For the third season in a row, the Colorado football team goes into its regular season finale with a 5-6 record and a chance to reach a bowl game with a win.
Unlike the previous two seasons, however, the Buffaloes come into the finale with confidence.
After a 20-14 win against Washington last Saturday at Folsom Field, the Buffs (5-6, 3-5 Pac-12) take a two-game winning streak into Saturday’s matchup with sixth-ranked Utah (10-1, 7-1).
“Very focused and energized coming out of our game,” head coach Mel Tucker said after Monday’s practice. “We just have a lot of confidence right now in terms of what we’re doing and how we go about our business.”
That’s quite a change from the past two years. CU ended the 2017 season on a three-game losing streak and ended the 2018 season on a seven-game losing streak. That adds up to 10-game losing streak with bowl eligibility on the line.
The odds are stacked against the Buffs for this week, too, as Utah is a 28.5-point favorite. Still, CU is hoping to ride the momentum of its last two games.
“It’s gratifying as a coach,” Tucker said. “When you see guys get better and you see guys just believing in the message and actually putting it into action in games on a consistent basis, that’s what this is all about.”
Prior to the two-game winning streak, the Buffs had lost five in a row. Not surprisingly, nose tackle Jalen Sami said the atmosphere in the locker room has changed lately.
“The locker room is definitely different; a more happy feeling,” Sami said. “But we’re still getting after it like we do. The intensity level is still there, the technique and fundamentals is still there. We’re still working on everything and it’s really just a standard. We’re just setting the standard higher and higher every game so now we’re just focusing on Utah and what they can do well and we’re going to attack their weaknesses.”
There aren’t many. The Utes have won seven in a row and outscored the opposition 263-61 during the streak.
Utah is also playing for not only the Pac-12 South division title, but perhaps a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Tucker said. “Utah has a great football team. They’re physical, they’re strong, both sides of the ball they’re very well coached. This is a great opportunity for us to compete. This is a great way to end the regular season and so it’s all going to be about our preparation and how we approach every day.
“This is a week that you could possibly have distractions. It’s a holiday week, you don’t have school, you have some more discretionary time. We’re really just dialed into how to make the most of our time so we can be prepared the best way we can be prepared.”
Senior punter Alex Kinney was named the Pac-12 special teams player of the week on Monday.
During the win against Washington, Kinney punted four times for a 45.8 averaging, while pinning the Huskies inside their 20-yard line three times. His day included a 62-yard punt that pinned Washington as its 1-yard line. He also pinned the Huskies at their 7 and 13 on other punts.
After the game, Kinney said it was really just playing complementary football.
“It’s everyone,” he said. “Coach Tucker always talks about offense, defense and special teams and how we all play the same role. Without (quarterback Steven) Montez making plays and the defense stopping them, my punts don’t matter. I could hit the ball, but it wouldn’t make a difference if they go down and score. It’s on everyone.”
Kinney is just the second punter in CU history to earn conference player of the week honors. The first was Mark Mariscal, who was honored twice by the Big 12 in 2002 – the year he won the Ray Guy Award and earned All-America honors.
Snow in forecast
There is snow in the forecast this week in Salt Lake City, which could be bad news for the Buffs. Since 2013, the Buffs are 0-8 when it snows or rains during a game and usually those games haven’t been close.
Tucker isn’t worried, however.
“The snow is good; that’s football weather to me,” he said. “I was literally born in the snow, January 4 in Cleveland, Ohio, so I love the snow.
“There’s no reason to have any issues relative to the weather. Both teams have to play in it, so I think it’s a positive. It’s just another opportunity for us to go out there and show what we can do, on the road, under whatever conditions.”