DENVER -- Flux is not a town in Colorado. It’s the state of college football in Colorado.
Colorado, Colorado State and Air Force must win on Saturday to create stability for the rest of the year.
Losses here by one — or all three — would severely damage aspirations for the Rams, the Buffs and the Falcons.
Examine each in mid-October halfway through the season.
CU began 3-0, including a victory over CSU, in the non-conference section of the schedule, but has lost three in a row in the Pac-12.
The Buffaloes are last in the conference’s South Division, and tied for 10th in the Pac-12 with the overall 3-3 mark.
Only Oregon State is worse with a 1-5 record, and the Beavers will play the Buffs this weekend. Oregon State lost in the opening game to CSU, but gets CU at home.
After a sensational program-changing season in ’16, the Buffs have reverted quickly to being a conference cellar dweller again. The division and conference titles realistically are out of reach, and the Rose Bowl is a mirage. Any of the Buffaloes' chances for a minor bowl will be reduced to slim, and close to none, if they don’t beat this bad bunch at Reser Stadium in Corvallis Saturday afternoon.
In order to have bowl consideration, Colorado has to win at least six games. Obviously, they are halfway there, but the second half is considerably more difficult after the trip to Oregon.
They have to travel to Washington State, undefeated and ranked No. 8 in the country, Arizona State (2-3) and Utah (4-1). One victory out of those three might be possible, which is why the Oregon State game is so significant. Because, in Boulder, the Buffs have Cal and the No. 13-ranked USC Trojans. Cal is down, but never easy when playing the Buffs. The Buffs need to beat the two Bees – Beavers and Bears – and pull off an upset in another game or two to return to the postseason.
With only seven conference teams likely to get into bowls, the Buffs’ best hope is a stay at the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl. But they must win three, probably four.
Before the season, I suggested Colorado State would be stronger than the Buffs. I was scoffed at, and after the Rams dropped the annual affair with the Buffaloes, I took more grief. Certainly, CSU is in the Mountain West Conference, which is not on a national scale with the Five Majors, and plays a schedule not nearly as tough, honestly, as Colorado’s.
However, the Rams, who possess a 4-2 record, have a legitimate opportunity to play in the conference championship.
In the Mountain West, the championship game is played at a conference school. Wouldn't it be a remarkable achievement if the Rams could be the host of the MWC title contest in their new stadium?
And the winner of that game would play in the Las Vegas Bowl – unless the conference champion qualifies for the college football playoffs or one of the major bowls. Which is not likely.
There is a major obstacle for the Rams: San Diego State.
And, of course, the rest of the CSU schedule. (CSU and San Diego Stadium do not meet in the regular season.)
The Rams lead the Mountain Division with a 2-0 record and play at home on Saturday night against Nevada. Colorado State shouldn't have much trouble dusting off the 1-5 Wolf Pack. Then, the Rams’ remaining games are at New Mexico, home against Air Force, at Wyoming, Boise State in Ft. Collins and San Jose State at home to close out the season. New Mexico will be a test, as Air Force already has found out. Air Force and Wyoming, natural rivals, will be serious and close games, and Boise State, despite a 3-2 record, always is a big challenge. San Jose is 1-6.
If the Rams can win four or five they’d take the division and confront San Diego State, currently undefeated and ranked.
So this is a have-to game if the Rams want to continue to be the favorites in the division.
And Air Force is striving to end a four-game setback streak and have the slightest possibility of a bowl bid. They face Nevada-Las Vegas at home Saturday, but have road games at CSU, Wyoming and Boise State. No bargains there. And they still are leading up to a home game with Army after barely falling to Navy.
Thus, Saturday is critical to all three of those major schools.