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 what to expect each weekend.

Trying to predict how a college team will play in its first game of the season is difficult.

Trying to predict how a college team will play in its first game of the season – when that game is against a little brother with a chip on its shoulder – is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.

Are the Buffs that much improved from their 4-8 season of a year ago?

Are the Rams, who went 8-4 and defeated Washington State in a bowl game last season, in a position to put the Buffs’ 2014 season into an early tailspin?

Buff fans thinking of bowl invitations are forgetting that CU lost eight Pac-12 games last season by an average of four touchdowns per contest.

Ram fans thinking of a Mountain West Conference title are forgetting that CSU has lost its record-setting running back and 80% of its starting offensive line, and has yet to defeat a team with a winning record in two seasons under Jim McElwain.

Neither team is within shouting distance of national rankings or national attention. Case in point: Colorado last defeated a nationally ranked team in 2009; Colorado State in 2002.

In the national arena, then, it’s safe to say the 2014 Rocky Mountain Showdown means little.

For Colorado and Colorado State, however, this game means everything.

T – Talent

Are the Rams deep enough in talent to just reload instead of rebuild?

The Ram Nation seems to think so, though most preseason predictions have CSU no better than third in the weak Mountain Division of the MWC (it shouldn’t be too hard for the Rams to finish ahead of the likes of Air Force, Wyoming, and New Mexico – teams which finished with a combined record of 10-26 a year ago).

Running back Kapri Bibbs set school records with his 1,741 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns last season, but Bibbs opted to go to the NFL (as an undrafted free agent, as it turned out) rather than return for his junior and senior seasons. Without Bibbs, along with the departure of Chris Nwoke (graduation) and Donnell Alexander (transfer), the Rams do not return a single running back with over 100 collegiate career rushing yards.

Which puts even more pressure upon CSU’s quarterback, senior Garrett Grayson. Last fall, Grayson set school records in passing yards (3,696) and touchdowns (23), while leading the Rams to 470.8 yards of total offense per game. Grayson’s favorite target from last year, sophomore Rashard Higgins (68 catches for 837 yards and six touchdowns) returns, along with four other receivers who had at least 20 catches in 2013. The Rams lost quality tight end Crockett Gilmore, replaced by senior Kivon Cartwright, who had 27 catches for 462 yards and six touchdowns as a backup.

The real issue on offense for Jim McElwain as he opens his third season in Ft. Collins is the offensive line. Four of the five starters last fall were seniors, including center Weston Richburg, who was taken in the second round of the NFL draft by the New York Giants. How well – and how quickly – the new offensive line comes together will be a large factor in the Rams’ success this season.

… If you want to watch one position battle during the 2014 Rocky Mountain Showdown, watch how the Buffs’ improved – but suspect and depleted – defensive line fares against CSU’s completely rebuilt offensive line. The winner of that trench warfare will likely win the game …

Colorado and Colorado State have similar issues on defense. Both teams have issues on the defensive line, and both have plenty of returning starters in the defensive backfield … but starters who have not enjoyed much success as a unit.

The Rams play a 3-4 defense, and all three of last season’s starters along the front are gone.  The Rams came out of the spring with 11 defensive tackles, but no clear stars. “Are we going to have a dominant superstar there?”, McElwain asked rhetorically after the conclusion of spring practices. “No, I don’t think so. But we are going to get guys breathers so they can play hard every down”.

The linebackers will be good, even with the loss of Mountain West Defensive Player-of-the-Year Shaquil Barrett. Both of last season’s leading tacklers, Max Morgan (134 tackles) and Aaron Davis (120), return. Cory James and his eight sacks from last season also returns.

The Colorado State secondary returns in tact, which, like for Colorado, may or may not be a good thing. Last season, Colorado State ranked 123rd in the nation in touchdown passes allowed, with 33 (CU gave up 24), while surrendering 275.7 passing yards per game (CU gave up 259.5).

Both teams are looking to post respectable defensive numbers this year after posting miserable numbers last season. It will be an interesting test to see how Sefo Liufau fares in his first game against Colorado State’s secondary (Connor Wood was the starter in the 2013 game).

I – Intangibles

Emotion.

We all know that emotion plays a huge role in collegiate athletics. Emotion is what allows an Appalachian State to take down a Michigan, an Eastern Washington to topple an Oregon State, and, yes, for a Sacramento State to defeat a Colorado.

Add in the built up anticipation of the season’s first game, and, for good measure, make it a rivalry game … and you’ve got a game where emotion plays an oversized role in the outcome.

Last season, CU head coach Mike MacIntyre had a watch-word for the season. It was “Care”.

“Care about everything; care about each other, care about yourself, care about the program”, said MacIntyre. “Coming from within and going out, because there was so much negativity surrounding it outside that I wanted our young men to care about each other and care about themselves and all the things that they could take care of.”

For a team coming off a 1-11 season which set numerous records for futility, and for players who were being asked to learn a new system for a second (or, in many cases, a third) coaching staff, getting the players to care about themselves and their team was a rudimentary – but necessary – step in the right direction.

The result was a 4-8 season. Two wins over 1-AA teams, to be sure, but four wins total – and new hope for a beleaguered program.

The next step?

This year’s catch-phrase is “Be Uncommon”.

“We want them to be uncommon in everything they do in life,” says MacIntyre. “How they treat people, how they do in the classroom, and doing all of the little things right”. Buffs who made uncommon plays on the practice field this spring and fall were rewarded with coveted “Uncommon” jerseys to wear.

All part of the plan, but no one knows how far this new found enthusiasm will take the Buffs in 2014.

When asked if getting the Buffs to a bowl game would be the goal for the season, MacIntyre responded, “We play 12 games, right? I want to win all 12.”

MacIntyre’s goal for this year’s team is go 1-0 each week. Try to win the next game on the schedule, and then we’ll see where the Buffs’ record stands when the dust settles Thanksgiving weekend.

For now at least, it seems to the Buff Nation that the Buff coaches and players have found the right mix of emotion and preparation.

P – Preparation / Schedule

For the first game of the season, this section of the “T.I.P.S.” 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 for the RMS, both have had equal opportunity to prepare for one another.

Yet, when it comes to the schedule, CSU still has an 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 stops – trick formations; new plays; new players – as their season can be made by beating the Buffs.

Colorado, historically, has won over 70% of its games played against Colorado State (62-21-2, .741). 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, 19-7, .731). 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 coaches (and fans) like to have an entire month to focus and prepare for the USC game each season?

Thought so.

Colorado does have one scheduling advantage over the Rams, however. Next weekend, the Buffs get to play as close to a 1-AA team as is possible while still facing a 1-A team, taking on the University of Massachusetts in Boston. The Rams, meanwhile, get a conference game, taking to the road to face Mountain Division favorite Boise State.

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.

S – Statistics

Let’s start with … 39-108.

No, that’s not CU’s record over the past ten seasons (though sadly, it’s not too far off – 44-80).

Rather, it is the record of the teams Colorado State has defeated in its first two seasons under Jim McElwain. The Rams posted a 4-8 record in the first season of the McElwain era, with the four wins coming over teams with a combined record of 10-40.

Last season’s victims posted a 29-68 combined record, and were not exactly a murderer’s row of talented teams. For the record, CSU’s wins last season came over the following: Cal Poly 6-6, UTEP 2-10, Wyoming 5-7, Hawaii 1-11, Nevada 4-8, New Mexico 3-9, Air Force 2-10, and Washington State 6-7.

That works out to a 12-12 overall record for McElwain … and in Ft. Collins this record was considered good enough to give Coach McElwain a ten-year contract extension.

(Imagine what they’ll do if McElwain actually defeats a team with a winning record!).

Next number to remember … 31.

As in 31 career starts by the Colorado State offensive line coming into this year’s Rocky Mountain Showdown. Last year, with all five offensive linemen returning, the number of combined career starts along the offensive line was 94.

Oh, and then there is this – of the 31 career starts for the CSU offensive line, senior left tackle Ty Sambrailo has registered all 31 of them. Yep – the other four offensive linemen the Rams will trot out for their opening series will all be making their first career start.

(For comparison’s sake, CU’s offensive line career starts: LT – Irwin (0); LG – Crabb (12); C-Kelley (0); RG – Munyer (27); RT – Nembot (19) … 58 combined career starts).

And a final number (to grow on) … 71.

Out of the 105 players Colorado had in camp this August, 71, or 67.6%, were underclassmen – 44 freshmen and 27 sophomores. That number ranks Colorado as the youngest team in the Pac-12 conference and 11th youngest in the nation. The next closest team to Colorado in the Pac-12 is Arizona State, at 62.9% (66 of 105).

In the two-deep, Colorado has 28 underclassmen, including 11 freshmen (four true). This puts the Buffs into a tie for third nationally for the most underclassmen in the two-deep (in the Pac-12, Utah also has 28, while the two Arizona schools each have 26).

So, while it is encouraging that Colorado will not be trotting out a true freshmen starter (and only three red-shirt freshmen – wide receiver Bryce Bobo; fullback George Frazier; and defensive end Derek McCartney), this is still a young team … with its best days ahead of it.

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As always, your comments are encouraged and much appreciated. Just click on the “Comments” link at the top of the page, and let me know your thoughts …

 

11 Replies to “CU v. CSU – A Preview”

  1. Yo Stuart,
    All the hopes and dreams suddenly seem unfounded. The Buffs were dominated from the time they couldn’t score from inside the 5 yard line. All Buff fans can hope for now is that UMass and Hawaii are as bad as they were last year. After the RMS, they are the only two games I can see the Buffs winning unless they make major changes across the board. First things first, Mac needs to start calling the plays. Lindgren seem out of his league.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  2. Stuart,

    Just watched 2014 Fall Camp Proving Grounds video produced by the CU Video Team, and not sure I’m going to sleep tonight because I’m excited about tomorrow’s game. It’s been awhile since I felt anxious for a CU game. I know it will be another up and down season for the Buffs but I feel like Mac and his staff have the team headed in the right direction.

    Regardings tomorrow’s game, I feel it will be close at the beginning but the Buffs will eventually pull away in the 2nd half – better coaches and talent.

    Thanks again for all the work you do to keep Buff fans, like myself, informed and up to date.

    Here’s to another good start to the season….GO BUFFS!

  3. This is guaranteed to be an exciting game. One of the many reasons will be the matchup between two superior coaching minds and how they strategize and game plan. Early in the game I expect to see both teams testing and probing for the others weak spots, and then at half time make the necessary adjustments. My guess is that CU’s offense will overpower CSU’s defense with a balanced attack, but it might also come down to us running the ball and controlling the clock. No doubt both teams deserve the others respect in all phases and coaching. I can’t wait to see the fireworks. GO BUFFS!!!

  4. Does anyone have any updates on the Dish vs Fox Sports dispute? I am going to be disappointed if dish really does not carry this game. Is the game going to be shown on Fox Sports 1 for dish subscribers?

  5. Good work, Stuart.
    it is hard to get a bead on this game. there are so many changes in both depth charts. so, i’ll stay simple and offer this (sorry to be cliche): the o-line d-line matchups; the qb receiver play; special teams mistakes (please do better than last year); inopportune penalties, not necessarily total penalties; and, control of the pace and of the clock, hopefully CU with its running game. and, of course, which staff is the most creative with a game plan and which staff is most adaptive with in-game changes.
    it is rainy and soggy in denver right now, forecast is same tomorrow and thursday, warm and sunny on friday. whom does that favor?
    obvious,i know, but that’s all i have.

  6. Stuart, when I hear that a team is “young” I always want to know what the average age is.

    Either you, ESPN, or the NCAA should get the birthdays of the offensive and defensive starters for both teams and give the average age for each unit at the start of the game.

    For example CU’s offensive starters are 20.1 years old and CSU’s defensive starters are 21.2 years old (made up #’s).

    I would find this interesting.

  7. This game–and entire season–boils down to one thing: how well the Buffs can compete at the line of scrimmage. Our skills positions may not be the most talented in the PAC 12, but they are good enough to be competitive. Last year in the few games the Buffs held the line of scrimmage we won or kept it close (CSU game included). This year should be no different. The three non-conference games against (presumably) weaker opponents will probably reveal our level of talent at the skills positions (QB, RB, WR, etc); our conference schedule will be an indicator of how talented we are at the line. It all begins and ends at the line.

  8. Stuart, where can you be found ahead of the game in FOXBORO? My dad and I may stop by. He’s out here visiting me and we’re going to that game.

    Also, not sure as it matters at all but as a note of interest…Both CU and CSU have games in the Boston area this season. CSU plays Boston College on 9/27 in Chestnut Hill. Not sure if either of them have ever been in MA before this?

    1. I know CU has never played in the state of Massachusetts before, but I don’t know about CSU (CU has played Boston College, but that was in the ’99 Insight.com Bowl).
      I am planning on going to the free CU pregame party before the game, and will be handing out CU at the Game mousepads to east cost CU at the Gamers. I’m not sure where I will be sitting, or when we’ll get there, because I’ll have two grandsons (10 and 8) in tow, and it’s hard to say what delays we might encounter getting them moving.
      I’ll post more as we get closer, but plan on looking for a tall guy (6’4″) wearing a CU at the Game hat – should be pretty easy to spot!

  9. What a difference the coaching staff makes, along with their second season, JE’s had one of the youngest teams in the nation too. But they looked lost on the field, at practice and especially during games. Remember Fresno State?

    But MacIntyre’s young team seems more like UCLA’s young team did last year, just without the star rating. But the coaches seem to be doing a great job finding undiscovered talent and then teaching and coaching them up. I’m/we all are hoping that translates into enough improvement to make an equally big leap forward as last year’s team did and at least get to a bowl. That would be very big accomplishment in the PAC12 with ten returning QBs that include more then a couple of NFL caliber QBs that will be drafted next year. And 5-7 teams could/should end up ranked in the top 25.

  10. Stuart, I think it will boil down to how well Sefo does, how well our RB’s do, how well the special teams play and how well our DB’s do against Grayson. Let’s see. I’ve just about covered all phases of the game….. don’t think that qualifies me for an opinion on anything.

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