Rooney: Topping UA would set up CU Buffs for surprising 2019

Buffs as legit as anyone in unpredictable Pac-12

Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Colorado head coach Mel Tucker and the Buffs have a chance to be in first place of the Pac-12 South with a win Saturday.

Colorado football coach Mel Tucker made a fashion statement while opting to wear shorts during his Buffaloes’ win on a 90-degree night two weeks ago at Arizona State.

Tucker might be intense. His creeds of playing a tough, relentless style of football might be sinking into the CU program. But that doesn’t mean the guy doesn’t appreciate kicking up his feet in the air conditioning to watch a little football.

Asked this week if he’s a guy that focuses strictly on the upcoming opponent, or if he’s apt to use a bye like the Buffs enjoyed last week to take a deeper look at the competition around the Pac-12 Conference, Tucker offered a response true to a genuine football junkie.

“I do both,” Tucker said. “I like to watch ball and I’ll flip the channels. That’s the great thing of being in the air conditioning with the flat screen and the cable and the remote. You can see a lot of games. But that’s why you play the games. You never know what’s going to happen on any given Saturday. College football is really exciting right now. There’s a lot of teams still in it, in the hunt. We just have to really focus in on what we have to do.”

As Tucker and the rest of the football world scrolled through another week of Pac-12 showdowns, they witnessed an unpredictable league enduring another round of unpredictable results. All of which is only widening the door of opportunity for Tucker’s Buffs.

Improbably, the Saturday afternoon matchup between CU and Arizona is a first-place showdown in the Pac-12 South between the division’s only unbeaten teams within the conference, albeit at 1-0. A first-place battle in early October is rather meaningless in terms of the standings. Yet given the topsy-turvy nature of the Pac-12, a win by the Buffs Saturday would set CU up nicely for the remainder of the season.

Think about it: The winner of Saturday’s showdown will be the South’s only remaining unbeaten team within league play. With only one other South team in action this weekend (Oregon State at UCLA) , on a Pac-12 slate littered with byes, the Buffs have an opportunity to set the pace and let the rest of the Pac-12 pack do the chasing.

Who’d have thought that five weeks ago? Certainly not this guy.

While the league’s ridiculous parity might ultimately hurt the Pac-12 from a national perspective, it makes, as Tucker said, any given Saturday (and a few Friday nights) a showcase of drama and surprise. With the possible exception of next Friday’s challenge at No. 13 Oregon, there is not a single game remaining on the Buffs’ schedule that can’t be won.

Traveling to Washington State rarely has been an enjoyable experience for CU, yet since squandering a 32-point second-half lead against UCLA, the Cougars have spiraled closer to train wreck territory than contending status. USC has to come to Boulder on a Friday night with its freshman quarterback. UCLA still has much to prove despite its monumental comeback at WSU. And Stanford, which visits Folsom on Nov. 9, hardly is playing like the preseason league favorite the Cardinal was expecting.

We’ll cover the crystal ball up at that point to reassess the status of the season’s final two foes, No. 15 Washington at home and at No. 17 Utah, in another month. Which, in this league, is enough time to completely reverse the current projections of each and every team. The point is, a win Saturday puts the Buffs — the team with the shaky yet opportunistic defense and injured stars on both sides of the ball — squarely in control of their own destiny.

Tucker will be a little too busy this Saturday to work that remote. Yet no statement, a fashionable one or otherwise, will mean more to a coach looking to script a special season in his first year than a win.