It had been such a struggle over the last three years to achieve bowl eligibility that finally getting there on Saturday evening seemed like a reason for the Colorado Buffaloes to celebrate.
Especially in a year like this, where the Buffs seemingly had so much stacked against them, reaching that elusive benchmark is a big deal.
Or, maybe not.
“I really don’t think of it that way,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said after Saturday’s 20-10 win against San Diego State.
Dorrell, of course, is happy to put the Buffs (3-0, 2-0 Pac-12) in position to play in the postseason – if there is a postseason – but it’s hardly time to celebrate.
“We’ve still got a season to play,” he said. “I’m not even thinking about bowls right now. I’m focused on the next job or the next task in front of us, which is Arizona. I’m going to enjoy this victory today, but we’ve still got plans to do a lot of things as we move through the season.”
CU is bowl eligible for the first time since 2016 – a year that snapped a nine-year bowl drought – but much like that team four years ago, the Buffs are aiming for much more as they prepare to face Arizona (0-3, 0-3) on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz. (5 p.m., TV: FS-1).
The Buffs came out of nowhere to win the Pac-12 South title in 2016 and, remarkably, have a chance to do the same thing this year. Projected by many to finish at or near the bottom of the South, the Buffs have already exceeded expectations. Oddsmakers set the over/under on CU’s win total at 1.5. The Buffs have doubled that and they’re only halfway through the season, as long as they can still get the next three games played.
“I think we went into the season with a chip on our shoulder,” senior safety Derrion Rakestraw said. “We knew going into the season a lot of people weren’t going to be talking about us, a lot of people were going to be down on us. That was just our edge. We knew we had to go out there and prove something. So, that’s what we’ve been trying to do week in, week out.”
CU is one of just three undefeated teams in the Pac-12, but doesn’t control its own path to the South division title. The Buffs could have jumped into the driver’s seat with a win at Southern California (3-0, 3-0) on Saturday, but that game was canceled because of COVID-19 cases at USC and won’t be made up.
Now, the Buffs have to hope someone else beats the Trojans – if USC can get cleared to play again, that is. They can’t control what happens to the Trojans, but they can put themselves in position to win the South by taking care of Arizona on Saturday and Utah (0-2, 0-2) on Dec. 12.
Dorrell, however, wasn’t thinking much about bowl eligibility or the South race. CU’s had a “go 1-0 this week” mindset all year and that was Dorrell’s message Saturday night.
“We had a great victory,” he said. “My mind is already on the aspects of what we need to fix to get ready for Arizona. (Bowl eligibility) is great for the program. I’ve got aspirations for us to continue to win. And I think all those things take care of itself, to be honest with you, so we’re still marching forward, trying to maximize every opportunity that we have in front of us.”
Junior linebacker Carson Wells said CU’s plan for this week is simple: “Just keep playing hard.”
Miller sidelined again
Defensive back Chris Miller can’t shake the injury bug. The junior has dealt with several injuries during his career, but came into the season as the starter at Star backer.
Miller played well in the opener against UCLA, but injured his shoulder late in the game. He missed the Nov. 14 game at Stanford, but returned Saturday night. Late in the first half, he made a nice play for a 4-yard loss by the Aztecs, but appeared to injure his shoulder again and didn’t return to the game.
Miller’s status going forward is unknown, but Rakestraw said, “He’s gonna keep his own spirits up. He was on the sideline coaching us and he was all smiles. We’ve got his back and he’s got our back.”
Buffs linebacker Nate Landman was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week for his performance against San Diego State.
Landman had 11 tackles and a career-high three sacks, helping the Buffs to a dominant effort, holding SDSU to 155 yards of offense.
Since 2004, Landman is just the second CU player to earn Walter Camp player of the week honors. Defensive back Terrence Wheatley was honored Oct. 28, 2007.
CU received 21 points in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, ranking 30th overall. … The Buffs defense ranks fourth nationally in opponent completion percentage (50.0) and ninth in opposing QB rating (107.91). They lead the Pac-12 in both categories.
CU opponent glance
Opponent: Arizona Wildcats
Game time: Saturday, 5 p.m., at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.
Coach: Kevin Sumlin, 3rd season (9-18; 95-62 career)
Record: 0-3, 0-3 Pac-12
Last week: Lost at UCLA, 27-10
Notable: On Oct. 5, 2019, Arizona left Boulder with a 35-30 win and a 4-1 record. The Wildcats haven’t won since, losing a school-record 10 in a row. … Arizona has won three in a row against the Buffs and is 7-2 against them since CU joined the Pac-12 in 2011. … Starting quarterback Grant Gunnell injured his shoulder on the first play of Saturday’s loss to UCLA. After the game, Sumlin told reporters Gunnell would be evaluated this week and his status for the CU game is unknown. … In place of Gunnell, freshman Will Plummer made his collegiate debut, going 17-for-35 for 151 yards and two interceptions. He added 49 yards on 12 rushing attempts. … Gary Brightwell leads the Wildcats with 224 rushing yards. … Stanley Berryhill III has led Arizona in receiving in all three games and has 18 catches for 193 yards and three touchdowns this season. … According to WildcatAuthority.com, Arizona reserve defensive backs McKenzie Barnes, Malik Hausman and Bobby Wolfe have all opted out of the remainder of the season.