Back in the rankings, No. 24 Washington State hosts Colorado

If not for the proper context, the opportunity that is still out there for No. 24 Washington State might seem meaningless.

If the Cougars can win their final three games - beginning with Saturday night's home finale against Colorado - they would finish with 10 wins for the first time since 2003. And with a little help, Washington State could end up as co-champ of the Pac-12 North Division.

Those wouldn't be accomplishments to scoff at. Consider the Cougars opened the season with one of the more embarrassing losses in school history, falling to FCS Portland State at home. Instantly questions started coming about whether it was time to move on from Mike Leach.

Now compare that beginning to what's become the Cougars' reality. They're young. They're proven in tough circumstances, especially on the road. And they have a chance at just the sixth 10-win season in school history.

''I feel like we're getting that respect level,'' Washington State safety Taylor Taliulu said. ''Obviously our play does all the talking.''

The Cougars (7-3, 4-2 Pac-12) could finish tied with Stanford and Oregon with a little help, although tiebreakers won't allow them a chance to play in the Pac-12 championship game. But being able to lay claim to a share of the division title in a season where the Cougars were picked to finish fifth would be an accomplishment.

Before Washington State thinks about adding a triumph to its promotional materials, it must make sure there is no hangover from last Saturday's upset of UCLA that landed the Cougars back in the AP Top 25 for the first time in nine years.

That shouldn't be an issue with quarterback Luke Falk continuing his assault on the Pac-12 record book. Falk still has a chance to set conference single-season records for touchdown passes, yards passing and completion percentage. Falk is in the conversation for a number of conference and national awards. And he's only a sophomore.

''We're happy he gets that recognition because all awards are team awards,'' Leach said. ''Luke's not even in that conversation without the contributions of offensive linemen, running backs, and receivers, and then also some stops on defense and turnovers, and things like that.''

While Washington State knows what it's getting at quarterback, Colorado (4-7, 1-6) will be leaning on Cade Apsay in his first college start. Apsay stepped in last week against USC after Sefo Liufau suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot and was lost for the remainder of the season.

''The main thing is he can make every throw and throw it into a tight window, he can throw it deep, and he has a good feel for that in the pocket and has good balance on what he does,'' Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said.

Here's what else to watch as the Buffaloes and Cougars meet for just the second time ever in Pullman:

ON THE MARK(S): Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks leads the Pac-12 with 81 receptions and 13 touchdown catches, but none were bigger than his TD grab with three seconds left to beat UCLA last Saturday. After sitting out last season, Marks has been invaluable to Falk and the Cougars offense. Marks needs one more TD catch to own Washington State's single-season record.

HELP YOUR QUARTERBACK: If there was ever a week for Colorado to get its run game going, this would be it with Apsay making his first start on the road. The Buffaloes are averaging 172.5 yards per game on the ground but have not had a 100-yard rusher since Patrick Carr hit the 100-yard mark exactly on Oct. 31 against UCLA. Colorado had just 59 yards rushing last week against USC.

SCORE QUICK: One way for Colorado to stick around with the Cougars is to strike quickly. The Buffaloes are 12th in the country with 50 percent of their touchdown drives lasting less than two minutes. But what Colorado needs is more TDs. Their 36 total TDs this season are tied for 66th in the country.

IT'S A TRAP: If there was a definition for a trap game, this would appear to be it with Washington State coming off the win over UCLA with a rivalry showdown with Washington in the Apple Cup next Friday. Throw in the late kickoff, cold temperatures and Washington State students already off for Thanksgiving break and the Cougars could be primed for a letdown.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.