Photo by Dustin Bradford, Getty Images

No. 16 Colorado Is Learning How To Deal With Unexpected Expectations

There is a saying in sports when it comes to celebrating: “Act like you’ve been there.”

It was coined by the great Vince Lombardi, who used it in reference to getting into the end zone, but we as a sports culture have adapted it to fit any situation, from actual touchdowns to moral victories to the rise and fall of programs.

The Colorado Buffalos are currently experiencing a rise, one they claim is very real. It’s hard to argue against the tangible evidence: a 7-2 season thus far, 5-1 in the Pac-12 and the Buffs are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. That’s not to mention their five conference wins this season matches their total number of wins from their first five seasons in the Pac-12.

Colorado also re-entered the national polls this past October for the first time since 2005. The Buffaloes have beaten Oregon, Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA, all teams that defeated them last year.

“Everybody we have beaten has beat us three years in a row basically, so this is new for us,” joked Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre in the post-game press conference after a 20-10 victory over the Bruins last Thursday night.

The culture change in Boulder has come with a new set of problems. Colorado is now a team with a target on its back, and programs like UCLA are attempting to make the Buffaloes lose their composure in an effort to get them to slip up.

“I told them every team that we are playing now, now that we are ranked and all that, they are going to come with a little bit more edge,” said MacIntyre.

The Bruins managed to get under Colorado’s skin, creating a situation in which the Buffs committed more penalties than fans thought humanly possible, including four unsportsmanlike conduct flags and four personal fouls that contributed to 128 total yards of yellow.

“We have got to be able to have better poise in those situations,” remarked MacIntyre. “You just can’t do that and we haven’t done that in the past and we will not do it again.”

To be fair, the Bruins accrued 13 penalties of their own totaling 96 lost yards. So it was an ugly game all around.

Despite the miscues and the early loss of outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert to a targeting call, the Buffs managed to find a way to win the game, which in quarterback Sefo Liufau’s opinion is the only thing that matters.

“Just happy to get the win, and I think it’s a good testament that good teams really find a way to win when you’re not playing at your best,” said Liufau post-game.

Colorado certainly is proving to the conference and the country that it’s a good team, alright.

The Buffs rank second in red zone defense, and they boast the ninth-ranked defense in the nation, yielding just 296.9 yards per game, which is also the best in the Pac-12. They also rank 12th in scoring defense, giving up just 17.2 points per game.

Defense is a source of pride for MacIntyre, who said early on his team would be among the best in the country.

“I said that before the season,” said MacIntrye. “I said we should be in the top echelon in the Pac-12 and be one of top-20 defenses in America. I said that, and I believe that.”

The ultimate goal for MacIntyre and his team is the coveted Pac-12 crown. But you don’t get there by taunting teams and targeting players.

“I told them we are here to be Pac-12 champions,” explained MacIntrye. “I want them to enjoy the win because they are so hard to come by, but when we come back tomorrow we are going to correct them. We are going to work on them. We have extra running we are going to do for personal fouls, and that’s the whole team.”

Colorado has a solid slate of “gold” games ahead to finish out the season, with bouts at Arizona and home games against Washington State and Utah. Wins against all three would help lock up a Pac-12 South berth to the championship.

The games to remember may be played in November, but the realness of the rise would be immortalized with one specific win in December.

“We’ve got too much at stake,” MacIntyre said of letting teams continue to trip them up.

As the Buffs continue their rise, each win brings with it a little redemption, a sliver of revenge and an ever-important lesson on what it means to be there, even this particular crew has never been there before.

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