DENVER (AP) For a team picked to be at the bottom, ninth-ranked Colorado sure made a quick ascent to the top.
No wonder the Buffaloes used ''The Rise '' as one of their motivational mantras.
Coach Mike MacIntyre and the Buffaloes (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12, No. 9 CFP) have turned into one of the biggest surprises of college football this season. Picked last in the South Division during the preseason media poll , the resurgent Buffs reeled off six straight conference wins to earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game Friday against No. 4 Washington (11-1, 8-1, No. 5 CFP).
That ''Make CU Great again '' slogan plastered across the front of hats worn by Colorado players may need a little revising, because they're well on their way.
''We're getting there,'' receiver Devin Ross said after beating Utah on Saturday. ''We're close. ... We still have a lot of work left to do.''
The Buffaloes play a Washington team that wasn't a total surprise to win the North, even if Stanford was forecasted in the preseason poll. The Huskies sealed their spot in the league's title game by routing Washington State 45-17 in the Apple Cup last Friday.
''Hopefully we'll show up and play our best game of the year,'' Washington coach Chris Petersen said of the Pac-12 title game.
The Huskies go against a Colorado team led by a turnover-producing defense and gritty quarterback Sefo Liufau, who made a quicker-than-expected return from a severe foot injury he suffered a year ago. The Buffaloes finished last in the Pac-12 South in each of MacIntyre's first three seasons in Boulder - winning a combined two league games - before this year's transformation.
It was the first eight-win conference season in school history.
''The best word I can use right now is joy,'' MacIntyre said. ''Joy from the bottom of my toes to the top of my head for the players, the coaches, everybody involved with our program, all the fans that stayed with us and all the fans that came back.''
Here are things to know heading into the title game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California:
SEFO'S SUCCESS: Colorado wasn't sure if Liufau would even be healed in time for the season after having surgery last November to fix a Lisfranc injury , which usually involves a separation of ligaments and joints in the foot. The team courted graduate transfer QB Davis Webb, the gunslinger who announced he would be joining the Buffaloes soon after graduating from Texas Tech only to change his mind and head to California.
Liufau, who's from Tacoma, Washington, has set or tied 87 school marks over his career.
BROWNING'S MOMENT: Jake Browning was deservedly in the Heisman Trophy conversation for most of the season. Then, he was quickly dropped after struggling in Washington's loss to USC when he threw two interceptions.
Don't discount Browning, though - his three-TD performance on Friday against Washington State may get him back into consideration. A big game against the best pass defense in the Pac-12 just might get Browning to New York as a finalist. Browning has 40 touchdown passes this season, becoming just the third Pac-12 quarterback in league history to reach the 40 TD mark, joining Jared Goff and Marcus Mariota.
MAKING HISTORY: The Buffaloes are the fourth team to go from worst to first in the conference's history. One of those was Washington, which accomplished the feat in 1959 when the Huskies followed up a 1-6 in `58 with a 3-1 mark in an abbreviated schedule.
TAILS NEVER FAILS: Colorado is 11-1 during the coin toss this season. The Buffs' only loss on the coin flip was at USC on Oct. 8. That's also the last time they've dropped a game.
HOME-RUN THREAT: The Huskies have 27 touchdowns this season of 25 or more yards and at least one in every game. The Buffaloes will want to keep a close eye on John Ross and Dante Pettis - either on offense or special teams - along with the running duo of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman.
''Washington's goal is to win the Pac-12 and our goal is to win the Pac-12. It's going to be a great game,'' MacIntyre said. ''It's going to be spectacular.''
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed from Seattle.
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