Without a doubt, every game matters.
With few exceptions, a single game doesn't define a season. A great victory can be deflated by an upset the next weekend, while a crushing defeat can be redeemed by an inspired effort later in the season.
While the Pac-12's national title contenders -- we won't name names -- need to win every game (or just about), before each season for every team you can point to a stretch of games on the schedule that appears defining. In terms of a team's goals, that stretch is most critical.
We've defined a "key stretch" as three games, though we will allow for those three games to come among four.
Key stretch: Nov. 1 vs. Washington, Nov. 8 at Arizona, Nov. 29 vs. Utah
Why it’s critical: Could the Buffs be bowl eligible in Mike MacIntyre’s sophomore year? It’s possible. Yes, I’m saying there’s a chance.
Last year Colorado went 4-8 overall, 1-8 in conference play. However, you can expect it to take at least a few steps forward in 2014. But that will likely depend on how the Buffs perform in November (last year the Buffs went 1-4 in November).
We’re feeling pretty good about Colorado’s nonconference schedule. The Buffs -- like last year -- should start the season 2-0 with wins over Colorado State and Massachusetts. Hawaii will be the toughest noncon opponent the Buffs face, and Colorado will be the Warriors’ third Pac-12 opponent so they’ll certainly be warmed up (they play Washington in the opening week and Oregon State the following weekend). But Hawaii lost QB Sean Schroeder to graduation, so it will be going through a bit of a transitional period.
If the Buffs can go 3-0 outside of the Pac-12, it puts Colorado in a pretty good position to pick up six wins, which would mean tripling its Pac-12 win total from a year ago. But this stretch in November is only critical if the Buffs are able to pick up win No. 4 at Cal in late September.
Four wins before October would be the best-case scenario for the Buffs because wins over Oregon State (Oct. 4), USC (Oct. 18), UCLA (Oct. 25) and Oregon (Nov. 22) seem out of reach. But if the Buffs can get through October without any major injuries, then they come into this critical November stretch just needing to pick up two more wins.
Victories over Arizona and Utah seem more likely than anything else, but we’ve seen crazier upsets on the West Coast than Colorado over Washington, right? Not probable, but possible. However, assuming Colorado beats Arizona and loses to UW, the final game of the Buffs’ 2014 season could have a bowl berth on the line, which would make this a pretty exciting year in Colorado.
Other key stretches: