Coaches at all levels love to preach about finishing, finishing a tackle, a play, a game, a season. It’s a noble concept, motivating players not to quit, but sometimes only focusing on the finish blurs the journey.

Every step taken to arrive at the finish line is just as important as the finish itself, and the Colorado Buffaloes need to remember that as they lace up their cheats for tonight’s Pac-12 Championship Game.

What happened in Boulder this year is the most remarkable sports story in Colorado since the 2007 run to the World Series. Sure, between then and now this town has watched the Broncos play in two Super Bowls, but they had a mountain of expectations. The Broncos were so talented it would have been a bigger story if they hadn’t performed so well. CU went from being the proverbial whipping boy in the Pac-12 to conference championship game in one season.

There’s been a lot of hyperbole surrounding the Buffs this season with good cause. They stormed through the South in a way reserved for the Stanfords and USCs of the world. And they did it out of nowhere. Had Mike MacIntyre led the Buffs to a third or fourth place finish in the South, everyone would have called it a successful season; it would have looked as though CU was finally making legitimate inroads to competing in a conference they never had before. Fans, boosters and media members alike would have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. What happened instead was somewhat baffling.

It all started at The Big House when Colorado proved they deserved to be on the field with the country’s best teams. They hung with Michigan until their starting quarterback left the game. They followed that up by getting the program-defining win they’d lacked since joining the Pac-12: beating Oregon in Eugene. The next week MacIntyre’s team dismantled Oregon State, doubling their total number of Pac-12 wins over the last four years.

This season the Buffs pulled out wins at Stanford and at Arizona. They beat two top 25 teams the final two weeks of the season, and they won 10 games for the first time since 2001. Colorado became bowl eligible for the first time since 2007. And they did all of that when no one expected them too.

That’s what makes this story (and season) so great. The best sports stories are always the ones you don’t see coming. The Miracle on Ice. Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson. NC State winning the 1983 National Championship.

No one, even the most diehard CU fan, saw this coming. What the Buffs have accomplished this year represents something really special, no matter what happens tonight.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t business to take care of against Washington. CU would much rather have their story parallel the ‘83 Wolfpack than the 2010 Butler Bulldogs — a team that lost their biggest game of the year. Given where the Buffs started, beating the Huskies in the Pac-12 Championship Game might represent the biggest win in this program’s history. There’s no way to understate that.

Expectations undoubtedly change over the course of a season, and it’s clear now that people expect a win in Santa Clara. But CU fans shouldn’t let the result of tonight’s game ruin the journey. This program will almost certainly finish the season in the Top 10, something that hasn’t happened since 2001. They have a very good chance to play in one of the most iconic bowl games in the country, the Rose Bowl, and the program has finally proven they are on a path to compete on a yearly basis.

Finishing strong is a huge emphasis in sports and no one likes moral victories. With that, falling to Washington after all of the hard fought wins would be a huge disappointment, but it shouldn’t put a dark cloud over the season. No matter what happens tonight CU fans need to make sure they don’t lose sight of the forest through the trees.