By Arnie Stapleton, AP sports writer
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — For Mike MacIntyre, the best thing about the biggest turnaround in college football this season is that Colorado’s seniors are getting to experience the Buffaloes’ renaissance themselves.
To do that, the ninth-ranked Buffaloes (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12, No. 9 CFP) have to beat No. 21 Utah on Saturday night at Folsom Field.
A win secures the Pac-12 South title for the Buffaloes, who lost 40 of their first 45 conference games since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, including 2-25 under MacIntyre, who came aboard in 2013.
An upset by the Utes and USC would instead head to the Pac-12 title game for a shot at the Rose Bowl — or maybe the College Football Playoff.
The Utes (8-3, 5-3) were also in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title until losing to Oregon 30-28 on a last-minute touchdown at home last week.
Now, they’re out to spoil the Buffaloes’ dream year.
“I want them to feel how we felt after Oregon,” senior receiver Tim Patrick said. “You always have to find something to play for. We’re playing the No. 9 team in the country at their place. They’re going to be jumping because it’s going to be their first time having a chance to go to the Pac-12 championship. I like playing the spoiler.”
The Buffaloes have secured their first winning season since 2005 and are bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.
MacIntyre said the Buffs are ahead of schedule.
“You always want to win right away, but I knew for a fact that we had to build a foundation, culturally,” he said. “Everybody says that, but in any company you have do that. We had to build a foundation physically and we had to build a foundation mentally, because we were deficient in all those areas and it takes a while to do all those.
“The great thing is with all those seniors and the culmination of a bunch of different things happened, we were able to hit it right now, which is awesome.”
The Buffs are celebrating the journey but they’re focused on finishing the race.
“In my eyes if we don’t win Saturday (and) we don’t become Pac-12 South champs, to me we just won a bunch of games,” senior center Alex Kelley said. “It’s cool, but that’s not our ultimate goal.”
Other sub-plots as the Buffaloes try to snap a four-game losing streak to the Utes on Saturday night:
Sustained excellence: The Buffaloes are counting on their resurgence being more than a one-year wonder, and a trip to the conference title game would help.
“Football is important at the University of Colorado, but it just hasn’t been very good in a while,” MacIntyre said. “Hopefully we can keep doing what we’re enjoying doing and keep building it. The kids in high school, we weren’t very good when they were younger. Hopefully we can keep developing that and get a lot of following back.”
The Buffs’ resurgence already has paid dividends: Pomona lineman Jake Moretti, the state’s top football recruit in the class of 2017, flipped his commitment from Ohio State to Colorado, joining a bumper Buffs recruiting class that will replace their sensational senior class.
Cup of Joe: Utah running back Joe Williams has run for 1,088 yards in just seven games, including 1,013 yards in the five games since he came out of retirement. His 155.5 yards per game put him on pace for a school record.
“I wish he would have stayed retired,” MacIntyre said. “He might have found a secret that other running backs will use out there: stay off your legs for a while and don’t go through camp and come back fresh.”
Senior celebrations: Unlike recent seasons, senior day at CU won’t be a tearful goodbye.
“I told them everybody’s coming here for Thanksgiving and everybody’s going to be excited, but they’re not coming here for their last game,” MacIntyre said. “They’re coming here to see if they can go to Levi’s Stadium. It’s a whole different mentality. To me, it’s definitely a send-off, but it’s not an end-off.”
That’s my quarterback What else can MacIntyre say about senior Sefo Liufau? Asked what the record-breaking QB has meant to the Buffs program, MacIntyre said: “Everything. He’s meant everything.”
AP sports writer Kareem Copeland contributed.