Colorado State (0-0) vs. Colorado (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 29, 9 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sports Authority Field at Mile High (76,125) - Denver, Colorado. Television: FS1. Home Record: CSU 0-0, Colorado 0-0. Away Record: CSU 0-0, Colorado 0-0. Neutral Record: CSU 0-0, Colorado 0-0. Conference Record: CSU 0-0, Colorado 0-0. Series Record: Colorado leads, 62-21-2.
GAME NOTES: Another chapter in the Rocky Mountain Showdown is on tap for Friday night, as the Colorado Buffaloes clash with the Colorado State Rams at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The Buffaloes are coming off a disappointing 2013 season in which they opened with back-to-back victories, but then won just two more games the rest of the way, one of those wins coming against a non-FBS opponent in Charleston Southern.
Colorado, which now competes in the Pac-12 Conference, is under the direction of second-year head coach Mike MacIntyre, who moved over from San Jose State to accept the position in December of 2012.
As for the Rams, members of the Mountain West Conference, they are led by head coach Jim McElwain. With nearly three decades of coaching experience under his belt, McElwain is entering his third season with CSU. Last year, the Rams finished third in the Mountain Division with a record of 5-3 and were 7-6 overall at the end of the regular season.
With three victories in the last four games of 2013, the Rams earned themselves an invite to the New Mexico Bowl where they slipped by Washington State, 48-45, scoring 18 points in the final three minutes in order to claim the program's first postseason triumph since 2008.
For his efforts, McElwain was rewarded with a three-year contract extension earlier this month.
Colorado, which leads the all-time series by a count of 62-21-2, posted a 41-27 victory in last year's affair with the Rams. In games played in Denver over the years, the Buffs own an 8-5 advantage.
The scoring offense for the Rams was off the charts last season, averaging 36.2 ppg to rank third in the Mountain West and 22nd nationally. Making those numbers even more remarkable is the fact that the team scored a combined six points in two games against Alabama and Utah State, which means the unit was hitting on all cylinders during every other game on the schedule.
Unfortunately, life now moves forward without running back Kapri Bibbs, who finished with 1,741 yards and a staggering 31 touchdowns on 281 carries. Of the returning players, no one from last season, outside of quarterback Garrett Grayson, ran for more than 61 yards the entire year and that has to be a concern for coach McElwain.
Early indications have Jasen Oden filling the void left by Bibbs, a converted defender who played in all 14 games last season and finished with 39 total tackles. McElwain might be reaching a bit with his choice for running back right now, but he really doesn't have any other options.
Grayson converted 62.1 percent of his pass attempts for 23 touchdowns and set the single-season passing mark for the Rams with 3,696 yards a year ago. Bringing back his top two targets and five of the top six receivers overall doesn't hurt either.
Now in his second year Rashard Higgins, a candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, was tops on the team with 68 receptions for 837 yards and tied for the team lead with six touchdowns, matching the number put up by Kivon Cartwright who did his damage on a mere 27 receptions that he stretched for 17.1 yards per grab. Throw in Joe Hansley (52 receptions) and Grayson, who has been named to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and Davey O'Brien watch lists, will have more than enough weapons at his disposal.
There were only a handful of games in 2013 when the Rams were able to keep opponents to fewer than three touchdowns, which is something that needs to be addressed if Colorado State is going to continue moving in a positive direction.
The bad news early on is the fact that not a single returning starter will be hunkering down in the trenches. Add to that the loss of linebacker Shaquil Barrett who ranked third on the unit in total tackles with 80 and was first in both tackles for loss (20.5) and sacks (12.0), and the unit is having to fill in some key spots.
Juniors Joe Kawulok, Terry Jackson and LaRyan King will try to anchor a revamped defensive line in front of standout linebackers Max Morgan and Aaron Davis. Morgan was first on the team and ranked among the nation's best with 134 tackles, while Davis pitched in with 120 stops of his own, seven of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. Fellow linebacker Cory James didn't have nearly as many tackles (60) as his counterparts, but in his defense, he did number 12 TFL and eight sacks to finish second on the team in both categories.
Colorado is coming off a season in which the offense struggled to produce more often than not. The team generated 25.4 ppg, thanks to a few break-out performances against the likes of Central Arkansas and Charleston Southern. The group will again be challenged to put up solid numbers as sophomore Sefo Liufau takes over the quarterback responsibilities.
Liufau appeared in eight games last season, throwing for 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he was also picked off eight times. The signal caller will have to turn his attention to someone other than Paul Richardson (83 receptions, 1,343 yards, 10 TDs), with Nelson Spruce being the most likely candidate after he caught 55 passes for 650 yards and four scores a year ago.
When keeping the ball on the ground, Liufau will be turning around and handing the ball to Michael Adkins II. Appearing in nine games in 2013, Adkins was second on the team with 535 rushing yards, turning 103 carries into a team- best six TDs. Adkins also scored twice on pass receptions, making him a valued threat in more ways than one.
In addition to the offense having to work a bit harder, the Colorado defense is in need of serious attention as well after placing 112th in the country with 38.3 ppg allowed.
Although he was just a freshman last season, linebacker Addison Gillam made a huge impact with a team-best 119 tackles, making stops on third down a total of 15 times. Gillam was tied for first on the unit with seven TFL as well, something he will have to work towards again this year if the Buffs hope to slow down the competition.
Also expect to see senior corner Greg Henderson attacking receivers in an effort to disrupt passes even more this time around, after leading the program with four interceptions.
Although the Rams bring back a competent quarterback, the team has to figure out how to replace a huge piece of the offensive puzzle with the departure of Bibbs. It may take some time to sort that part out, which could be just enough for Colorado to slip by for a win this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colorado 27, Colorado State 21
08/29 15:20:51 ET