The 86th Annual Rocky Mountain Showdown is on Friday, and the Colorado State Rams are looking to start the season out strong with a win against in-state rival, the Colorado Buffaloes. Inside is a preview of the game as well as predictions for the outcome.
The Series: CU 61-21-2
The Prize: The Centennial Cup and bragging rights for the year
The Location: Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver
Date, Time, TV: Friday, August 29th, at 7:00 P.M. MST on Fox Sports 1
The Line: CU by 3 (per Bovada)
The long awaited football season is finally here. There are only two days until the 86th annual Rocky Mountain Showdown between the Colorado State Rams and the Colorado Buffaloes. Colorado won last year's matchup 41-27. For the Rams, that was a year ago and the team returning from an 8-6 record looks much improved compared to the team of August of 2013. Same is true for the Buffs, who ended with a 4-8 record a season ago.
The Colorado Offense vs The Colorado State Defense:
The Buffaloes will be led by sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau. Liufau is entering his first full season as the number one quarterback and will be playing in his first ever Rocky Mountain Showdown. Liufau played in 8 games last season after getting his redshirt pulled in game five against Arizona State. Liufau started 7 games total. Liufau threw for 1,779 yards, and 12 touchdowns with 8 interceptions, while completing 59.4 percent of his passes. With good mobility, Liufau forces defense to contain him in the pocket, otherwise he has the ability to take advantage of opponents with his legs.
The passing game was the strength of last year's offense, but losing 2nd round pick receiver Paul Richardson is a major hit to the offense. Richardson had 1,343 yards receiving last year and caught 10 touchdowns. The rest of the receiving staff combined accounted for only 298 more yards than Richardson alone, and only 1 more touchdown.
Nelson Spruce and Bryce Bobo are listed as the starters for Colorado, with D.D. Goodson manning the slot. Bobo, a redshirt freshman, showed his ability in the Buff's spring game when he had 5 catches for 132 yards.
When asked who was going to replace Richardson, Jon Woods of SB Nation's The Raplhie Report replied, "No one player will get close to replacing Richardson's production this season but the Buffaloes hope that the receiver by committee approach will help them get close. Nelson Spruce is a very solid and dependable number one, D.D. Goodson is becoming a threat in the slot and (Bryce) Bobo has shown flashes so far in practice situations."
The Buffaloes relied on the big play last season, scoring 8 touchdown passes of 50 yards or more. In order for Colorado's offense to be successful against Colorado State, they will once again have to rely on the passing game. Last season Colorado was able to score 3 touchdowns in the air against Colorado State, including 2 touchdowns of over 60 yards.
The Colorado State secondary was the weakness of the team a season ago. The Rams allowed 9 touchdown passes of 50 yards or more, while allowing 2 more touchdown passes of 45 yards or more. Colorado State returns all four of their starters in the secondary in corners Bernard Blake and DeAndre Elliot and safeties Trent Matthews and Kevin Pierre-Louis. They also return their nickel back Tyree Simmons. However, unless major improvements have been made by the Ram's secondary, look for the Buffaloes to continue to look to attack through the air against Colorado State.
The Buffaloes didn't have as much success in the run game as they are used to, gaining only 1,544 yards on the ground. They return their top two rushers in Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II, who combined for 1,097 yards in 2013. When asked about which running back is expected to lead the team in week one, Woods said, "Powell and Adkins should be considered the starters for Friday's game in Denver. (Tony) Jones and (Phillip) Lindsay will both get some carries and the coaches will likely stick with the hot hand once they hit the field."
Colorado State was stout against the run last season, and though they lost four starters in their front seven, the Ram's run defense looks to be just as good as a year ago. Linebackers Max Morgan, Aaron Davis and Cory James return to the Colorado State front seven. Morgan and Davis led the team in tackles last season, and James recorded 8 sacks last season, which was good for the second highest on the team. The Colorado State front seven will be challenged by an offensive line returning three starters from last season in senior guards Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer, as well as junior right tackle Stephane Nembot.
The Colorado State offense vs. The Colorado Defense:
Garrett Grayson returns for his senior season with the Rams after arguably the best season for a quarterback in Colorado State history. Grayson threw for 3,696 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, both school records at Colorado State. Entering this season, Grayson is looking to improve on a good season that landed him on multiple award watch lists as well as getting him an invite to the Manning Passing Academy. Grayson is 1,958 yards away from becoming the top passer in Colorado State history, and as the leader of the offense, look for him to try to take control of this game early on.
Colorado State returns their top four receivers from 2013, led by sophomore Rashard Higgins. As a freshman, Higgins caught 68 passes for 837 yards and 6 touchdowns and proved to be a dynamic player with the ball in his hands. Joe Hansley, Charles Lovett and Jordan Vaden all return as well, combing for 100 catches, 1,264 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. The Rams also welcome true freshman Deionte Gaines, a speedy receiver from Florida who has the ability to make plays in the open field.
Adding to the depth of the receiving core, Colorado State also returns tight end Kivon Cartwright, who caught 27 passes for 462 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. Finally the number one tight end after sitting behind Crocket Gilmore for multiple seasons, Cartwright is expected to have a career year as a go to guy for Grayson.
Senior cornerback Greg Henderson is an NFL prospect that has turned into a lockdown corner. Henderson is the leader of the secondary, coming into this season as a four-year starter, only the 23rd four-year starter in school history. Last season, Henderson recorded 10 pass deflections and 4 interceptions, one for a touchdown. Henderson has the ability to take Higgins out of the game, meaning the rest of the Ram's receivers will be forced to step up if the Rams and Grayson are to be successful throwing the ball. Though the rest of the Colorado secondary is young, Chidobe Awuzie and Kenny Crawley gained experience starting against PAC-12 oppenents last season and have grown into good players.
According to Woods, "The strength of the team has to be the secondary. Greg Henderson has grown into a true shutdown corner and (corner) Kenny Crawley, (safety) Chidobe Awuzie and (safety) Ahkello Witherspoon are good players in their own right."
The run game for the Rams last year was the strength of the offense. However, they lose top NCAA rusher Kapri Bibbs, as well as their other top two running backs in Donnell Alexander and Chris Nwoke. On top of losing their top three rushers, the Rams also lose four starting offensive linemen, returning only one starter in senior left tackle Ty Sambrailo, who is projected to be a mid-round draft pick in next year's NFL draft.
Colorado State will once again attempt to dominate on the ground with a plethora of new running backs that have stood out during fall camp. Jasen Oden (former safety), Dee Hart (Alabama transfer), and Treyous Jarrells (JUCO transfer) have all stood out during camp. Going into week one, look for Oden and Hart to carry the load for the Rams, but Jarrells has been given the opportunity in the last week to prove that he deserves carries as well.
The Buffaloes only return three members of their starting seven from last season. Those three guys are interior lineman Josh Tupou and Juda Parker, as well as mike linebacker Addison Gillam. Gillam was a force to be reckoned with last year, proving to be one of the best freshmen in the country. He returns as the leader of this front seven who looks to drastically improve after a poor season.
When asked what the biggest weakness on the team was, Woods replied, "Defensive line is the biggest weakness right now and is a soft spot in what could otherwise be a much improved defense." Redshirt freshman defensive end Derek McCartney has shown a lot of improvement this fall and hopes to "be a crucial piece of a defensive line that is going to have to improve at pressuring the quarterback."
Week One Outlook:
Colorado Head Coach Mike MacIntyre took a big step for Colorado football by winning four games in his first season in 2013. The Colorado faithful are expecting an even bigger step this season. The Buffaloes know that this game could make or break a possible bowl season if Colorado can manage to win multiple PAC-12 games, a feat they have not accomplished since joining the conference three seasons ago. Expect the Buffaloes to come out hungry to win their first game to gain momentum for the season.
Colorado State Head Coach Jim McElwain brought the Rams back to a bowl game in his second season with the team, and the Rams won their first bowl game since 2008. Now the head ball coach is thinking bigger. He believes this team has the ability to compete for a conference championship. The game against Colorado is followed by a big game against division foe Boise State. It will be important for the Rams to come out strong in this game in order to gain momentum for the season. A loss in this one would be a disappointment for the Rams, and could lead to multiple losses in the weeks after.
Both teams are in a rebuilding process. Colorado is finally beginning to get PAC-12 quality players; however, those players are still young. Colorado State has the more experienced team, led by seniors Garrett Grayson, Kivon Cartwright, Ty Sambrailo and Max Morgan. Woods believes that the "Buffs win a close game 24-20." I am optimistic about Colorado State, and believe that their senior leadership will lead them to a 27-17 victory and they will bring the Centennial Cup back home to Fort Collins.