PALO ALTO CA - SEPTEMBER 04: McLeod Bethel-Thompson #9 of the Sacramento State Hornets passes the ball during their game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on September 4 2010 in Palo Alto California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Week two brings us to the second of a four-game state school gauntlet when the Buffaloes welcome the Sacramento State Hornets to Boulder. Who wants to put an over/under out there on the number of times you will hear the "If you can't go to college, go to state!" cheer from the Colorado student section?
It is impossible to cover this game and get away with not at least mentioning the dark fear in the back of all Buffs fans' minds concerning this match-up. The Hornets (the scariest of all bees; behind killer bees, wasps, and those GIANT bumble bees that sometimes seem more like little birds) are currently a member of the Big Sky conference and play in the FCS ranks. Does that ring a bell? If you feel your heart break and your anger rise simultaneously, reference Pavlov and his dogs. Depending on how strong your reaction is to this realization, you may be taken right back to the evening of September 2, 2006. This is like one of those wounds that has healed over but still hurts underneath. I will not go into any deep detail (because it hurts too bad), but this was the night that the FCS Big Sky Conference's Montana State Bobcats (I think) came to Boulder and left victorious.
Now, I only bring this up because it will be talked about in EVERY pregame analysis about our week two foe. In my mind Sept 2nd was a fluke, it was the little guy "getting his", an anomaly, an abnormality, an irregularity (disregard Toledo, and Eastern Washington (I know we won but geez that one was scary)). I will be blunt (while knocking on wood, not you Jon) and say we have virtually nothing to fear here. Montana State owns Sac. State, the record between the two is 14-6 in favor of the Bobcats all-time, AND Montana State is arguably the worst loss in CU history. In a crude and barely accurate comparison Sacramento State beats Montana State just barely more often than CSU beats Colorado. So, going back to your SAT study guide Sacramento State : Montana State :: CSU : Colorado. While being in the same league, Montana State and Sacramento State are not even in the same league. Over the last 10 years Montana State's Big Sky record is 58-28 while Sacramento sits at 30-52. Montana State was an embarrassing loss to CU and yet would be embarrassed to lose to Sacramento State. I say this all not to be overconfident, but rather to quell some fears. I mean, these are the same Hornets who went into Corvalas and beat the mighty mighty Beavers of Oregon State by one point... wah whah wahhhhh... If you look at the current 2012 standings on ESPN we are WAY ahead of the Beavers (even if it is only because Colorado comes before Oregon State in the alphabet), so we should have nothing to worry about.
Embree and the Buffs will go into this game aware but not afraid, sure but not cocky. Our boys will be coming off a big hard fought win over instate riva... er..um let's call them the in-state cousin who is kind of in and out of jail, whose girlfriend is pretty plain, but they share the family name (COLORADO) so other people think they are worth bringing to the reunion. Don't get me wrong I am not overlooking this year's game against the Rams. That game is a MUST WIN and is by no means a gimme, but lets be honest, historically can CSU claim to be anything but THAT cousin? (Bears to note that CSU narrowly defeated Sac. State in 2008 by a score of 23-20)
Now onto the game. Saturday Sept 8th, an afternoon game, first game of the year at Folsom Field, there is nothing like game day in Boulder at the beginning of the season (assuming a win over CSU). We know well enough the struggles the Buffs had last season. Last in the Pac 12 in blah, 11th in blah, worst in blah blah blah. We have heard it over and over and over, and it is important to recognize, but for week two what is even more important is that we are better than the Hornets.
According to the Billings Gazzette (who I will take as the authority when it comes to the Big Sky Conference, as they are officially Big Sky Country) preseason position breakdown Sacramento State ranks outside the top 10 in special teams, defensive backs, linebacker (where they return their best player in Todd Davis), defensive line, offensive line, and 9th at tight end. Now The Gazette hasn't released the rest of the positions as of yet, but I think it is safe to assume they don't have the playmakers to fully compensate for the lack of talent EVERYWHERE ELSE. Especially considering they lose leading rusher Bryan Hilliard, leading receiver Morris Norrise and former starting quarterback Jeff Fleming, who finished the 2011 season with 1,138 yards with seven touchdowns to five interceptions. Now I don't follow the recruiting sites very religiously but I doubt that Sacramento State's incoming freshman class was highly touted enough to fill these holes. As I was going through the position rankings I literally became nervous that I was researching the wrong conference for Sac. State; they are mentioned virtually NOWHERE. And, this is in a league with Northern Colorado, geez.
Yeah we are young, yeah we are coming off of a season fraught with inefficiency on both sides of the ball, sure we may be expected for a poor showing in the Pac-12, but in the Big Sky Conference the Buffs would seem more like a Trojans offense with a Crimson Tide D. Expect a big game for the Buffs all over the field. This will be a confidence builder for whoever wins the quarterback battle through fall camp, as the Hornets have a subpar secondary (even by Big Sky standards). Expect the run game to thrive behind an offensive line that is one of the few recognized solid groups on a young and inexperienced Buffs team. Expect our young defensive lineman to be able to put their hands in the ground and tee off on quarterback being protected by an unheralded offensive line. Expect our boys to go out, have fun and gain some needed experience against a team that, on paper, is vastly outmatched by our untested Colorado Buffaloes.
All this being said, I just can't help but give a little shiver when I remember that we are facing an FCS Big Sky opponent very early in a new head coaches career.