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Utah football: No. 9 Colorado has made the journey from cellar to the top

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knew the Colorado Buffaloes were improving. It didn’t matter that they were just 2-25 in Pac-12 games since Mike MacIntyre left San Jose State to become their head coach in 2013.

“I could see them getting better every year, even though the record wasn’t markedly different,” Whittingham said. “You could see the personnel getting better.”

Whittingham credits Colorado’s rise to great recruiting.

“That’s what it’s all about. Everybody’s got good coaches. It’s the players that make the difference,” he said. “You know, the country is full of good coaches. It’s the teams that have the good players and do their job recruiting that end up being winners.”

The Buffaloes, who were picked to once again finish last in the Pac-12 South in the conference’s preseason media poll, is succeeding at a high level. They enter Saturday’s regular-season finale in Boulder against Utah (5:30 p.m., FOX) ranked ninth in the nation with an overall record of 9-2 and a league mark of 7-1.

A win over the Utes will give Colorado an outright Pac-12 South title and send the Buffs into the conference championship game.

MacIntyre addressed the journey to the top at his weekly press conference.

"You always want to win right away, but I knew for a fact that we had to build a foundation, culturally. Everybody says that, but you have to do that,” he said. “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.”

MacIntyre added that different parts came at different times. "It's all come together. If I had a timetable I would have said we're a year early to be honest,” he continued. “The great thing is with all those seniors and the culmination of a bunch of different things (that) happened, we were able to hit it right now — which is awesome.”

Colorado opened the season with lopsided wins over Colorado State (44-7) and Idaho State (56-7). Then came a 45-28 loss at Michigan. After that, the Buffaloes have gone 7-1 with victories against Oregon (41-38), Oregon State (47-6), Arizona State (40-16), Stanford (10-5), UCLA (20-10), Arizona (49-24) and Washington State (38-24). The lone loss was a 21-17 decision at USC. Five straight triumphs followed.

Whittingham has repeatedly noted that Colorado reminds him of highly touted Washington.

“They’re a complete team,” he said.

The Buffaloes lead the Pac-12 in passing defense (190.4 ypg), pass efficiency defense (101.2 rating) and total defense (322.4 ypg). Their offense ranks fourth in rushing (209.5 ypg) and fifth in pass efficiency (148.15 rating), yardage (479.3 ypg) and scoring (35.5 ppg).

Individual standouts include linebacker Jimmie Gilbert, running back Phillip Lindsay, linebacker Kenneth Olugbode, quarterback Sefo Liufau, return specialist Isaiah Oliver, defensive back Tedric Thompson and defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon.

All rank among Pac-12 statistical leaders at their respective positions.

No. 20 Utah (8-3, 5-3) at No. 9 Colorado (9-2, 7-1)

Folsom Field, Boulder

Saturday, 5:30 p.m.


Radio: ESPN 700AM