Four years ago, the Colorado football team came out of nowhere.
Annual residents of the Pac-12 South basement up to that point, the Buffalo were expected to end up at the bottom again.
However, a determined and close-knit group of veterans helped CU build some confidence in the early season and they stunned everyone by winning the South.
Sam Noyer is one of the few remaining players on that team. Now a fifth-year senior quarterback, Noyer leads the Buffs (3-0, 2-0 Pac-12) into another surprising season and sees similarities to 2016.
“The only similarity I see really strikes me – I mean, there are a lot of them – but there’s one that really stands out and that’s just the chemistry with these guys,” said Noyer. “Everyone, from freshmen to fifth years like me… we create a family culture here and I think that’s very important. That’s something we had in 2016.
“Another thing that strikes me is the leadership of our group. We haven’t had that kind of leadership since 2016. I think that’s really important, but there are a lot of similarities in this team (and in 2016) and I want to keep doing that for the next few games. ”
The Buffs play last place in Arizona (0-3, 0-3) in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday-evening, and they have the chance to continue their hunt for a second South title in the past five seasons. .
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this has been a delayed and shortened season and a situation has emerged where the Buffs could be undefeated but the South couldn’t win. Southern California (3-0, 3-0) has an additional conference game in hand, and that could help the Trojans take over the division. If USC loses one of the following two, the door is open to Colorado.
However, CU head coach Karl Dorrell is not worried about the Trojans. He knows that if the Buffs want to have a shot at the division title, they have to keep winning.
“I like where we’re going,” he said. “I think these upcoming games are very important. They are all important, as we know, but we are in a pretty good position in the conference. We have to take care of our own company and part of that company is taking care of what lies ahead. ”
Now standing in front of CU is Arizona, which has lost 10 in a row but has beaten the Buffs in the last three years.
“I think Arizona is a much better team than their track record suggests,” said Dorrell, who went 3-2 against the Wildcats when he was UCLA’s head coach from 2003-07. “It’s easy to fall into that trap, given they are 0-3.
“I think it’s a huge challenge for us. They’ve been an eyesore where we haven’t had much success, so we need to stay focused on what’s ahead, do the things that have given us this position right now and run and play a great game. ”
Staying focused on the task at hand was a hallmark of the 2016 team, which was led by upperclassmen who bonded and stood up together after years of losses.
CU only has eight scholarships for seniors, but many players who have gone through three consecutive 5-7 seasons this year. They have also gone through two coaching changes in the past 24 months.
Despite being hired in February and working most of his first six months connecting with the team, virtually because of COVID-19, Dorrell has made the team’s camaraderie a focus.
“It was really my biggest emphasis when I came here was to get to know these players on a level that allows them to open up, share their concerns and share what they think are great elements of being successful , ”said Dorrell. “Breaking through those barriers, as a new coach, took some transition time. I had to gain their trust by going through the process.
“I think a big part of it is that we spent a lot of time in the summer cultivating what it takes to win. What is our culture about? What are the pillars we stand for? How are we moving forward? How do we become successful? We talk about all those elements and I think it put us all on the same page. ”
Dorrell is quick to admit that the chemistry isn’t perfect.
“We still have problems, but those problems are minimal than before I got here,” he said. “There is always something we need to work on to improve and I think our players know that. They are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. ”
So far they have been successful. They have joined as a group and are heading to Tucson with the chance to stay on track for something that hasn’t been done at CU since 2016.
“I know it’s an important game,” said Dorrell. “I think our players understand that and we’re just trying to keep the winning ways in our favor.”
Game at a glance
Matchup: Colorado Buffaloes (3-0, 2-0 Pac-12) at Arizona Wildcats (0-3, 0-3)
Kick-off: 5:05 pm MST
True: Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. Playing field: FieldTurf
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Opportunities: Colorado with 7.5
Series: CU generally leads 14-8; but follows 2-7 since joining Pac-12