The Friday night matchup between Colorado State and the University of Colorado posts a team focused on building experience with one that already has plenty of it.
CU comes into the game with a school-record 412 starts across their roster and returns 17 starters, 21 of whom are seniors and juniors, while CSU returns just six starters on offense and three on defense.
When the Rams have the Ball
Mike Bobo has yet to name a starting quarterback, but the likely candidate is incumbent starter Nick Stevens. Stevens was named the second team All-Mountain West quarterback in 2015 when he threw for 2,679 yards and 21 touchdowns with nine interceptions, two of which came in last year’s showdown.
Of Stevens’ 211 completions a year ago, only seven of them went to CSU’s current starting wide receivers in Sammie Long, Marcus Wilson, and Olabisi Johnson. It’s an inexperienced group, and they are going to have their hands full with a CU secondary that finished second in the Pac-12 in passing defense last season.
The buffaloes return starters at every position in the secondary, including potential All-Pac 12 performers in safety Tedric Thompson and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. The two players combined for 170 tackles and five interceptions a season ago.
CU’s linebacker corp returns fully intact. On the outside, Derek McCartney and Jimmie Gilbert combined for 11 sacks a year ago. Kenneth Olugbode, Rick Gamboa and Addison Gillam should all see plenty of playing time at the inside linebacker positions. Gillam (2013), Olugbode (2014) and Gamboa (2015), all led the team in tackles in each of the last three seasons, respectively.
Josh Tupou returns from a yearlong hiatus and figures to anchor the Buffs defensive line, joined by returning starter Jordan Carrell and senior Samson Kafovalu.
In what should be the strength of the Rams offense, four out of the five starting offensive lineman are back up front for the Rams. They are paving the way for returning running backs Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews, and newcomer Marvin Kinsey Jr.
The Ram’s averaged 156 yards a game on the ground last season, and though the CU defense should be improved in the second season under defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, the Buffs finished 80th in the country against the run last season.
When the Buffaloes have the Ball:
Sefo Liufau comes back from a foot injury suffered late last season to lead the Buffs at quarterback. The senior has started 29 out of the last 32 games for the Buffs and his experience and development was something all of the CSU coaches stressed during Monday’s press conference.
Liufau is without All Pac-12 receiver Nelson Spruce, but the team returns veteran receivers in Devin Ross, Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo. Tight end Sean Irwin, who was an honorable mention all Pac-12 performer last year, is also back on offense.
The Buffs sport two 1,000-yard career rushers in juniors Phillip Lindsay and Michael Adkins. Adkins missed most of last season after injuring his hamstring in the Showdown, and Lindsay finished the season as the team’s leading rusher.
CSU’s new look defense figures to be challenged early by the experienced offensive unit of CU.
It’s a CSU defense with three new starters on the defensive line in Josh Lovingood, Jakob Buys and Darnell Thompson, and three out of four new starters in the secondary.
Jordon Vaden, Jake Schlager, Justin Sweet and returning starter Tyree Simmons are the players tasked with slowing down Liufau and the experienced receiving group.
Marty English’s’ defense also needs to find a pass rush somewhere in order to rattle Liufau and disrupt the offensive timing.
Four out of the team’s eight leading tacklers from a year ago in Kevin Davis, Josh Watson, Tre Thomas, and Kiel Robinson will all play big roles in the game at the linebacker position. They are the deepest and most experienced group on the defense, and will be counted on to lead the defense on Friday night.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5