As the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown between Colorado State and Colorado looms on Friday, I’m going to make a bold prediction that I’m sure most Buffs fans won’t like. No, I’m not picking the Rams to upset the Buffs Friday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. My prediction for that game will come in our Showdown preview later this week.
My prediction today is this: The Colorado State football program will be better off outside the newly formed “Power 5” conferences than CU’s program will be inside them. You might think I’m crazy, but here’s why:
While the Buffs hold a substantial lead in revenue generated from football ($30,547,707 vs. $11,253,326 for Colorado State), it’s not the Rams they have to compete with. Sure, they’ll play once a year until at least 2020, but that’s only one game each year. One.
The programs CU really needs to worry about competing with are the ones in their own conference, the Pac-12, which just so happens to house some of the richest public and private athletic programs in the entire country. The University of Oregon, Southern California, UCLA, Washington and California are among some of the biggest revenue generators in all of college sports. While the Buffs’ $30-plus million budget seems large compared to their Colorado State’s, it is meager compared to the elite football programs in the Pac-12. Oregon ($53,982,076), Southern California ($43,809,684), Washington ($56,379,534) and California ($37,660,430) have won every conference regular-season title since 1999 with the exception of 2012 and 2013 in which Stanford, a private institution, won the title.
Of those 15 titles, USC won or shared seven and Oregon won or shared five.
And as the rich get richer with recent NCAA rulings to allow those Power-5 conferences to have complete autonomy in the decision-making process, there will be an even bigger discrepancy not only between leagues, but within them as well. While Colorado State holds a minuscule budget compared to the aforementioned teams, the Rams trail only Boise State ($15,284,248) in football revenue among teams in the Mountain West. Should the Rams be invited into the Pac-12 in the near future, they would have a very steep hill to climb to compete with even the lowest-budget schools in the league.
Here’s where one of the biggest misnomers comes into play regarding Colorado and Colorado State. While both CSU head coach Jim McElwain and his counterpart in Boulder Mike MacIntyre preach the importance of “locking down Colorado’s borders” when it comes to recruiting, the truth is that it doesn’t make as big of an impact as people think.
Name the last in-state player that both CSU and CU recruited who made a major impact in the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
Since 2010, 29 of the top 35 high school football players in Colorado spurned both CU and CSU for out-of-state programs. Four of the five players who chose CU or CSU have combined for a total of two starts in their college careers. The fifth is Max Morgan, Colorado State’s starting middle linebacker, who Colorado didn’t heavily recruit. Of the 40 in-state players on CSU’s roster, only five have played significant snaps. Compare that to the 40 players on the Rams roster from California and Texas, 19 of which have played significant snaps in the green and gold.
What it comes down to is this: Colorado and Colorado State aren’t competing with each other when it comes to recruiting. Between 2010 and 2013, CU and CSU heavily recruited the same out-of-state players just four times, according to Rivals. All four signed with the Rams.
So while the Buffs try to compete on the recruiting trail with the likes of Oregon, USC, UCLA, Stanford and Washington, CSU can continue to build pipelines in talent-rich states like Texas, California and Florida.
Wins and Losses
This isn’t to say that Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre and his staff can’t turn the football program around, it’s just that history isn’t on their side. In their three seasons in the Pac-12, the Buffs have won a total of four conference games. Yes, four. In their 15 match-ups with the top five teams in the league (UCLA, USC, Oregon, Stanford, Cal), the Buffs have been outscored 729-209 while winning just one of those games. And while MacIntyre and his staff have the program “heading in the right direction,” competing annually in the Pac-12 will require at least five conference wins per season. That’s no easy task considering the Buffs considering will play UCLA, USC, Oregon, Stanford and Washington every year for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, under Jim McElwain and his new contract, Colorado State will likely sit near the top of the Mountain West each season barring a major change in the direction of the program. And that leaves just one question for recruits deciding between playing for a perennial Power-5 bottom feeder and playing for a successful team outside of the big money conferences: Do you want to get more scholarship money or do you want to win?
My guess is most will choose the latter.
The Pope has spoken.
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.