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CU Buffs have plenty of motivation for finale at Utah

A win would shake up CFP, but sixth win for CU more pressing internally

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There is no shortage of reasons for the Colorado football team to be motivated going into Saturday’s regular season finale at Utah.

Being a 28-point underdog is certainly one of them.

“Twenty-eight and a half,” head coach Mel Tucker said Tuesday. “You forgot the half point.”

Indeed, the Buffaloes (5-6, 3-5 Pac-12) head to Salt Lake City as 28.5-point underdogs against the sixth-ranked Utes (10-1, 7-1).

Asked if he’s mentioned that spread to the team, Tucker said, “It’s not a secret.”

Receiver Laviska Shenault, in fact, talked about the spread before being asked about it.

“That just gives us a little bit more energy; a little bit more rowdy,” he said.

Quarterback Steven Montez’s response to the odds: “I think it just shows what Vegas thinks about us. So, good; let them sleep. Doesn’t really matter to us. We’re still going to work. We’re still going to go play as hard as we can.”

Many outside of the CU locker room are penciling in a victory for the Utes, who are playing for high stakes. Beating the Buffs will secure a second consecutive Pac-12 South division title and keep Utah’s hopes for a spot in the College Football Playoff alive.

Colorado is embracing the opportunity, as well.

BOULDER, CO - Nov. 23, 2019: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Despite being a 28.5-point underdog for Saturday’s game at Utah, the Colorado Buffaloes are set on hushing critics and getting bowl eligible.

With a 5:44 p.m. kickoff and a prime time slot on ABC, the Buffs will play in front of a national audience with a chance to earn bowl eligibility and shake up the CFP race.

“We’re trying to win, trying to get this bowl game,” senior linebacker Davion Taylor said. “It’ll be big for this program. It’ll be big for the state of Colorado, it’ll be big for everybody. And that’s one thing we’re really just trying to do.”

This is the third consecutive season that CU has gone into the finale with a 5-6 record and a chance to secure bowl eligibility. In 2017, the Buffs brought a two-game losing streak into Salt Lake City and got hammered, 34-13. In 2018, they brought a six-game losing streak into the finale at California and got off to an awful start in a 33-21 loss.

This time around, the Buffs actually have momentum going into the game, with a two-game winning streak, including a 20-14 win last week against Washington – a team that had dominated CU since the Buffs joined the Pac-12.

“We’ve carried that momentum of that game into practice and had a great week of practice so far,” Tucker said Tuesday. “I believe you gain confidence from having success, by having some measure of success and then you have to build on those successes and learn from them understand, why do we have success? What goes into that? So, absolutely, we’re gaining confidence, and we’re cementing our culture and we’re starting to see it on the field on a more consistent basis and that’s part of the process. That’s to be expected.”

Win or lose, the Buffs have maintained a steady work schedule throughout the season, but the added confidence has made a difference.

“It kind of feels like we’re getting back to how we were earlier in the year, feeling good and executing and cleaning up the mistakes,” Montez said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to go play Utah. Whether it’s cold, not cold, snowing, rain, sleet, fire on the field … it doesn’t really matter. We’re going to go out there and we’re going to just try to play the best football that we possibly can for 60 minutes.”

Do that and the Buffs might have a chance to beat that 28.5-point spread – and perhaps win outright and make a statement. Yet, while the Buffs are aware of the spread and of the national expectation for Utah to come out on top, their main focus is on getting themselves ready to perform.

“It’s going to be about how we prepare during this week, and then how we play in the game,” Tucker said. “That’s what it’s really going to be about: our relentless effort, how we play for each other, complementary football … start to finish and how we execute. That’s each and every week. This just happens to be the end of our regular season against a great opponent who is who’s trying to get in playoffs on national TV. Great opportunity.”

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