Admittedly, it is going to take a lot for Deion Sanders' Colorado Buffaloes to finish his first season in Boulder ranked inside of the AP Top 25. Colorado has suffered its first two conference losses of the season in Pac-12 play to No. 8 Oregon and No. 9 USC in back-to-back weeks to fall to 3-2 (0-2) on the year. At this point, anything short of achieving bowl eligibility should be seen as a failure for Colorado.
Fortunately, the Buffs have their two easiest conference games of the season on deck. They will be at 3-2 (1-1) Arizona State next Saturday night, followed up by a spooky Friday the 13th matchup vs. Stanford at home a week later. For all intents and purposes, CU should be 5-2 (2-2) heading into its bye week. After that, their final five conference games are going to be a real test for them for sure...
Colorado will have a go-either-way game at UCLA in the final week of October. The Buffs will host a top-15-caliber Oregon State team in Boulder the following week. After that, they will host Arizona, travel to Washington State and then finish the year with the Rumble in the Rockies at Utah in Salt Lake. No, Colorado is not losing out to finish at 3-9, nor will they win their final seven games to be 10-2.
While the latter mark would guarantee them a spot in the AP Top 25, could they get back at 8-4 or so?
Colorado football: What will it take for Buffaloes to finish season ranked?
Look. Colorado needs to win at least five of their final seven regular-season games to have any shot at this. While the TCU win helped get them inside the top 25, the Horned Frogs are 3-2 on the season and just lost to... West Virginia. Although the 'Eers are far better than expected, TCU is not going to be as quality of a win for the Buffs as it looked during Labor Day Weekend. So can they get another?
I would expect for the likes of Oregon State, Utah and Washington State to remain ranked this season. If one of them were to fade out, maybe UCLA could be of top-25 quality either by the time Colorado faces them or become that as well by season's end? Simply put, Colorado must beat Arizona State, Stanford and Arizona to have any shot of getting back into the top 25. They must steal two more, too.
To me, I feel like UCLA in Pasadena is the most winnable of that cluster. Chip Kelly is a good coach and has brought the Bruins back to respectability. So a win there could be a resume booster of some sorts. Arizona could be to some degree, but Arizona State and Stanford wins are both expected and will not move the needle. The question is if Colorado can get one other big win of note this season...
So far, Washington State has beaten Oregon State and Oregon State has beaten two-time reigning Pac-12 champion Utah. While the Buffaloes will need for Utah to stay afloat down the stretch, winning in SLC for the Rumble in the Rockies feels like the likeliest shot Colorado has over another ranked team. That game could be lower scoring, which favors the Buffaloes, who can put up a ton of points.
A lot can change between then and now, but Oregon State is probably the next most likely W left on Colorado's slate vs. a ranked team, strictly because that one is in Boulder. At Washington State in Pullman late in the year could be problematic for the Buffs, especially if that game has conference championship game appearance implications for the hometown Cougars. CU is not winning that one.
Overall, we are going to need Colorado to get to 8-4 (5-4) with wins over Arizona, Arizona State and Stanford, as well as two over ranked teams akin to Oregon State, UCLA, Utah or Washington State. At Wazzu will give them the biggest boost. So would over Utah in SLC. A home win over Oregon State might do the trick as well, possibly even one on the road over UCLA, who feel very middle of the pack.
Ultimately, Colorado has so much to overcome from being a team capable of getting one 25th-placed vote entering Week 6 than enough votes to conceivably crack the AP Top 25. A bowl win over another Power Five team to get CU to 9-4 might help the Buffaloes' case as well. However, Colorado will need two wins over ranked teams and for those ranked teams to stick to have any real shot at being top 25.
Once again, this season has already been a huge success for Colorado, regardless of its outcome.