FACTS & STATS: Site: Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium (76,125) - Denver, Colorado. Television: FX. Home Record: Colorado 0-0, CSU 0-0. Away Record: Colorado 0-0, CSU 0-0. Neutral Record: Colorado 0-0, CSU 0-0. Conference Record: Colorado 0-0, CSU 0-0. Series Record: Colorado leads, 61-20-2.
GAME NOTES: Entering the 2012 season with one of the longest losing streaks in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Colorado State Rams jump into action on Saturday afternoon against in-state rival Colorado in the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver.
Last season, Colorado State managed to kick the campaign into gear with three wins in the first four outings, but after that the squad took a severe nose- dive, losing eight straight and finishing just 1-6 against the rest of the Mountain West Conference. During the slide, tied for the fourth-longest in the country entering this new season, the Rams played close in a handful of games, losing by just three points to UNLV, San Diego State and Wyoming, but those all came after the team was exposed by Boise State in a 63-13 romp in the middle of October.
As a result of the team's failures, head coach Steve Fairchild was relieved of his duties and Jim McElwain, a two-time national champion as the coordinator for the Alabama offense, was brought in to change the culture in Fort Collins.
Meanwhile, the Buffaloes are coming off their first season as members of the Pac-12 Conference after spending so many years in the Big 12. The move did not pay instant dividends unfortunately, the team finishing a mere 2-7 in league play and 3-10 overall. Through the first 10 games, the only positive for the Buffs came from their win over Colorado State, so knowing how poor the Rams were, expecting much in the transition for Colorado was unrealistic.
The Buffs whipped up on Arizona (48-29) and just slipped by another conference newcomer Utah (17-14) in the regular-season finale, the team finishing 109th in the nation in both scoring offense (19.8 ppg) and scoring defense (36.5 ppg) under first-year head coach Jon Embree.
In terms of the all-time series between these two foes, the Buffs are in complete control with a mark of 61-20-2. Beginning back in 1893, Colorado won all but one of the first 14 meetings, the other being a 0-0 tie in 1906. More recently, the Buffaloes have tallied two straight victories and four in the last five matchups, thanks to a 28-14 decision last season in the middle of September.
Former quarterback Pete Thomas was beaten and bruised as he tried to stay upright for the Rams, but with his offensive line again raking as one of the worst in the nation in preventing sacks, Thomas decided to transfer to NC State and that has the coaching staff looking towards Garrett Grayson to step in as the new leader on offense.
The good news is that Grayson has all four of the top receivers from last season suiting up yet again for the Rams. Crockett Gillmore proved to be one of the top tight ends in the nation last season as he led CSU with 45 receptions for 468 yards and 4 touchdowns. Lou Greenwood accounted for another 26 grabs for 396 yards and 2 scores, but they are the only returnees who registered at least 200 yards in 2011.
Taking care of the ground game will be Chris Nwoke, who ranked third in the league last season with 94.2 ypg on the ground, although much of that production came in just a couple of signature games.
The run defense for the Rams has a lot of work to do heading into the new season, the group ranking last in the MWC and 116th in the country with 233.7 ypg allowed. Getting up the field will not be an easy task, but with the squad ranking last in the league and 114th in the nation in tackles for loss (4.25 per game) they seem to have already bottomed out.
As for the Buffs on offense, they have junior Jordan Webb listed as their starting quarterback, a position that is very thin on experience. Webb is a transfer from Kansas who still has remaining eligibility and is able to play immediately even after starting all 12 games in which he appeared last year. Webb threw for close to 1,900 yards and 13 TDs with the Jayhawks, but was also intercepted 12 times as he faced some stiff competition in the Big 12.
Surprisingly, perhaps the top receiving asset Webb might have is Tony Jones who came up with 27 catches for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns a year ago as a running back. Paul Richardson (39 catches, 555 yards, 5 TDs) should have been a viable threat but a knee injury has him on the sidelines for the time being.
Revamping the offense is just one of the concerns for coach Embree and his staff because the group also has to work on getting the defense up to speed and to play more physical. The pass defense was especially porous in 2011 as it gave up 255.4 ypg and was ranked last in the league and 115th in the country in efficiency with a mark of 156.58.
Seniors Jon Major (linebacker) and Ray Polk (free safety) return as the top two tacklers from 2011 when they posted 85 and 80 stops, respectively. With the loss of Josh Hartigan who led the program in both sacks (8) and tackles for loss, the pair might be called on to make even more plays which will spread the defense somewhat thin.
Neither one of these teams comes into this season with high expectations, but this rivalry game always takes on a personality of its own so you can never be sure what will happen. With Webb, the Buffs at least have someone they can count on at quarterback and that could make all the difference this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colorado 27, Colorado State 20Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 1, 4:00 p.m. (et).