Skip to main content

Colorado State Rams vs. Colorado Buffaloes Preview and Prediction

Sefo Liufau

Sefo Liufau

Last season’s 27-24 overtime victory pushed Colorados all-time edge to 63-22-2 against rival Colorado State in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. However, the series has become quite competitive in recent years, as the teams have split the last four meetings.

Image placeholder title

Colorado lost eight of its final nine games last season, including four games decided by a touchdown or less, and missed the postseason for the eighth consecutive year. Conversely, the Rams won their final four regular season games, including three on the road, to earn a third straight bowl bid.

Colorado State vs. Colorado (Denver)

Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Colorado -8

Three Things to Watch

1. The quarterbacks

Despite both Colorado and Colorado State returning veteran quarterbacks, the position is a question mark for both squads.

Colorado signal-caller Sefo Liufau has made 29 starts in three seasons and ranks third on the school’s all-time passing yardage list. Unfortunately, Liufau posted a career-worst 126.4 passer rating last year (which ranked 10th among Pac-12 starters) and suffered a Lisfranc foot injury that sidelined him for the final two games of 2015 as well as spring practice.

With Liufau’s health in question, the Buffs went hard after Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb. Colorado hoped to pair Webb with new play-caller and former Red Raiders assistant Darrin Chiaverini, and potentially redshirt Liufau, but Webb chose Cal instead. Liufau is expected to be healthy, but there is little experience behind him on the depth chart. Also, despite returning a strong receiving corps and four players who ran for 200 yards or more in 2015, Liufau will miss graduated wideout Nelson Spruce, CU’s all-time leading receiver.

Nick Stevens started all 13 games for the Rams in 2015 and earned All-Mountain West second team recognition. Stevens threw for 2,679 yards and led the conference with 21 touchdown passes last year, but also tossed 12 interceptions. He has the edge in the competition with Georgia transfer Faton Bauta and true freshman Collin Hill, but head coach Mike Bobo has yet to name a starter publicly. Also, the Rams will be without their top four pass catchers from last season including star receiver Rashard Higgins.

2. The line of scrimmage

Led by NFL prospect Fred Zerblis, the Rams have one of the best offensive lines in the Mountain West. Four starters return from a unit that paved the way for an average of 251 rushing yards over the final five games last year and adds Nebraska grad transfer Paul Thurston.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Colorado also is experienced on the offensive line, but the Buffaloes struggled mightily up front last season. Colorado averaged just 3.75 yards per carry and allowed 40 sacks in 2015. Tackle Jeromy Irwin, who missed 10 games with a torn ACL, returns to give the unit a boost.

Both teams have trouble stopping the run. Colorado State allowed 213.3 rushing yards per game and 5.01 yards per carry last season and must replace its entire starting defensive line. Colorado returns two starters from 2015 and adds 330-pound nose guard Josh Tupou (a starter in 2014 that sat out last season), but the Buffs surrendered 198.7 rushing yards and 5.04 yards per carry a year ago.

3. An improved Colorado defense

Despite its struggles against the run, Colorado made strides defensively in 2015 under first-year coordinator Jim Leavitt. The Buffaloes improved in every major statistical category, highlighted by a drop in scoring defense from 39.0 points allowed per game in 2014 to 27.5 last year. Colorado was particularly tough against the pass and ranked second in the league in pass defense (218.2 ypg) as well as yards allowed per pass (6.5).

Pass defense should be a strength for the Buffs again in 2016. Colorado returns talented pass rushers Jimmie Gilbert, Derek McCartney and Addison Gillam, as well as cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, who led the unit with 84 tackles and 13 tackles for a loss in 2015 and is a dark-horse All-American candidate.

But, despite the growth the defense made last season, CU struggled down the stretch. The Buffs allowed 6.1 yards per play over the final nine games last year and held only two of their final nine opponents to fewer than 27 points.

Final Analysis

Led by running backs Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews and a strong offensive line, Colorado State matches up very well in the running game. However, Colorado should hold the Rams in check through the air.

Image placeholder title

Also, the Rams will be especially young on defense. In addition to replacing its entire defensive line, Colorado State must find three new starters in the secondary. And, senior linebacker Kevin Davis, who led the Rams with 101 tackles and 14 tackles for a loss last season, has already missed some practice time this fall due to injury.

Expect a close game, but for the Buffaloes to exploit a young Colorado State defense to come out on top.

Prediction: Colorado 31, Colorado State 24

— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.

(Nick Stevens photo by Dan Byers/Colorado State Athletics)