The 2016 college football season brought us “The Rise” of the Colorado Buffaloes. The team became Pac-12 South Champions, Head Coach Mike MacIntyre won numerous Coach of the Year awards, including both the Pac-12 and Walter Camp awards ,and the team attended it’s first bowl game since 2007. They finished the season ranked No. 17 in the AP Top 25, and No. 15 in the Coaches Poll.

But as the 2017 season rolled around, suddenly the Buffaloes were forgotten again. With the loss of their senior captain quarterback and numerous playmakers on defense, Colorado dropped from the AP and Coaches Top 25, only receiving 18 and 72 votes respectively.

After a Rocky Mountain Showdown victory over the Colorado State Rams, they improved slightly, receiving 65 votes in the AP Top 25 and 78 in the Coaches Poll, still a far cry from the 124 or 116 votes currently needed to be ranked in either poll.

A win over Texas State in which they didn’t cover the spread slowed their growth, only gaining one more vote in the AP while losing eight votes in the Coaches.

So, what does CU need to do to break the roughly 120-plus votes needed to get themselves back in the Top 25?

The Buffaloes’ next three games will be very important in their movement into the rankings. Starting with Northern Colorado this week, the Buffs need a convincing win over their in-state FCS opponent. Considering that Colorado State beat Northern Colorado by 26 last year, the Buffs, a Power 5 team, needs to dominate the Bears at home.

The next week, CU will face off against No. 6 Washington at home. Washington has yet to show any real weakness, having beat Rutgers 30-14 and Montana 63-7. Washington is ranked 13th in points for [46.5] and 13th in points against [10.5]. The Huskies face an unranked Fresno State this week.

Last year’s Pac-12 Championship game showed the divide between Washington and the rest of the conference. The North division champs thumped Colorado in Santa Clara, Calif., 41-10, to earn a bid in the College Football Playoff. While USC and UCLA are both improved in the South, Colorado obviously still has doubters.

Despite playing at home, the Buffs opened as nine-and-a-half-point underdogs to Washington according to the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook in early July. The Buffs can probably get away with losing by 10 and not do much damage to the current number of votes they are receiving. A lopsided loss could damage their chances at a Top-25 ranking until late in the season. A win would undoubtedly elevate the Buffs into both rankings.

The third game of the stretch, against UCLA, will be their best chance at finally breaking into the rankings. Currently, UCLA is ranked No. 25 in the AP, but unranked in the Coaches Poll, receiving 13 fewer votes than CU. With the game in Pasadena, the Buffs opened as seven-point underdogs in the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook in early July. An outright win in this game may be enough to crack the Top 25.

If CU can’t secure a win against UCLA or take a heavy loss against Washington, the Buffs will most likely need to win out through Nov. 4, including in a game against current No. 21 Washington State in Pullman, Wash. to break the Top 25. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook opened in early July with the Buffaloes being a seven-point underdog in the matchup.

The Buffaloes will have one more game against a currently ranked opponent, No. 4 USC, for the remainder of the season. CU will have its hands full, but the game will most likely not affect their Top 25 chances in a negative manner.

Colorado has a tough hill to climb as Pac-12 South champions, but with a solid season and strong play in the right games, the Buffs can find themselves back in the Top 25 rankings, a spot they would look to hold going into the 2018 season.