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Colorado Buffaloes control their Pac-12 destiny

A bowl game isn’t Colorado’s only goal for 2016.

Doug Pensinger/ Getty Images

Before the 2016 season started the No. 15 Colorado Buffaloes (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) were surrounded with questions. Would quarterback Sefo Liufau return to the field after breaking his Lisfranc injury? Can coach Mike MacIntyre turn the program around with a winning season or would he be let go after another disappointing season? How would CU replace the offensive production of Pac-12 all-time receptions leader Nelson Spruce? Would the reputation of Colorado football live up to the newly constructed and state-of-the-art Champions Center?

Nine games into the season and the Buffaloes critics have been silenced. No more awful postgame press conferences or media scrutiny from the outside. Since the Buffaloes joined the Pac-12 in 2011, the state of the program left them often times outmatched against opponents. MacIntyre’s team was no more than a bottom-dweller in a conference of elite teams competing for championships.

That’s certainly not the case and Colorado isn’t a weak team anymore. The Buffs have pushed toward the forefront of the national conversation, leading the Pac-12 South with the goal of winning a conference championship.

CU controls their own destiny in the next three games to keep their postseason plans intact, not needing to win all three to finish with a division title, but having no room for another loss if they hope to keep any potential playoff bid alive. The Buffs can lose one of the next two against Arizona or No. 25 Washington State, and still beat No. 16 Utah to win the South; assuming that No. 5 Washington beats USC on Nov. 12.

If Colorado’s able to win out for the rest of the season, including a victory in the Pac-12 Championship over No. 5 Washington or No. 25 Washington State, there’s a realistic possibility of a College Football Playoff berth.

College Football Playoff

Every game counts for the College Football Playoff selection committee and per the guidelines, a number of factors could play into the Buffs favor.

1. Conference Champions

If Colorado wins the Pac-12 the chances are likely they’ll be one of the four teams in the playoff. It’s the highest pinnacle that teams are ranked on by the committee and they would likely only be facing off against the Big 12 Champion or an underdog that won in one of the other conferences.

Advantage: Out of the "Power 5" conferences, CU would by a better strength of schedule against another two-loss conference champion like No. 18 Oklahoma State out of the Big 12.

Disadvantage: Teams like No. 7 Louisville and Auburn, who are not likely to play for a conference championship could make a case with losses to No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson and Texas A&M, respectively.

2. Strength of Schedule

Colorado came into the season with the 11th best strength of schedule, according to ESPN; currently adjusted to 13th.

Advantage: Michigan (No. 2) and USC (No. 12) have a better S.O.S. power index and CU stayed competitive throughout both games. If Colorado and Washington (No. 7) meet in the Pac-12 championship, no doubt it will help the Buffs case with a win.

Disadvantage: Struggling against a lesser opponent like Oregon (No. 43) could be looked at as a negative. The Buffs had a comeback win due to a defensive goal line stand in the closing minutes. Similar to the game against USC, except the committee looks at common opponents and that wouldn’t be Oregon.

3. Head-to-head results

A tough schedule means CU would have to remain a two-loss team for competition to be a factor. If Colorado can win against Washington State, Utah and Washington the Buffs would standout with three consecutive wins vs. ranked opponents and a conference championship.

Advantage: The first half against then No. 4 Michigan with a 21-7 lead on the road will be taken into consideration, along with a close road loss against a revitalized USC. Blowout victories against weaker opponents Colorado State, Idaho State, Oregon State, and Arizona State favor CU’s chances, but the outcomes of those games were expected. Both of CU’s losses were against quality opponents, unlike Oklahoma’s loss to Houston (now) and Florida’s loss to Tennessee.

Disadvantage: Teams like No. 4 Texas A&M, No. 7 Louisville, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 14 Oklahoma all have losses against ranked teams. CU could find help with No. 3 Michigan staying undefeated with a Big Ten championship and if USC has a close performance against Washington. Anything can happen. CU could win a conference championship and still be on the outside looking in.

4. Results against common opponents and other factors

This will be important for CU’s chances and how they’re viewed as a potential playoff candidate. Injuries to Sefo Liufau, Derek McCartney and Diego Gonzalez will be taken into consideration, along with what could’ve happened in the second half against Michigan.

If the Buffs take of business through the rest of the season, the decision will be up to the thirteen person committee. Let’s hope CU leaves it all out on the field and get a New Year’s Eve date in Tempe.