Game at a Glance
Matchup: Utah Utes (1-2, 1-2 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (4-0, 3-0 Pac-12)
Kickoff: 10:05 a.m. MST
Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Playing surface: Grass
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Odds: Colorado by 1
Series: CU leads 32-31-3
Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell and the rest of his staff can spend all the time they want trying to keep the players from reading headlines or scrolling through social media, but he knows that’s not realistic.
“They’re looking through all the scenarios and stuff,” Dorrell said, “but for me, it’s all for naught if we don’t take care of business this weekend.”
To this point, the 21st-ranked Buffaloes (4-0, 3-0 Pac-12) have taken care of business, but in a year that’s been anything but usual, this week in particular is new territory for CU.
With the Pac-12 championship game scheduled for next weekend, the Buffs have a chance to win the South division for the second time in five years. To do so, they need to beat Utah (1-2, 1-2) at Folsom Field, but also hope that UCLA (3-2, 3-2) knocks off No. 16 Southern California (4-0, 4-0) on Saturday night.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a situation in which CU and USC could both wind up undefeated, but only one advances to the conference title game. Their matchup was canceled on Nov. 28 because of COVID-19 issues at USC. If both teams win – or both teams lose – Saturday, the Trojans would win the tie-breaker against CU because of one extra win in the South division.
In Football Bowl Subdivision history, there’s never been an undefeated team that was eligible for a conference title game and didn’t get to go.
To this point, the Pac-12 has maintained that the title game will feature the North and South division champions, as usual. Very little is usual about this year, however.
Washington (3-1, 3-1) and Oregon (3-2, 3-2) were supposed to play for the North title on Saturday, but the game was canceled because of COVID-19 issues at Washington. That makes the Huskies the North champ.
For next week, it’s unclear if Washington could even play. If it can’t, would the Pac-12 send Oregon to the title game or let CU and USC battle for the crown?
Through it all, CU has quietly – until this week – put together an unexpected undefeated season. Now, there is a spotlight on the Buffs, in part because of the uncertainty surrounding the Pac-12 championship game.
Attention is good, but Dorrell doesn’t want it to cause his players to lose their focus.
“We’re still trying to prove to each other the type of program we are,” Dorrell said. “We’re getting some notice from that, just with our play.
“It does still come down to this week … and not really looking forward to anything beyond this week. We can control how well we play, we can control whether we’re prepared, and whether we’re playing with the right mindset. Those are the things that I’m continually preaching day in and day out.”
The last time CU received so much attention was in 2018, when it started 5-0, moved to No. 19 in the rankings and had Laviska Shenault in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy. The Buffs didn’t win again, going 0-7 the rest of the season.
To avoid a letdown this time, the Buffs have to contend with a Utah team that has won the South division the past two years. The Utes have been through plenty of adversity, including losing several players to the NFL, a COVID-19 outbreak that got their season started later than anyone, and losing their starting quarterback early in their first game. But, they’re still a tough, physical team that might give CU its most difficult test yet.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind that Colorado is going to get the best version of Utah that anyone’s seen to date this year,” said Fox Sports analyst Joel Klatt, a former CU quarterback who will be in Boulder for the game. “I think that (Utah is) gonna be better on Saturday than they have shown in any game that they played so far.”
And, the Buffs?
Dorrell is hoping his team can be at its best, too. Regardless of what happens, this has been a successful season, but Dorrell and the Buffs hope to keep it going and that means avoiding the hype and showing up to play a great game against the Utes.
“We’ve gotten some recognition, we got a ranking, and all those things are real positives from the work that we put into the season,” he said. “Definitely stuff that’s deserving for them. We’ve still got so much work to do. We still want to compete for the conference championship. … It’s vitally important for us to be in that picture, so we’re in pretty good shape. We need to take advantage of this opportunity that we’re in.
“Anything can happen. We’re going to have to just take care of things that we have, take care of our own business and then go through all the dust that settles and whatever things that come from that.”