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Colorado v. Colorado State Preview – “T.I.P.S.” for the 2018 Rocky Mountain Showdown

 

7-6. 7-6. 7-6.

Head coach Mike Bobo has been very consistent in his first three seasons at Colorado State.

In each of Bobo’s three campaigns in Ft. Collins, CSU has lost to Colorado in September, gone on to finish the regular season 7-5, then lost their bowl game in December.

After a humbling 43-34 loss to Hawai’i in the 2018 opener, and with three straight games against Power-Five conference schools coming up (v. Colorado; v. Arkansas; at Florida), plus a road tilt against Mountain West Conference favorite Boise State, it might be asking a bit too much for the Rams to get to 7-6 this fall.

Last season, CSU opened with a 58-27 rout of Oregon State, but then managed only a field goal a week later, with the Buffs winning the 2017 version of the Rocky Mountain Showdown 17-3.

Ram fans are undoubtedly looking for a similar turnaround – this time in their favor – in the 2018 battle with the Buffs.

The question of the week, then, is which CSU team will show up this Friday – the team which was out-scored 37-7 at home by an inferior opponent in the first 40 minutes of their opener? Or the team which posted four touchdowns in less than a quarter of play to make a game of it late against the Rainbow Warriors?

 

This week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU v. Colorado State … Friday, 7:30 p.m. MT, CBS Sports Network

 

T – Talent 

“If you build it, he will come” – Field of Dreams

“If you build it, they will come” – Colorado State athletic administration

At a cost of $245 million, (now named) Canvas Stadium was years in the planning, making its debut last September with the Rams taking out Oregon State, 58-27.

When fund-raising began in 2013, and when ground-breaking took place in 2015, the new stadium was touted as a way for Colorado State to enter big-time college football.

So far … not so much.

Not only have the Rams not been tendered a Big 12 (or any other Power-Five conference) bid in the past five years, the CSU program is, arguably, trending in the wrong direction.

Canvas Stadium has a capacity of 41,000, with the Rams averaging 32,062 per game in home attendance last season. While that total represents the highest average in school history, the average attendance was only a 4,462 per game average bump over the lame duck final season at Hughes Stadium. Against Hawai’i, on a balmy Colorado evening, for a game in which the home team was a 17-point favorite … the Rams drew an announced crowd of 31,007.

In addition to a rise in attendance, Ram fans were looking for a rise in caliber of player coming to Ft. Collins. Instead of seeing a positive move in recruiting which is expected (demanded?) from a fan base when millions are put into facilities, CSU recruiting has been fair-to-middling at best.

Here are Rivals Recruiting Class national rankings for Colorado State since 2013:

Class of ’13 … 82 (new stadium announced)

Class of ’14 … 76

Class of ’15 … 119 (transition Class between Jim McElwain and Mike Bobo)

Class of ’16 … 63

Class of ’17 … 83

Class of ’18 … 89

Class of ’19 … outside the top 100

This fall, Colorado State returns only nine starters from last season (four on offense; five on defense). On the two deep roster released before the season-opener against Hawai’i, the Rams had eight freshmen, including freshman starters at left tackle, nose tackle, and one of the cornerback positions.

Mike Bobo is entering his fourth season in Fort Collins, and is doing so with two new coordinators.

Dave Johnson takes over as the offensive coordinator, with John Jancek taking over the defense.

The defense, ranked 97th in total defense last season, is being completely rebuilt. Jancek, who held the same position at Tennessee (2013-15), has four new position coaches working with him as the Rams transition to a 4-3 base alignment from a 3-4 base. The goal is to run more of an attacking defense, with more blitzes and stunts than were run under former coordinator Marty English.

Had it all gone according to “plan”, Colorado State would have raised a big chunk of change to pay for its new stadium (recall that the CSU administration had to renege on its own promise that it would scuttle the project if they hadn’t raised $125 million by October, 2014 … Instead they asked the Board of Governors to approve the plan even without having funding in hand), and be playing on par with Power-Five conference schools under former Georgia assistant Mike Bobo.

Instead, the Rams are being projected as a middle-of-the-pack Mountain West team, with a chance at another New Mexico Bowl or Potato Bowl bid … but little else.

An anonymous Mountain West assistant coach (as quoted by Athlon Sports) may have put it best: “The school has invested in the program in a big-time way. They want to be a Boise State, but it hasn’t worked out yet”.

Does Colorado State have talent on its roster?

Sure.

But is it enough talent to stay with the Buffs? (or Razorbacks? or Gators? … or Boise State Broncos?).

Transfer quarterback K.J. Samuels passed for a school-record 537 yards and five touchdowns in the opener … but … had only 163 yards passing late into the third quarter, when CSU trailed Hawai’i, 37-7.

Preston Williams had nine catches for 188 yards and two touchdowns against the Rainbow Warriors … but … was at 61 yards receiving before the Rams began their frantic finish, out-scoring the Rainbow Warriors 27-6 over the final 18 minutes of the game.

Olabisi Johnson had six catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns … but … you guessed it, was at 22 yards receiving through the first 40 minutes of play.

As to the Colorado State defense … Well, let’s put it this way:

— Hawai’i had 617 yards of total offense, including 199 yards rushing. Last season, a year which witnessed the Rainbow Warriors finishing with a 3-9 record, the Hawai’i offense never generated more than 400 total yards in any game;

— Hawai’i averaged 22.8 points per game last year (105th in the nation), but put 23 points on CSU in the first half;

— Hawai’i didn’t score on any of its 12 opening drives of 2017, but scored a touchdown on its first possession against Colorado State;

— Hawai’i hadn’t defeated Colorado State since 1992, and hadn’t won in Ft. Collins since 1988; and

— Hawai’i was 3-15 on the road the past three seasons … with wins at Fresno State and San Jose State (2016) and at UMass (2017), and had lost nine of its last ten games overall heading into the 2018 season.

There’s more, but you get the idea …

 

I – Intangibles

Mike Bobo is back on the Colorado State sidelines (or at least up in the booth for the game), after missing ten days during Fall Camp due to health concerns.

According to Bobo, he was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy – a  condition that results from damage to the peripheral nerves and usually results in weakness, numbness and pain in the hands and feet.

Bobo said in a statement upon his return that he had remained in constant contact with his coaching staff during his hospitalization to help prepare the team for the opener against Hawai’i.

“In my opinion, I think we did make him proud,” defensive lineman Ellison Hubbard said of CSU’s preparations in Bobo’s absence. “Not that he thought we were going to do terrible, but he knew that we could handle this when he went out, that he was still going to be there in case we needed some help or had some issues.”

Outside distractions – as CU fans can attest – can have an impact upon a program. Last year, the Buffs seemingly spent the entire off-season under a dark cloud. Arguably, the fallout from the Tumpkin case had an adverse affect not only on the coaching staff, but on the players as well.

Teams seem to rally around ailing players and coaches. It makes for a feel good story when the player/coach returns, and gives a boost to the program.

The excuse du jour for CSU fans is that Bobo’s absence hurt the Rams’ preparation for the opener.

And now, with Bobo back full time? We’ll see …

How will the loss to Hawai’i impact the Ram team psyche?

Will they rally, now that their coach is back full time, putting the Hawai’i game down to an anomaly? Will the Rams focus on their furious comeback, rallying from a 37-7 rout to a 40-34 nail-biter in just over one quarter of game clock?

Or will the bickering and infighting begin? Will the team begin to believe the naysayers, who claim that Mike Bobo has under-achieved in Ft. Collins, failing to build a strong program in a relatively weak conference? Will the CSU players, checking their schedule, note that they are going from a bottom-feeder G-5 team in Hawai’i (ranked 118th preseason by Lindy’s; 121st by Athlon) to three straight games against Power-Five schools, concluding that an 0-4 start is now a distinct possibility?

And what about the Buffs?

Senior CSU safety Jordan Fogal, who had 12 tackles against Hawai’i, said this after the game: “I think it was just that we came in a little bit too cocky as a defense … We haven’t proven anything. It’s been all talk, all outside talk, and we let it get to our head a bit.”

Buff fans sincerely hope that CU defensive captains are not making similar comments after Friday night’s game.

 

P – Preparation/Schedule 

There were only a handful of games in “Week Zero” of the 2018 college football season, so the NCAA isn’t posting statistically relevant rankings just yet.

If there were rankings, Colorado State would be first in the nation in total offense (653 yards) … and second-to-last in total defense (617 yards allowed).

How Colorado State’s Week Zero game will impact the 2018 Rocky Mountain Showdown, is, of course, up for debate.

Will it benefit the Buffs, having game tape on the Rams? Or will it benefit the Rams, having a game under their belts before facing the Buffs?

Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre has spent the past few months telling anyone who would listen that Colorado State gained the upper hand over his Buffs by moving up the game against Hawai’i.

Just like he did last summer, touting the advantage CSU had in playing Oregon State the week before facing Colorado.

Last year … “This year if I would’ve known they were having a week zero game, we would’ve had a zero week game”, said MacIntyre. “I think that gives them an advantage”.

MacIntyre’s biggest concern is that the Rams will have “game-speed” experience under their belts. Throw in the fact that it will be CU’s season opener in front of a large crowd at a neutral stadium and it’s something MacIntyre admits is a concern.

“That gives them a big advantage, at least the beginning of the game for sure,” MacIntyre said. “We’re going to have to find a way get the tempo of the game … Hopefully we’ll be able to come out of the gates fast, but that gives them a huge advantage, to me. I’m concerned about that.”

MacIntyre made similar statements this August, expressing concern over how big an advantage it was for Colorado State to get to play a game before facing Colorado.

Buff fans should write off MacIntyre’s comments to coach-speak, however, because history suggests otherwise:

— Historically, Colorado is 17-4 when the Buffs are playing their opener against a team which has already played a game. Most of those games were over 50 years ago, but CU is 5-1 in such games since 1988, including a 3-1 record against Colorado State.

— Last year, Colorado State came into the Rocky Mountain Showdown sky-high, after having run over Oregon State, 58-27, in Week Zero. The Rams amassed 525 yards of total offense in the domination of the Beavers: 334 yards passing; 191 yards rushing. The following game, in Week One against Colorado, the Rams posted one field goal in a 17-3 loss to the Buffs, amassing 345 yards of total offense.

— Colorado holds a commanding 65-22-2 overall lead in the series against CSU. Since 2006, when the CU program fell off a cliff (and have had to spend over a decade trying to climb back up) the Buffs have nonetheless gone 8-4 against the Rams.

And … not for nothing. The 2018 Rocky Mountain Showdown will be played on Friday night. The Rams will have only six days to focus their entire attention on the Buffs.

The Buffs, meanwhile, will have had much of August – certainly the last week or two – to focus their attention on the Rams.

 

S – Statistics

Colorado has won three straight games in the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

With a commanding 65-22-2 advantage in the overall series, it comes as no surprise that there have been many winning streaks for the Buffs against the Rams since the first game was played between the two schools in 1893. The current three-game winning streak, however, is the first such run for the Buffs since CU won three straight between 2003-05 (with two of those games being played in Boulder).

Before that, to find a longer run you have to go back to the eight-game winning streak the Buff Nation enjoyed in games played between 1987 and 1998 (the Rams were off the Buffs’ schedule in 1990 and 1991, and again in 1993 and 1994 … four games which would almost assuredly have all been CU victories, given that the Buffs went 38-8-3 those four seasons).

In case you are wondering, the only Colorado State winning “streak” in the series since 1950 came in 1999 and 2000, when the Rams won back-to-back games. The longest Colorado winning streak in the series was 12 games, in contests played between 1934-47. The longest run of victories for CSU? Three games (accomplished twice: 1925-27; 1931-33).

Colorado State brings to Denver gaudy first-game offensive statistics – 653 yards of total offense; a quarterback who threw for 537 yards and five touchdowns; two wide receivers with over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns apiece.

But the Rams also have little to show for their new and improved defense. Colorado State was 97th in total defense in 2017, and, if the opener was any indication, will not be ranked much higher in 2018.

 

Prediction

I taped the CSU/Hawai’i game, figuring I would fast forward through the game on Sunday, checking out the Ram personnel in what promised to be a Ram rout.

I first remembered to check my phone for an update on the score around 7:00 p.m. Saturday night, and saw that the score was 16-7 in the second quarter.

About right, I figured, what with Colorado State being a 17-point favorite and all.

But wait … it was Hawai’i which was ahead 17-6.

That piqued my interest.

I was able to get to turn on the game later on, with the Rainbow Warriors taking a 37-7 lead. I looked forward to shots of an empty stadium, with the announcers trying to explain how the prognostication could have been so wrong.

Then, of course, CSU started playing well, and Hawai’i started playing like, well, Hawai’i.

Watching the Ram offense go for 391 yards and 27 points in the final 18:35 of game clock was disconcerting, at best.

Here’s hoping that the Buff players did not turn off the game in the third quarter, figuring the Rocky Mountain Showdown was a sure thing.

Here’s hoping that the CU defensive coaches show their charges the final third of game tape over and over again this week.

What Colorado fans are looking for is a return to 2016, a season which produced a Pac-12 South title. That season started with a 44-7 crushing of Colorado State. That game, which saw the Buffs cruise to a 31-0 halftime lead, was preceded by this short pregame speech by Mike MacIntyre:

It is assumed that on Friday, the Buffs will post their fourth straight win over the Rams.

Colorado is a touchdown favorite, and most prognosticators this week will pronounce this is easy money for Buff bettors.

These are the same prognosticators, however, who had Colorado State down as a 17-point favorite over Hawai’i.

The Buffs should not be paying any attention to what took place in Ft. Collins on Saturday. They have their own goals to achieve; their own hills to climb.

Defeating Colorado State is just a first step in that process.

I have been on record since July that the Buffs should win the 2018 Rocky Mountain Showdown “handily”.

The only way I can see the Buffs losing to the Rams is if they come into the game Friday assuming the scoreboard already reads: “Colorado 21, Colorado State 0”, and start pressing if the game is close early. Colorado State will come out with a vengeance, anxious to prove that the first two-thirds of the Hawai’i game was not representative of their team, and that the final third of that game was the true representation of their talents.

The Buff players (especially Steven Montez, who has been known to force throws) – and their coaches (especially Darrin Chiaverini, calling plays for the first time) – need to stay patient, and take what the Rams’ porous defense gives them. The Buff secondary needs to keep the CSU talented receivers in front of them, and force the Rams into trying to put together long, sustained drives.

If the Buffs take it one play at a time, they will be in a similar position Hawai’i was in the third quarter. Unlike the Rainbow Warriors, however, the Buffs will know better than to allow the Rams to rise up late and make it close game.

… Colorado 41, Colorado State 24 … 

—–

 

 

8 Replies to “Colorado v. CSU – “T.I.P.S.” for the Rocky Mountain Showdown”

  1. I think the Buffs come to play. All the crappy press and predictions, sounds like a team with a chip on their shoulders this year.
    CSU has been a slow burning dumpster fire that might go full blaze this year.
    CU -48 CSU -20

  2. I felt confident prior to last weekend, perhaps even a CU rout. Now, not as much given what happened at the end of the game. The Rams offensive power is a concern but defense will be the key. And CSU’s will be considerably worse than CU’s. Buffs will prevail in a closer game than expected:

    CU 45 CSU 33

    Go Buffs!!!

  3. well, the currents and eddies flow in many directions.
    first, csu has demonstrated its character, as Stuart notes, by ignoring its promise on financing. also, csu advertises ‘capacity’ at 41k, but only 36.5k of those can sit.
    two, i am wary of csu’s mentality. they could come out blazing and they have guts and will fight to the end. cu is at its usual psychological disadvantage: even with an edge in talent and (somewhat) in experience the buffs must play with intensity and grit. if the buffs don’t adjust quickly to game speed and csu’s assumed aggressive passing game, the game could be close.
    i don’t know if we can cover the csu receivers or pressure their qb. i don’t know if our new front 7 can stuff the run without giving up big pass plays.
    on O, i don’t know if we can run the ball. i do believe montez is headier this year and also that our receivers can get separation. can the line succeed in passpro?
    i think it will come down to which team wants it more. thus, i suspect it will be high scoring and close to the spread. i hope i’m wrong. go buffs.

  4. First of all, I think the buffs will win. But CSU is a wounded animal and can be dangerous if we dont do what we should do. What Hawaii showed me is that we need to run the ball down their throats. Misdirection is where they looked the most vulnerable. But what they were doing was not some bonkers game plan that happened to work. It was run the ball because they cant stop it and throw when its available. We also need to score early. Put doubt in their minds and make them feel like they have no hope by the second quarter. If we let them hang around then we will be vulnerable for an upset. If we run the ball and Montez is efficient and we dont turn the ball over then we are in position to win to the likes of a 38-13 score. Go Buffs.

  5. I didn’t realize Hawaii was *THAT* bad last year. Which makes the first three quarters very baffling.
    I didn’t watch the game, so my main question is: did Hawaii take their foot off the gas in the fourth? Start playing underclassmen? Or did CSU’s first-string team actually dominate Hawaii’s first-string team, once they decided to start trying?

    1. Clearly Hawaii was improved from last year. But altitude and halftime adjustments probably helped CSU start to get back into that game. Hawaii may have let up on the gas, too. When Hawaii’s lead got down to only 6 points and they HAD to get points on the board, they moved the ball enough to kick a final field goal to put it out of reach.

      Either way, I’m nervous that the Buffs will take this game lightly. I still have a terrible taste in my mouth for that HORRIBLE performance CU presented in the 2017 season closer against Utah… you know, the game where we were down 28 to zero at halftime?! Inexcusable.

  6. Were the lambs trying to win with “vanilla” so they could keep some things up their sleeve against the Buffs? Or was it just the Hawaii turtle “prevent” D?(gotta find a new name for that) that allowed the late O surge

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