This 2014 Buffaloes squad is far from the worst that's suited up in the black and gold. In my lifetime, the 2006 and 2012 teams own top honors for Most Abysmal and Most Likely To Go Winless In Conference Play But Somehow Miraculously Avoiding Doing So. (Shout out to @CU_Video and Mike Leach for that 2012 win in Pullman.) I've only heard tales and anecdotes about the powder blue era under Chuck Fairbanks but I can imagine that it looked and felt similar.
There was very little that could be considered "fun" or "enjoyable" about those teams. This year, there is obviously very much that is good about the Buffs. The offense is setting school records and has been able to move the ball effectively on just about every team they've faced. The defense has shown flashes where previously there was only darkness, and has kept games much, much tighter than they were able to in the previous three seasons. CU could easily be sitting at 5-3 instead of 2-6, they're so close it hurts. How can this young team find it's way over the hump (more like The Wall) and into the Pac-12 win column?
It starts on the line, as all things in this sport do. This year, the Buffs are allowing less sacks, less pressure, and are moving the ball at a nice clip behind a starting five that's outperformed most expectations. The offense is much more consistent and much more well rounded this go-around, but they've lacked the execution on that final clutch play. They came up short on the goal line in Berkeley, they were unable to convert on 3rd and 4th and 6 against Oregon State, and they were forced to settle for field goals three straight trips against UCLA at the end of regulation and in overtime. It's a good bet that Saturday's contest will come down to a similar situation and someone on that offense is going to need to step up and make that critical play. The offensive line has a tough task in slowing up a rabid Husky pass rush but it simply has to happen in crunch time, otherwise CU will be staring down yet another bitter loss.
Defensively, the Buffaloes will need to deliver similar pressure to Cyler Miles and Washington's ground game. The Husky offense has been stuck in neutral of late but they still possess talented athletes at the skill positions and it won't take too many mental errors on the Buffs' part to give them the spark they're looking for. In the previous two close losses Colorado dug itself a double-digit hole early but then rallied to stymie the opposition late and give their offense a chance to win the game. It would be nice if, for a change, they're able to come out of the tunnel and hold Washington scoreless on its opening drives. A little more room for error late would go a long ways towards helping this team close out a win. A turnover or two along the way wouldn't hurt either, but that's something this team has had trouble forcing so I'm not holding my breath.
The special teams units have actually steadily improved, though they have had their moments. The Buffs were largely able to keep the ball out of Ishmael Adams' hands last week and Will Oliver capitalized on every chance he was given. Darragh O'Neill is having his best campaign yet, pinning opponents inside their own 20 on nearly half of his punts. He currently sits 20th in the nation in gross average at 44.4 yards per kick. Keeping the Huskies backed up and forcing them to drive the distance of the field more times than not will be crucial to improving CU's chances late in the game.
The Buffs are right there. They're doing a lot of things well across the board, better than they have in recent memory. But moral victories are not actual victories. They can be built upon but they won't mean much unless the wins eventually come. This season was always going to be a stepping stone, the only question was how big of a step that stone would allow. A 5-3 record with a shot at a bowl bid would have been such a shot of adrenaline to this program. I can't get over how close that scenario is to reality. As it stands, next year will be the Bowl or Bust season. The remainder of this season will be about learning how to win. They know full well how to put themselves in position, now it's about sealing the deal and there's no better place and time to start than at Folsom Field this weekend.