BOULDER - The Colorado Buffaloes are headed into the final stretch of the regular season with bowl game eligibility on the line, as they play host to Cal, ranked USC, then travel to Utah and surging Arizona State. The Buffs have to right the ship if they want to pull out a winning season and secure back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in over a decade.
As the seniors stare down the barrel of their lasting legacy at CU, those remaining Pac-12 tilts loom large. Can this year's graduating class keep the 'Rise' real in Boulder? Or will the team fall short of expectations and drop three or more of their final four matchups in black and gold?
Head coach Mike MacIntyre has set his sights on securing a second consecutive bowl game for the Buffs, and he believes his seniors can lead the way.
"I'm seeing hard work, good leadership and positive attitude," he said. "We call these the 'Gold Games,' our last four games. We have an opportunity to do something that hasn't happened been done here since 2004, and that's what we hope to do. Nobody's gone to back-to-back bowl games since 2004, 2005. That's been a long, long time. That's something that these guys can do. We're excited about these last four, especially this one coming up for Cal."
Team captain and versatile weapon George Frazier has lined up on both offense and defense this season. With a unique perspective on the struggles afflicting each side of the ball, Frazier is still unsure of what has plagued the Buffs this year.
"I'm definitely surprised we haven't played a full game on both sides of the ball," Frazier said. "I can't put my finger on the cause. I feel like as a team we just have to make sure everybody is locked in for the game, not where one side of the ball is more excited than the other. We have to fly around as a unit and understand that the offense is playing for the defense and the defense is playing for the offense and the special teams plays everybody. We have to make sure everybody's out there doing their job and making sure we're all working toward the same goal."
The comparisons between this team and last year's squad have been pervasive, with a predicted shift in balance as the veteran offense stepped in for a largely revamped defense. Instead, the offensive side of the ball has fallen to pieces, with the once highly-touted receiving corps disappearing more every week and starting quarterback Steven Montez struggling to retain his starting job.
According to Frazier, CU's problems this season could be partially due to their success last year. He wants the Buffs to get back to tuning it all out and getting tough when things fall apart.
"Last year's team had a lot of guys that went through the upsetting seasons," Frazier said. "That's probably the main difference. This year, we have a lot of veterans still here, but there's not as many. We're used to doing a lot of good things on the field, so when things get shaky I feel like we have to get back to putting your head down and not worry about it as much. Once we get that back on our team we won't have any problems."
No matter the magnitude of their struggles, the Buffs remain resilient. Though it can be harder to find strength and faith in the face of adversity, the Buffs aren't looking back - they're looking forward.
"We love to fight, love to struggle," Frazier said. "We're kind of used to it. We just have to every week, go back to work, put our heads down and act like nothing happened. We've always had the motto, 1-0 each week so we don't want to worry about the last one."
Lead running back Phil Lindsay, who has been the lone bright point in the Buffs offensive collapse, agreed. The answer is not to place blame, but to look ahead and focus on winning.
"You just have to keep plugging at it, you can't sit here and point fingers," Lindsay said. "What's done is done, now we move on. We still have a chance to win the rest of our games, and that's what we're focused on. You can't look back at the past because, you know, it's the past, you can't change it now. For us, it's about looking forward and getting ready for the next game against Cal."
The Buffs have four more shots to secure two wins and rewrite the narrative of their 2017 season. Back-to-back bowls would mean that the 'Rise' continues in Boulder, and finishing strong would alter the legacy of this year's senior class for the better. CU has the opportunity to turn the tide, and it all starts this weekend as the Buffs host Cal at Folsom.