On Friday night, the Rocky Mountain Showdown opens up the season for the Colorado State football team, and with it, everything returns to normal.
Last season, the 87th meeting between CSU and the University of Colorado stood, as an outlier when the two teams met in week three. The game has traditionally been played as the first game of the season, and only five times in the last 20 years has it been played otherwise.
“Last year it was weird,” tight end Nolan Peralta said. “We’ve always played week one since I have been here except for last year. To move it back to this week, it’s going to kind of be back to normal.”
Normal was a common theme from Colorado State players in the lead up to the game this week, especially for the veterans. From the time they arrived at CSU, the only thing they knew was opening up the season under the bright lights of Sports Authority Field against an in-state rival.
“We have always started opening with Colorado,” defensive lineman Jakob Buys said. “We have always been so excited. We were just ready. Like let’s go out and play, and last year it was like oh we don’t start out with Colorado. We were still excited, it was just a different tempo.”
Coach Mike Bobo does not share quite the same mindset.
Last season, the team opened the year at Hughes stadium against a Savannah State team that had won two games in the three previous seasons.
The trick for Bobo is getting his guys to prepare for this opener just like they did for Savannah State. The focus needs to be 100 percent internal.
“We are working on that, and trying to get them to understand the importance of the opponent does not matter. Success is defined in yourself and how you go about your work every single day,” Bobo said.
“Now is there more excitement in the air, maybe a little bit, but they were excited last year to play the first game. You are always excited for the first game,” Bobo said.
He buys into that, but getting 18 to 22-year-old kids feel the same way is more difficult, especially this week.
At the end of the day, the coach is not naive. It’s a huge game for the state, the teams, and the fans. He’s excited that they have a chance to get the CSU brand out there on Friday night on ESPN.
He knows his players are bringing some extra juice.
“We are obviously playing a big game, a Pac-12 opponent, an in-state rivalry game, and you hope you can take care of business and start the season off strong,” Bobo said.
And with CU returning as the opening opponent, the team gets the chance to start the season the right way. The way they want to. Nothing can match opening up the year by battling CU.
It is the kind of kick off the players want.
“It’s a huge game for the state. Everyone comes out and it really kind of kicks off football season for CSU football,” Peralta said. “(You) get to play in front of 70,000 people, at the Broncos stadium. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
It’s a big stage, most likely the biggest stage the team will play in all season, and it’s week one. All of the build up from spring camp all the way through fall camp gets let out in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. Just like it was mean to be.
“It really sets the tempo for the rest of the season for both teams,” offensive lineman Zach Golditch said. “Those years that we won it was a great feeling. Just going into week two having that great feeling, I think it really helps.”
Part of the appeal of the game is that with it being played week one, both teams are still relatively a mystery. Mysteries to each other, and their fan base. It certainly brings an edge to the game itself, and introduces the fan base to this season’s teams.
It’s the first chance for the teams to step on the field and show their product. There is no better way to do that than in the Rocky Mountain Showdown the players said.
“It could be big,” safety Jake Schlager said. “When we went ten and three that year (2014) we won the Showdown and we had a really good performance there. Opening up with the Showdown definitely brings another level to the entire state, it brings another level to the University, and it kind of gives everybody an idea of what to expect from here on out.”
This season, like every year, there is a lot of emotion and energy ready to be let out from players, coaches, and fans. This year, there’s just not as long of a wait.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5