- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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There's nothing like being unbeaten in college football. Food tastes better. The air smells sweeter. Love pervades the campus community, enveloping the football team with warm fuzzies.
It's been a long time since Colorado could feel good about its football team, but the Buffaloes will enter Pac-12 play Saturday at Oregon State at 2-0, feeling pretty darn good about themselves, particularly after a dismal, 1-11 campaign in 2012.
"It's the energy and the spirit around this place, not only with the football team but with the school," defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe said. "You're getting a lot more students coming up to you, wishing you good luck and congratulating you on the 2-0 start. It makes you want to practice even harder."
Of course, there's a catch for the Buffs. They've been riding a 2-0 high for almost three weeks, as they last played on Sept. 7. So the euphoria has died down a bit. Moreover, their Sept. 14 game with Fresno State was canceled due to serious flooding, which led to loss of life and significant property damage.
Instead of playing a revenge game against the Bulldogs, who pummeled the Buffs 69-14 in 2012, the Colorado players served meals to emergency personnel and flood victims. It became a moment for perspective. There are emotional swings with 2-0 as well as 0-2, but real-world events possess a far greater gravity.
Some players were directly affected by the flooding, so coach Mike MacIntyre gave his team a couple of days off to get things back in order in their personal lives.
Now, attention turns back to football. MacIntyre's chief task is rebooting the early momentum so his team doesn't look rusty and out of sorts against the Beavers.
"It seems like three years ago since we last played," he said. "We've been trying to do everything we can to keep up the speed of the game. This is almost like another opening game for us."
The early returns from the 2-0 start suggest that MacIntyre has his team's attention. In both games, a squad that seemed to lack mental toughness a year ago took control in the fourth quarter. Colorado has outscored foes 39-10 in the fourth quarter this season. Last year, despite being hopelessly behind in most cases, the Buffs were outscored 112-59 in the fourth.
"I think it's the coaching," said Uzo-Diribe, when asked what the biggest difference from last year is. "A lot of the guys playing now are the same guys who played last year, but with this coaching staff, we are starting to take on an identity on defense and on offense. We really all bought into a system and schemes."
The Buffs seem more detail-oriented. For example, the biggest play of the victory over Colorado State was cornerback Greg Henderson's 53-yard scoop and score in the fourth quarter, which made Colorado's lead 33-24. Uzo-Diribe caused the fumble.
Not only had the defense taken a renewed focus on creating turnovers during spring and preseason practice, they'd scouted tendencies from Rams running back Kapri Bibbs, who sometimes was careless with ball security. That popped into Uzo-Diribe's head as he came up behind Bibbs.
"We came into the week after watching the film knowing that their running back's ball security wasn't great," Uzo-Diribe said. "Last season, both [running backs] showed that they fumbled the ball a lot. It was something we had in our mind that when we saw that running back -- get a strip attempt on the ball."
Turnovers could be critical Saturday because it's likely both defenses will have their hands full. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion ranks second in the nation with 401 yards passing per game. Colorado quarterback Connor Wood is fourth with 370.5. Wood's go-to guy is Paul Richardson, who leads the nation with 208.5 yards receiving per game. Beavers receiver Brandin Cooks is second with 159.8 yards per game. Cooks leads the nation with 10.8 receptions per game; Richardson is second at 10.5.
So it's a heck of a matchup of pass-catch combinations playing against defenses that remain works in progress.
Of course, it's likely the game will come down to who gets more out of their seeming weaknesses. Both teams have struggled to run the ball this year. Oregon State has 11 sacks in four games. Colorado has just three in two games. Both teams are positive so far in turnover margin. The Beavers are down three starters on their offensive line because of injury.
For the Beavers, a victory would set them up at 4-1 and 2-0 in Pac-12 play, with four consecutive wins putting some distance between them and an opening weekend loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. With a bye next week, the conference's most injury-ravaged team also could start to get healthy.
For the Buffaloes, an upset road victory would probably win over more than a few folks who have been slow to jump on the bandwagon in Boulder. At 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the conference, it would be reasonable to speculate about potential bowl eligibility, particularly if the school is able to schedule a patsy to replace the lost Fresno State game.
Uzo-Diribe said the Buffs locker room already believes.
"The past couple of seasons we've said that, but as the season went on, we didn't really believe it," he said. "I feel like this season, guys see it, guys believe it. They are working towards it."