CSU Preview – “T.I.P.S.” for the Rocky Mountain Showdown

Note … For those of you new to CU at the Game, “T.I.P.S.” is my weekly preview for CU’s upcoming opponent. Divided into sections on “T – Talent”; “I – Intangibles”; “P – Preparation/Schedule”; and “S – Statistics”, “T.I.P.S.” will try and give you some good information, and perhaps a few insights, into CU’s opponent.

Well, here we go again.

After breaking in three new head coaches over the span of 23 seasons, the Buff Nation now has a new head coach for the third time in only seven years.

Former San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre will try and break the school-record drought of seven straight losing campaigns, with every prognosticator with a pulse not only predicting that CU will finish with a losing record for the eighth straight year, but that the Buffs are not even a good candidate to climb out of the basement of the Pac-12 South.

One of the few games Colorado has a chance of winning – at least on paper – comes in the opener against Colorado State. In the 2012 Rocky Mountain Showdown, the Buffs held a 14-3 lead late in the second quarter against the Rams, before a muffed punt led to a touchdown and a momentum swing from which the Buffs never recovered in a 22-17 CSU victory.

How the 2013 Buffs will hold up against adversities – which they are bound to face this season – is one of the questions which will have to be answered this fall.

The first litmus test comes on Sunday afternoon …

T – Talent

Enjoy it while you can, Buff fans. For most of the season, Colorado will trail in this category …

Colorado State, despite the bluster of its fans, remains very much a work in progress. Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain enters his second season in Ft. Collins with a team which won four games last season. It was a step up from the three consecutive 3-9 records posted by his predecessor, but those four wins came against teams with a combined record of 10-40.

The starter at quarterback for Colorado State remains a mystery. McElwain went so far as to suggest during fall camp that the Rams might play three quarterbacks against Colorado. While that was either bluster or sand-bagging, the fact remains that CSU does not have a clear cut starter at quarterback.

Junior Garrett Grayson, who led the Rams to victory over the Buffs last season, returns. Grayson started the first five games last fall before breaking his collarbone. Sophomore Connor Smith started four of the last five games … earning CSU three of its four wins. Also in the mix is red-shirt freshman Craig Leonard. Fans may not know until gametime who McElwain has chosen for his starter.

Whoever takes the snap from center, the primary goal for the CSU quarterback against the Buffs will be game management. Running the ball effectively will be the goal, as the Rams return all five starters along the offensive line, including senior center Weston Richburg, the only Ram to earn first-team All-Mountain West preseason honors.

Donnell Alexander and Chris Nwoke are the backs CU defenders will look to contain. Alexander made a fine debut as a freshman against Colorado last September, going for 66 yards on only eight carries (an 8.3 yards per carry average), going on to lead the Rams with 587 rushing yards on the season. Nwoke, a 6’0″, 216-pound senior, had 11 carries for 47 yards against CU last fall. A strong 1-2 punch would be the ideal scenario for the Ram Nation.

Colorado State does not return any starters at wide receiver, and that may not be an altogether bad thing, as the Ram wide receivers struggled in 2012. The best returning outside threat is junior Charles Lovett, who had 35 receptions going for 428 yards last fall.

Where the Rams will seek to exploit the Buff secondary will be with their tight ends/H-backs. Senior Crockett Gillmore and junior Kivon Cartwright both return. Their size advantage over CU defenders (Gillmore is 6’6″, 255-pounds; Cartwright is 6’4″, 245-pounds) will be pronounced. Colorado will be trying to cover these tight ends with a defensive backfield where no Buff defender in the two-deep is over 6’1″, and none weigh as much as 200-pounds.

If Colorado State is running the ball effectively, and keeping the chains moving with short passes to its tight ends, it could be a long day for the Buff defense.

On the other side of the ball, the big question mark for Colorado State is along the defensive line.

The Rams graduated their entire defensive line, and brought in several junior college players to try and shore up an already weak unit. The Rams were 103rd in the nation against the run last season, and the Buffs need to exploit this weakness if the Mike MacIntyre era is going to get off to a successful start.

While the CSU front line is a liability, the back seven are good. Linebackers Shaq Barrett and Cory James are excellent, while defensive backs Shaq Bell and Trent Matthews provide experience in the secondary. The Rams gave up only 203 yards per game last season passing, good enough to rank 26th-best in the nation.

As for specialists, it’s a mixed bag for the Rams. Sophomore kicker Jared Roberts returns, after hitting on nine-of-ten field goal attempts last season (29-of-31 PATs), garnering second-team All-MWC honors. Colorado State must replace, however, one of the best punters in school history, Pete Kontodiakos.

I – Intangibles

Last season, Jim McElwain became the first became the first Colorado State coach to win in his debut in 42 seasons.

This season, Mike MacIntyre will try and become the first Colorado coach to win his debut in 18 seasons.

Colorado has gone through three head coaches since Rick Neuheisel won his debut in 1995, a 43-7 rout of No. 21 Wisconsin (on the road, no less). Since then, the Buff Nation has not only seen its new head coaches lose in their first game on the CU sidelines … but do so in spectacularly bad form.

Gary Barnett took over a team which had gone 8-4 the year before, including a 51-43 win over Oregon in the Aloha Bowl. The Buffs entered the 1999 season with a No. 14 national ranking … and were promptly spanked in the opener, 41-14, by Colorado State. So much for “Return to Dominance” …

Dan Hawkins took over a team which had gone 7-6 the year before, and, despite being routed by Texas in the Big 12 championship game the year before, were nonetheless the Big 12 North defending champions, having won the division four of the previous five seasons. The Buffs entered the 2006 season with high hopes, bringing in a head coach in Dan Hawkins who had won 50 games in five seasons at Boise State. Instead of maintaining a winning tradition, the Hawkins era got off to a dismal start, with the Buffs falling at home to Montana State, 19-10.

Jon Embree took over a team which had gone 5-7 the year before. Despite the consensus that CU had held onto Dan Hawkins a year too many, the Buff Nation was heartened by the Buffs’ 2-1 record under interim coach Brian Cabral after Dan Hawkins was relieved, and opened the 2010 season with hopes of ending a record road losing streak by “bringing home the brick” from Hawai’i. Instead, the Buffs looked either disorganized or disinterested (take your pick) in falling behind the Rainbow Warriors, 17-0, on their way to a 34-17 loss.

It’s been a mostly pleasant ride for the Buff Nation since December 10, 2012, when Mike MacIntyre was hired. The new coach Mac has said all the right things, got most of the players to buy into his system, and has brought hope back to Boulder.

But, as fighter Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth”.

On Sunday, the Rams will hit the Buffs in the mouth. It may come early – a turnover by the CU offense; a long-drive against the CU defense – but it will come.

How these Buffs, none of whom have worn black-and-gold in a winning season, react to that punch in the mouth will go a long ways in telling Buff fans how the CSU game will turn out … and how the 2013 season might unfold.

P – Preparation/Schedule

For the first game of the season, this will not play as great a role as it will down the road, when bye weeks and conference rivalry games come into play.

Both Colorado and Colorado State have had the same number of days to practice, both will have had equal opportunity to prepare for the other.

Yet CSU still has the advantage.

Under the ridiculous agreement which allows Colorado State to have a month to plan for its biggest game of the season almost every year, Colorado has placed itself at a disadvantage in preparation. The Rams can pull out all of the stops – trick formations; new plays; new players (witness the lack of a named starting quarterback) – as their season can be made by beating the Buffs (and for anyone who doubts that the RMS is their Super Bowl, witness the chest-thumping about last year’s game from a team which has gone 13-35 the past four seasons).

Colorado, historically, has won over 70% of its games played against Colorado State (61-21-2, .738). That statistic is not just based upon leather helmet games. The percentage holds when you consider games played since the series was resumed in 1983 ( CU leads, 18-7, .720). If you look, however, at games played against Colorado State since 1983, when not the first game of the season, the record goes to 8-1, or .888 (with the sole loss coming in the lost season of 2006, Dan Hawkins’ first year in Boulder).

Put it another way. Would Buff fans have liked having a month to prepare for Nebraska each season? … Thought so.

Colorado does have one scheduling advantage over the Rams, however. Next weekend, the Buffs remain in state, hosting 1-AA Central Arkansas. The Rams, meanwhile, must take to the road to face Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane finished 11-3 last season, and will provide a formidable challenge to the Rams. Plus, Colorado State must take to the road, taking away another day of preparation. While the Ram players might be focusing their energies entirely on Colorado, the CSU coaches, must, at least in part, have their eyes on the following game as well.

This is not to say that Colorado, 1-2 against 1-AA schools since 2006, can look past Central Arkansas, ranked No. 7 in the FCS preseason poll, but it is an easier week of preparation than that which faces Colorado State.

S – Statistics

This is another category which will take on greater meaning as the season progresses.

After this week, Buff fans will finally be able to look at a stats sheet, and (hopefully) not see rankings in the 100’s in almost every major statistical category.

The Rams also get a clean slate come Sunday, but, as this is year two of the Jim McElwain era, some of the numbers are worth noting, in hopes that they might bear fruit for the Buffs in the opener:

– Colorado State, while professing a desire to run the ball, was 95th in the nation last season in rushing. The Rams also joined the Buffs in triple digits in total offense (100th) and scoring offense (100th).

– The Ram defense was good against the pass last year (26th), but was susceptible to the run (103rd), giving up 405 yards and 30 points per game.

– The Buffs need to win third down. Last season, Colorado State was 100th in the nation in third down conversions on offense, and 112th in the nation in third down conversion defense, giving up first downs on almost half of every third down situation (48.4%). Sustained drives by the CU offense could be the key to this game.

And, to finish off with a completely irrelevant stat … Colorado is 2-1 all-time in games played on September 1st, with all three games coming against Colorado State. The two victories were memorable … In 2001, CU ended a two-game losing streak to Colorado State with decisive 41-14 win over the No. 24 Rams … In 2007, the Buffs rallied from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat the Rams, 31-28, in Boulder. Kicker Kevin Eberhart connected on two field goals to force the overtime, then hit the game-winner from 35 yards out.

The September 1st loss to Colorado State?

That was last season’s come-from-ahead 22-17 loss.

We’ll just have to see what new history is written come this Sunday …



3 Replies to “Colorado State – Preview”

  1. Can’t wait for the game but I wish it was being held in Boulder or even Fort Collins. Denver is the wrong venue for this game. Check out my latest blog post why the game should not be in Denver.

    Go Buffs!

  2. Stuart,

    I always enjoying reading your T.I.P.S before each game. Maybe I’m drinking the kool-aid, but I like the Buff’s odds against the Rams this weekend for 2 reasons:

    1. Coach Mac has beaten the Rams the past 2 years in a row, so he and his staff are familiar with the CSU staff and team.
    2. I think Mac is the better coach. In my opinion, it’s easy to be a good offensive coordinator at Bama when you have a team full of 4 and 5 star recruits. Mac led San Jose St to a 10-2 record last year, which is like turning water into wine (I apologize for the religious reference, but I think you get my point). I know it took some time to build the San Jose team, but CU has some talent and I think Mac and his staff will utilize it on Sunday.

    CU will be punched in the mouth a few times on Sunday, but unlike in the past this team will respond with a counter punch. My prediction for the game is CU 27 CSU 20.

    GO BUFFS….I can’t wait until Sunday!

  3. took me a while to find this on your site, but after a search for “colorado state preview” I found it, thanks and can’t wait for the season to kickoff sunday!

    Go Buffs!

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