By Michael Wagaman, Associated Press
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — A year ago, Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre watched his struggling team play Stanford close at first before a pair of quick scores just before halftime broke the game open and helped catapult the Cardinal to their third Pac-12 championship in four years.
How quickly things have changed.
This season the Buffaloes are tied for first place in the South Division and charging hard toward a potential berth in the conference title game, while Stanford is two games off the pace in the North and simply trying to stay in the postseason picture.
Both teams can take a big step forward when they meet for a rare noon kickoff Saturday at Stanford Stadium.
Beating Stanford would not only enhance the Buffaloes’ (5-2, 3-1) hold on the division lead but it would also make them bowl eligible just one year after they lost eight of their nine conference games.
That’s nice, Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay said, but he and his teammates remain focused on a bigger prize.
“Our goal is Pac-12 champs, there’s nothing less than that for us,” Lindsay said. “The bowl game will come as we continue to win games. We just need to focus on ourselves and Colorado football.”
The Buffaloes are off to their best start since 2005 but have lost five straight to the Cardinals, including all three times since Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011.
MacIntyre said his team has to match Stanford’s toughness in order to win, something the Buffaloes failed to do a year ago when they lost 42-10
“We have to be more physical than we were last year,” MacIntyre said. “We have to go in there and go toe-to-toe with them. We have to surpass what they do to be able to win the football game. That’s a big challenge for us.”
This year could be different.
Stanford (4-2, 2-2) has come back to the pack after being dominant in the conference for several years. Many of the problems have come on offense and have been self-inflicted, from turnovers to costly penalties in the red zone that have repeatedly derailed the Cardinal’s once-prolific offense.
“Those are things that we don’t have here and that we don’t accept here,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “The thing with us is not doing those things that hurt us. It’s just those one or two plays that kill a drive that we just can’t have.”