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Colorado Buffaloes vs. Colorado State Rams: 2019 Rocky Mountain Showdown Preview

The Buffaloes and Rams for the Centennial Cup on Friday, August 30 at Mile High Stadium

Rocky Mountain Showdown Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The war of Colorado heads to Denver once again welcoming the start of another college football season with the oldest rivalry in the region — the Rocky Mountain Showdown. For the Colorado Buffaloes, the 2018 season was a blunder after losing an FBS record seven straight game while limping to a 5-7 record for a second consecutive year.

Despite not having much luck in Pac-12 conference play, Colorado has steamrolled in the RMS by racking up a four-game winning streak during Mike Bobo’s tenure with the Colorado State Rams. That feat also marks the longest run for either team in the past twenty years of the rivalry. Much of the same result for the Rams, who suffered through a 3-9 season last year including a five-game losing skid in the final month. The three wins tied the lowest total for the program since 2011. A far stretch from the CSU teams who were bowl bound at 7-6 in the prior three seasons.

Colorado State come into this year’s opener with more questions than answers. Collin Hill will step onto the field to start under center for the Rams in his first meeting with CU. The 6-foot-5, 210 pound South Carolina native has shown a lot of promise, but has been held back due to injury. Hill, now a redshirt junior, will direct the offense under CSU’s second year offensive coordinator Dave Johnson. However, he’ll come at the task with inexperienced talent surrounding him. Warren Jackson remains a steady go-to option in the passing game, but not having Nate Craig-Myers available limits the Rams offense who lost outstanding top receivers Preston Williams and Olabisi Johnson.

The CSU backfield will feature a two-man rotation of Marcus McElroy and Marvin Kinsey. The duo played backup roles to Izzy Matthews and rushed for a combined 115 carries for 475 yards. Kinsley provides the another receiving option for Hill having a 9.3 yards per catch last season. On the other hand, McElroy looks to play a full season after being hospitalized with blood clots in October of 2017. Hill hopes to match the Buffs offense on the scoreboard, but will need a solid effort from the Rams defense that allowed a FBS worst 451.5 yards and 36.8 points per game in 2018.

The Achilles heel for the Rams defense for the past two season is inexperience. Not good news for CSU who’ll go up against one of the most experienced Buffs offensive attacks in recent memory. Colorado has 11 returning starters led by gun-slinging dual-threat quarterback and early Davey O’Brien award nominee Steven Montez. There’s no shortage of weapons for Montez to utilize in CU’s offense either with DeSoto, Texas receivers Laviska Shenault and KD Nixon as primary contributors. Add Auburn graduate transfer tight end Jalen Harris and Tony Brown into the mix behind one of the most stout offensive lines in the past decade. All of that sounds decent on paper, but how will the Buffs’ defense plays into this equation is key to their success.

The hardest thing for a first year head coach Mel Tucker coming into a program is showing progress immediately. Colorado enters the 2019 season with less stability and depth in several positions, especially on defense, compared to prior years. A rotation of untested underclassmen with incoming transfers could be the contributing factor for the Buffs going forward. Everyone involved with the process in Boulder needs to allow patience with Tucker and support an effort to build a program ready to compete on the next level.

Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett are the only coaches with winning records in their first seasons at CU during the modern era. Neuheisel inherited the success of an 11-1 team from Bill McCartney to end the 1996 season with 10 wins. Barnett took over for Neuheisel and guided the Buffs to a 7-5 record four years later in 1999. Can Tucker break the cycle and show results in 2019? The Buffs faithful will have a good indication within in the next month starting with the Rocky Mountain Showdown as a warm-up for No. 24 Nebraska.

News and Notes

From the desk of Dave Plati:

”Mel Tucker will become the sixth Colorado head coach to have their debut at the reins of the program televised nationally. He’ll join Chuck Fairbanks (ESPN; 1979 vs. Oregon), Rick Neuheisel (ABC; 1995 at Wisconsin), Gary Barnett (FOX; 1999, Colorado State in Denver), Jon Embree (ESPN2; 2011 at Hawai’i) and Mike MacIntyre (CBS-SN; 2013, Colorado State in Denver). The ’79 game under Fairbanks was shown tape-delayed that evening on ESPN on Sept. 8, the first college football game on the fledgling network: it was its second day of operation. Neuheisel and MacIntyre won their games; in fact, they’re the only two to win their CU debuts dating back to 1932”

Colorado meets Colorado State in Denver, Colo. for the 91th edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown at 10:10 p.m. ET on Friday, Aug. 30. The start of CU’s 130th football season and the last series game currently scheduled at Mile High Stadium. The Buffs are desiginated as the home team wearing traditional jerseys. Colorado holds a 66-22-2 all-time series advantage having won the past four games.

TV: ESPN (National) The 35th time over the last 36 seasons Colorado’s season opener will be on some kind of local, regional or national television.

Radio: 850 KOA (Mark Johnson and Gary Barnett)

Tickets: $35-$65 (Limited tickets available)

Weather forecast: 76° Mostly cloudy, 30 % chance of thunderstorms at kickoff

Odds: Colorado -13.5