU has coughed up several chances to earn that reward, with no collapse greater than what happened on Oct. 27. With a 31-3 second-half lead against Oregon State, bowl eligibility was literally just an hour or so away, but the Buffs were outscored 38-3 the rest of the way to lose in overtime.
During the six-game losing streak, the Buffs have had the lead in every game, but they’ve given up scoring runs of 28-0, 13-0, 38-3, 17-0, 31-0 and 30-0.
The desire to win was there every week, but for whatever reason, the Buffs couldn’t get the job done.
“We’ve had a tough job executing,” quarterback Steven Montez said. “If we focus on those small details and get out there and play our best football that we possibly can, I think we’ll have a good shot to go and get this win.”
Lack of execution has been only part of the problem, though. Injuries have been costly, too, but the Buffs actually go into Saturday’s finale as healthy as they’ve been in weeks.
Receivers Laviska Shenault, KD Nixon and Jay MacIntyre are all expected to play. There’s a chance safety Evan Worthington and cornerback Delrick Abrams return to the lineup. Kicker James Stefanou and punter Alex Kinney returned last week.
Then there’s the matter of clearing a mental hurdle. Six losses in a row has shaken the confidence of a team that was once ranked No. 19 in the country.
“When you’re 5-0, it seems like everything is dandy,” said junior offensive lineman Aaron Haigler, one of seven team captains. “It’s the best time anyone has ever had. When you lose (six consecutive) games, it kind of stalls out. After a while you don’t really know how to come back from that, or don’t really know what to do differently.
“It’s not like guys aren’t trying. We’re searching for answers and the past couple weeks we haven’t found them. We haven’t gotten it done.”
George could tell the Buffs were struggling to get their mojo back, and firing MacIntyre with one game to play might be just what they need. It certainly sent a shockwave through the team, which has, by most accounts, been energized this week.
“I don’t know if it really makes it different, but it definitely makes people want to make it work,” Haigler said of the coaching change. “(Players) really want to make it work. It’s not just for the coaches; it’s for us, too. We really want to get that bowl game. It would be huge for this program if we could get to that, so that’s our focus this week.”
Winning at Cal is about more than just getting into a bowl game, though. It’s about setting this team up for the future, Landman said.
“There’s a lot of haters and negative stigma attached to this team, losing six in a row,” he said, “and I think winning this next game and going to a bowl game will definitely be beneficial to boost confidence for the next year.”