BOULDER - For as long as college football coaches have been blowing whistles and blasting officials, they’ve hoped to view November as a month to remember. It hadn’t worked that way recently at Colorado.
For the Buffaloes, November has been the month reserved for football seasons to whimper and die. CU hasn’t played past November - in a postseason game - since 2007, and very few Buffs fans viewed 2013 as offering a break in that woeful streak.
We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, because with six games remaining CU is only halfway to the six wins required for postseason eligibility. The Buffs reached that midway point on Saturday at Folsom Field, disposing of Charleston Southern 43-10 in a manner they hope readies them for Arizona’s visit next weekend.
Let me be among the first (hundred, I’m guessing) to proclaim this as a monster game for your Buffs. It’s as big for first-year coach Mike MacIntyre as was his debut against Colorado State on Sept. 1 - and he did OK in that one, winning 41-27. It’s as big for the program as the final three games of Brian Cabral’s interim stint in 2010 - the last time the Buffs could honestly talk bowl talk.
But MacIntytre is still searching for ‘W’ No. 1 in the Pac-12 Conference, which beating Arizona would provide after three nasty league losses that saw CU outscored 155-46 by Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State. If anyone says they expected MacIntyre’s first Buffs team to prance into Pac-12 play and stand up to the upper echelon teams, I’m calling you on it. Don’t even try.
In its preseason poll in late July, media covering the Pac-12 picked Arizona to finish behind UCLA, Arizona State and USC in the South Division. With the exception of USC at No. 3, that forecast could hold up nicely. Arizona was put in the fourth slot and CU was predicted to bring up the rear, behind only Utah. The Wildcats, entering their game Saturday night against Utah, were 3-2 overall, 0-2 in the conference. So I’d say calling the Buffs’ next opponent a mid- to lower-echelon Pac-12 team should hurt no one’s feelings.
Call the Wildcats what you will, but view next Saturday’s matchup as CU receiver Paul Richardson does: “It’s a huge game.”
If the Buffs can leave October 4-3, they will have exceeded last season’s win total by three - a major accomplishment - and will have positioned themselves for a chance to once again make November a month to remember in CU football.
Or here’s how MacIntyre put it in Saturday’s postgame media conference: “We’re 3-3 with three bowl (eligible) wins. We need to go get the one next week and if we do that it means November matters in Colorado - which is great. That’s what our kids want to have happen.”
But MacIntyre also is realistic in reflecting on how it’s gone so far in his first Pac-12 season. “We have to play better in the Pac-12, I have to coach better . . . and that’s what we plan on doing,” he said. “I think we play better at home, too. I think they enjoy playing at home, so I’m excited about us playing at home next Saturday against a good Arizona team with a running back that can really run.” (Ka’Deem Carey broke the school and conference single-game rushing records with 366 yards against CU last season).
Richardson, who caught eight of Sefo Liufau’s passes for 122 yards including a 60-yard touchdown on Saturday, said creeping back above .500 would provide an immeasurable lift for the Buffs.
“You never want to be below .500,” “P-Rich” said. “As much as people try not to think about it, it puts you in a different mindset to where now we’re .500 and we’re fighting not to be below. So now we’ve got a competitive edge that we need to keep fueling and I think we’ll be fine.”
Since their entry into the Pac-12, the Buffs and Wildcats have split their two games - each team winning at home. CU won 48-29 in Boulder in 2011, Arizona won 56-31 - with Carey running wild - last November in Tucson.
“I don’t know what the big history is down the line (between CU and Arizona), but I do know that the most recent history is that they came down here on our field and we handled our business and we went to their field and they handled their business,” Richardson said. “I was kind of like, ‘What’s up?’”
As large as the game looms for his team, Richardson also will have a personal stake in it. His cousin, Shaquille Richardson, is a senior cornerback for the Wildcats and likely will be matched up against his cuz on occasion. “We grew up together,” Paul Richardson said. “He’s healthy now, I’m healthy now . . . it should be a lot of fun. This will be a great game, especially with us coming off a win and knowing what we have to do in these last six games to get a bowl game.”
Coaches aren’t big on looking past the next game, but it’s very permissible here. After Arizona, CU opens November with games against a pair of Top 25 opponents - at No. 9 UCLA on Nov. 2, at No. 20 Washington on Nov. 9. OK, upsets are possible and MacIntyre says his team gets up every Saturday morning, eats its granola and laces up its cleats believing it will win.
However . . .
November’s final three Saturdays find CU hosting California (Nov. 16) and Southern California (Nov. 23) before travelling to Utah (Nov. 30). Realistically, the two ‘W’s required to push the Buffs into the postseason (provided they can get one against Arizona) likely must come in their final three games.
Do that, and MacIntyre’s first November in Boulder truly becomes . . . go ahead and finish the sentence.