The Bottom Line
The No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes find themselves in a position that has been unfamiliar to the team since the fall of 2016: contending to represent the Pac-12 South in the conference’s championship game. CU will have one last opportunity to prove its worth in Saturday’s matchup against Pac-12 South rival Utah. With a 4-0 record in the midst of COVID-19, the Buffaloes have seen extraordinary success under even more extraordinary circumstances.
Undefeated through four games under the leadership of a first-year head coach, a first-year quarterback and the third-longest odds to win the Pac-12 title, CU is ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in two years. So, what exactly do the Buffs need to happen for a chance to redeem its 41-10 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 title game five years ago?
Two things have to happen. Number one: CU must beat visiting Utah. Number two: USC must lose to rival UCLA on Saturday. Both of these things have to happen this weekend for CU to earn an opportunity to win its first conference championship since CU won the Big 10 in 2001; when approximately half of the current CU team was born.
While the Buffs were highly doubted to win the Pac-12, the USC Trojans were given the second-best odds. Could Saturday’s edition of the “Rumble in the Rockies” and the cross-town rivalry in Los Angeles upset preseason predictions? After all, the last time the Buffs made it to the Pac-12 Championship, it was when they were given the longest preseason odds to win the conference. The team they beat to punch their ticket? Utah.
CU and USC are both 4-0. The Buffs, however, stand only 3-0 in conference play with its fourth win against the Mountain West Conference’s San Diego State. Should both teams win this weekend, they will both finish the regular season with an overall record of 5-0. The tiebreaker to decide who wins the Pac-12 South and heads to the conference title game is conference record and this technically favors the Trojans because all five of their regular season games were conference matchups. CU will be short one matchup due to in-conference game cancellations scheduled for week two and week three against Arizona State and coincidentally, USC. Both were canceled due to the Buffs’ opponents suffering COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Pac-12’s decision to stick to its traditional North vs South methodology to decide the conference victor in a season that has been anything, and everything, but traditional has put CU in a peculiar and difficult position. If the Buffs and Trojans remain the only two undefeated teams in the conference, whichever team ends up making the championship will inevitably play a team from the North Division where every team sports at least one loss.
USC’s forced cancellation of its head-to-head matchup with CU inadvertently increased its chances to make the Pac-12 title game. Thus, barring both a CU win and USC loss this weekend, the Trojans have actually stacked the odds in their favor. In this scenario, USC’s opponent will likely be ranked lower than the Buffs and could have a worse record.
|CU OUTCOME v UTAH||USC OUTCOME v UCLA||PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP|
|Loss||Win||USC v North Winner|
|Loss||Cancellation||USC v North Winner|
|Loss||Loss||USC v North Winner|
|Cancellation||Win||USC v North Winner|
|Cancellation||Cancellation||USC v North Winner|
|Cancellation||Loss||CU v North Winner|
|Win||Win||USC v North Winner|
|Win||Cancellation||USC v North Winner|
|Win||Loss||CU v North Winner|
Bowl Eligibility Still Secured
Fortunately for Buffalo fans, regardless of Saturday’s outcomes, CU’s undefeated record thus far has sealed bowl eligibility for the first time since their 2016 trip to the Alamo Bowl, where CU lost handily to Oklahoma State. This season the Buffs are likely to end up in the Fiesta Bowl, Alamo Bowl, or Independence Bowl. If they win the Pac-12 title, the next stop could likely be the Fiesta Bowl. If the Buffs ultimately second or third in the conference standings, however, a matchup against Army in the Independence Bowl or Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl is the likely outcome according to CBS Sports.
CU’s showdown in Boulder with Utah is set for Saturday at 10:05 a.m. MST in the primetime slot on Fox Sports. (Note: the game was previously scheduled to be played Friday night at 7:30p.m. MST.)
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Kieran Murphy at email@example.com.