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

The 89th meeting between the Buffaloes and Rams; 16th in Denver on Sept 1.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a different outlook for the Colorado Buffaloes (2016: 10-4, 8-2, Pac-12) as we enter the 2017 season. Like the past two seasons, there was another offseason shake up among Mike MacIntyre’s assistants with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt heading to conference rival Oregon. Former Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot takes over looking to stay the course and master the 3-4 hybrid scheme that Leavitt built.

The Buffaloes head into an early test in week one with the Colorado State Rams (2016: 7-6, 5-3 MWC) rolling in with momentum from a stadium opening 58-27 victory over Oregon State. The buzz around Fort Collins, besides the state-of-the-art on-campus facility, is Coach Mike Bobo’s perceived turnaround. The Rams are a projected favorite to win the Mountain West Conference in just his third season.

Colorado dominated CSU in last season’s 44-7 opener behind Sefo Liufau’s 384 yards of total offense, breaking CU’s all-time passing mark in the process. Steven Montez enters his first battle with the Rams looking to prove he’s worthy of taking the reigns following Liufau’s departure. The Pac-12 South champs grew into a high caliber football team last season and hope that they can carry that momentum into challenging for the division and heading to another bowl game.

Colorado State finished 7-6 overall for a second-straight season, losing a 61-50 shootout against Idaho in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (losing a 61-50 shootout against Idaho in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - ed note: I felt like that was worth including twice). It was an up-and-down season for Bobo’s Rams, who didn’t win more than two-in-a-row the entire season. Bobo, a product of the SEC, found success by tapping into his recruiting roots in the south, much to the surprise of conference teams in the region.

Offensive Breakdown

Colorado’s offense is due for a record-breaking year with one of the best receiving corps in the nation. As a team, the Buffaloes will be looking to balance out a steady passing attack from Montez to Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo, Devin Ross, Juwann Winfree Jay MacIntyre and KD Nixon. Phillip Lindsay returns as a versatile senior (and conference) leader to anchor the Buffs backfield. That pleathora of skill players will be supported by one of Colorado’s better offensive lines in the past decade behind Jeromy Irwin, Tim Lynott, Johnthan Huckins, Gerrad Kough and Sam Kronshage.

Colorado State’s offense will once again be led by senior quarterback Nick Stevens, who looked fantastic in the Rams opener with 334 yards and three touchdowns . A much quicker looking offense is a perfect fit for Steven’s progression under center with a handful of targets including Michael Gallup, Detrich Clark, and Olabisi Johnson. Dalyn Dawkins will be relied on for more production out of the backfield. The senior workhorse from Louisville, Kentucky is a stable fixture in the pro-style scheme as the Rams’ leading rusher two years running.

Defensive Breakdown

CSU’s heads into 2017 in search of progress on both sides of the ball, but most of the doubt lays on the defense. The Rams gave up an average of 30 points and 420 yards last season. Defensive coordinator Marty English enters his second season with a 3-4 defense seeking growth for the system with faster, stronger talent. Linebackers Tre Thomas, Josh Watson and Kiel Robinson boast the most experience for the Rams defense, a much improved unit from last season, but still some developing underclassmen at key positions.

After losing one of the best secondary tandems in the nation, Colorado’s biggest question going into fall camp was who would play cornerback opposite Isaiah Oliver? Redshirt freshman Trey Udoffia will start at that position as the only underclassman in the Buffaloes defensive lineup. Besides the secondary, CU has depth at multiple positions led by linebackers Derek McCartney and Rick Gamboa, along with hybrid Buff backs Ryan Moeller and Evan Worthington.

TV, Ticket and History

89th Rocky Mountain Showdown at 6:00 p.m. MT on Friday, Sept. 1.

All-time record since 1893: 64-22-2 (Colorado)

Series: CU holds a 7-3 advantage in the past ten meetings and haven’t lost when scoring at least 18 points since 2001. Current line: Colorado - 4

Tickets: Both CU and CSU have reported selling a combine 64,000 tickets for Friday’s game. The largest crowd for the game was an overflow sellout in 2003 with a record attendance of 76,219. As of Wednesday night, less than 200 tickets remained on Ticketmaster’s website.

TV: Pac-12 Networks & Pac-12 Now App. *First time ever for Rocky Mountain Showdown.

Radio: CU- 760 AM (Statewide), CSU- Mile High Sports 104.7 FM/1340 AM (Denver Metro), Rock 102.9 FM KARS (Ft Collins)