Colorado Buffaloes celebrate a touchdown against Washington State. (William Mancebo / Getty…)
BOULDER, Colo. — UCLA lost for the first time last weekend and was bounced from the national college football rankings.
"We're not panicking," wide receiver Shaquelle Evans said.
Colorado fans remain giddy after the Buffaloes rallied for their first victory of the season.
"I've been fortunate to be in some great wins. That one ranks up there," Colorado Coach Jon Embree said.
Where these teams go from there will be clearer Saturday, when the Bruins and Buffaloes have a validation game at Folsom Field.
UCLA (3-1 overall, 0-1 in conference play) lost to Oregon State last Saturday. Lose again and the victory over Nebraska could be relegated to the fluke bin.
Colorado (1-3, 1-0) scored 21 fourth-quarter points in a 35-34 come-from-behind victory at Washington State. That victory, too, may get re-classified if the Buffaloes stumble back to their losing ways.
No one would have predicted a week ago that last-place UCLA would be playing first-place Colorado. And few believe it still. The Bruins are 20-point favorites.
"There's nothing we have to prove," UCLA defensive lineman Datone Jones said.
"You don't want to lose two in a row," Evans said. "That's a tough thing to come back from."
The Bruins' three-game winning streak to start the season shot them into the rankings. They reached 19th in the Associated Press media poll before being evicted by Oregon State.
"This is very important week to make a statement to the Pac-12 that we're here to compete," Evans said.
On the other hand …
"The biggest thing for us is to not take this as a game where we have to show everybody what we're really made of," safety Dalton Hilliard said.
Those are conflicting views that even Coach Jim Mora finds tricky to balance.
"We try to keep the focus on us, the way we're playing rather than our opponent and what the game means in terms of rankings or bouncing back," Mora said.
Still, Mora sees this game as a big, "for our fan base, to restore any faith we may have lost by losing Saturday." He also sees this as a chance "to get our momentum back."
No team did more for the Bruins' fan base and momentum than Colorado last November. In the span of two weeks, the Buffaloes had the Bruins playing in the Pac-12 championship game.
First, Colorado came to Pasadena and got walloped, 45-6, at the Rose Bowl. Then, a week later, the Buffaloes went to Salt Lake City and upset Utah. That sent UCLA off to Eugene to play — and lose to — Oregon in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game.
The Buffaloes seemed to be nothing more than a confidence boost for opposing teams through the first three weeks of this season. Their 0-3 start included embarrassments against Sacramento State and Fresno State.
Sacramento State is a step down, playing on Football Championship Subdivision level, but upset Colorado, 30-28. Fresno State belongs to Football Bowl Subdivision, but the Bulldogs' dominating 69-14 victory made people wonder whether Colorado did.
Just when the Buffaloes seemed to be every Pac-12 opponents' dream team, they rallied to beat Washington State.
This would not have been seen as a watershed moment in seasons past.
Colorado has won a national title, rolled to victory in big bowl games and for a time went mano a mano with ranked Nebraska teams. The victory Saturday left the Buffaloes with a 6-19 record since winning three of their first four games to start the 2010 season.
It had reached a point where Embree decided that a motivational video was needed to pump up his players for Washington State. Quarterback Jordan Webb engineered the comeback, but Embree awarded game balls to Jamie Guy, Colorado's director of sports video, and his assistant.
"It was very satisfying for the players," Embree said of the victory. "They have been through a lot. We lost a few close games and the Fresno State game was over at the coin toss, so to speak. The victory validates a lot work our kids put in."