In 2017, the Buffs lost back-to-back games against Arizona and UCLA by less than a touchdown. The margin of victory in both of these games likely came down to a matter of several plays. When reflecting on the season, the outcome of these divisional matchups helped determine the team’s fate and kept them from reaching a bowl game. Had they won just one of these games, Colorado likely would’ve drawn a game in December.
It was no coincidence that Coach MacIntyre thought about the what-ifs when reflecting on last season at media day, talking about how the trajectory could’ve been substantially different had they won both of them and traveled to Corvallis riding a 5-1 record.
Like last season, this year will also come down to how the Buffs do in close games. Two swing games on the Buffs schedule this year are home matchups against UCLA on September 28 and Utah on November 17th.
Colorado was 1-3 in conference play at home last year, with their lone victory coming against a struggling Cal Bears team. Two of those loses were blowouts by two touchdowns or more. If they want any shot at improving this year, they’re going to need to play better at Folsom Field.
The early matchup against UCLA is likely a game that’ll come down to the wire. The Bruins head into 2018 as a team that could be on the border of reaching a bowl game with their revamped roster and flashy new head coach. Although there are questions about who’ll be lining up under center and whether their run defense can improve, their receiver play and play calling should be enough to help push them through a mediocre schedule.
The key in defeating the Bruins will be eliminating mental mistakes, capitalizing on turnovers and home field advantage, and making big plays at the right time. In the matchup between the two teams last year, the Buffs failed on a fake field goal attempt right before halftime, couldn't score a touchdown from inside the redzone after a timely interception by Evan Worthington, and struggled to move the ball as a whole in the second half.
Had they kicked a field goal heading into halftime (while being set to receive the ball first in the 2nd half) and scored a touchdown off the turnover, the outcome of the game would’ve been a lot different. This time around, Colorado will need to use the energy of Folsom Field to their advantage to force UCLA into making those types of mistakes, while doing a better job of riding momentum swinging turnovers. If they can do both these things, this’ll be a early season nailbiter that the Buffs can tally in the win column.
The second swing game that’ll determine whether or not the Buffs reach a bowl game will be their senior day matchup against the Utah Utes. Although Utah is a much-improved dark horse candidate to win the Pac-12 South this season, and lost several close games of their own last year, the uncertainty and tough predictability of a late fall matchup at Folsom Field should be enough to give Colorado a chance in this one.
Last year, the Utes used the home field advantage and stigma of Senior Day to their advantage, whooping the Buffs 34-13 and shattering hopes of a bowl game in the process. Like Utah did last year, the Buffs will need to get off a quick start on both sides of the ball to get the crowd into the game, and run a fast paced offense to keep a talented Utes defense on their heels. As the case will be against UCLA, Colorado will also need to force some turnovers and make some timely plays. If they just a few of these things, this could turn into a game that the Buffs steal late in the season.
Overall if Colorado is able to do better down the stretch in close games like these are shaping up to be, the team will see much better overall results in 2018.