BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Colorado interim coach Kurt Roper fully understands the challenge in his team's Pac-12 finale against California.
A win over the Golden Bears on Saturday would make the Buffaloes bowl eligible and would be a significant step forward one week after coach Mike MacIntyre was fired. A loss would extend the team's long losing streak in a season of disappointment and frustration.
"I really look at a football season a lot like a heavyweight boxing match," Roper said. "You have 12 rounds, and here comes round 12. It doesn't matter what happened in the previous rounds."
Colorado (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) has had all sorts of problems since winning its first five games and earning a spot in the Top 25. Injuries, particularly on defense, have been a key factor, but it was the team's inability to gain that sixth win that ultimately decided MacIntyre's fate.
It was a similar pattern in 2017 when Colorado had three shots to become bowl eligible and came up empty.
Roper, who had been the quarterbacks coach before MacIntyre was fired, thinks the Buffaloes will respond to the change.
"We've got to find a way to get these guys to play hard, which I think they will," Roper said.
California, whose game against Bay Area rival Stanford was postponed last week because of unhealthy air from the deadly wildfires, is also trying to bounce back. The Bears can lock up their first winning season since 2015 and improve their own bowl hopes with a win.
Running back Patrick Laird said Cal is taking nothing for granted against Colorado.
"When a coach gets fired they can respond in a myriad of ways," Laird said. "This is something that could galvanize their team so we're not going to take them lightly."
The Bears (6-4, 3-4) haven't played since Nov. 10 when they rallied to stun USC 15-14. They took advantage the unexpected off week to get an early jump on planning for Colorado.
Cal will play Stanford in the delayed Big Game on Dec. 1.
"Everybody was disappointed because you want to play but we also understand what's best for everybody," Bears coach Justin Wilcox said. "Postponing the game was the right thing to do."
A few things to watch when California hosts Colorado at Memorial Stadium.
CLOSING IN ON ANOTHER 1,000: With several of their wide receivers nursing nagging injuries for the past few months, the Bears have increasingly relied Laird. Laird got off to a slow start this season but has picked up the pace as of late and needs 229 yards to become the third California running back to have multiple 1,000-yard seasons. Marshawn Lynch and Russell White did it previously.
THIRD-DOWN BLUES: Part of Colorado's problems this season has been its lack of success on third down. The Buffaloes have converted only 26 of 92 opportunities during their six-game slide but have had issues all season, particularly when facing 3rd-and-5 or longer. That could be a pivotal point against Cal, which has been stellar on defense most of the year. Opponents have converted 49 of 149 third downs (32.8 percent) against the Bears.
THE D HOLDS UP: Cal's defense is among the Pac-12's best in numerous categories this season and has been a big key to the team's success. The Bears have allowed 19 points or fewer in their previous four games. During that span they've also held teams to 100 yards rushing or less, their longest such streak since 2004.
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