Colorado enters the 89th edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown looking to silence doubters.
The Buffaloes haven't received much preseason love coming off of winning their first Pac-12 South title last season. Colorado was picked to finish fourth in the division this season behind USC, Utah and UCLA. Skeptics point to the fact that the Buffaloes must replace numerous defensive standouts and their defensive coordinator from last season.
Colorado State won't make it easy for Colorado to get off to a strong start in 2017. The Rams smashed Oregon State 58-27 in their season opener. They broke open a close game at halftime by forcing a pair of third quarter turnovers and quickly buried the Beavers. It was Colorado State's first win over a Power 5 opponent since edging Boston College 24-21 in 2014.
Colorado holds a 64-22-2 advantage in the rivalry series and has won two straight over the Rams. Neither team has won three consecutive games in the series since the Buffaloes ran off three victories in a row from 2003-05.
Colorado State vs. Colorado (Denver)
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 1 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Colorado -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Colorado's rebuilt defense
A stout defense helped the Buffaloes charge from worst to first in the Pac-12 South a year ago. Colorado ranked in the top three in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (21.7 ppg), passing defense (193.6 ypg) and total defense (342.5 ypg). The Buffaloes held opponents to 24 points or less in 10 games and went 9-1 in those contests.
Duplicating that level of success won't be easy this season. Colorado returns only three full-time starters from a year ago. The strength of the Buffalo defense will be at linebacker. Inside linebacker Rick Gamboa was the team's top tackler last season with 77 tackles. Outside linebacker Derek McCartney offers another playmaker to complement Gamboa. McCartney is back after suffering an ACL tear in Week 3 last season. He has 9.5 career sacks for the Buffaloes.
2. Nick Stevens searching for redemption against the Buffaloes
It's a safe bet Stevens will be hungry to put together a strong performance against Colorado. Things quickly went downhill for the Colorado State quarterback when he faced the Buffaloes last season. He totaled 31 yards and a pair of interceptions on 6-of-20 passing and lost the starting job to Colin Hill after the game.
Stevens looks like a completely different player than what Colorado experienced a year ago. He sizzled for the Rams in their season-opening thrashing of Oregon State. The senior threw for 334 yards and three scores on 26-of-39 passing against the Beavers and finished with a 158.86 quarterback rating.
His performance in the season opener builds on the progress Stevens showed a year ago after regaining his starting job when Hill went down with a season-ending injury. Stevens ranked fifth among FBS quarterbacks with a 171.3 passer efficiency rating and he was 16th nationally with a 64.2 percent completion rate. He led the Mountain West in both categories.
3. Will Colorado win the turnover battle yet again?
One reason Colorado has prevailed against Colorado State the past two seasons is turnovers. The Buffaloes have a knack for making the Rams commit mistakes at the worst possible times. Last season, Colorado forced four turnovers and turned them into 13 points. Two years ago, a pick-six allowed the Buffaloes to ultimately rally for an overtime victory.
Colorado has finished with a plus-2 turnover margin in each of its last two victories over Colorado State. The last time that the Rams finished with fewer turnovers than the Buffaloes was in 2012. In that game, a 22-17 victory for Colorado State, Colorado finished with a minus-1 turnover margin after losing a pair of fumbles.
Colorado State is much improved over the team that Colorado demolished a year ago. The Buffaloes, on the other hand, appear to have taken a step backward from last season. Colorado is still loaded with talented offensive playmakers like Phillip Lindsay and Devin Ross, so keeping up with the Rams on offense won't be an issue. This could end up being one of those classic rivalry games where the team who has the ball last wins.
Prediction: Colorado 31, Colorado State 28
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.