Maybe Buffs fans are right, Colorado State University does care more about the Rocky Mountain Showdown than they do.
They sure proved it Friday night.
As the black and gold-clad fans filed out of Sports Authority Field at Mile High late in the fourth quarter of their 31-17 loss, one thing became abundantly clear: Colorado State wanted this game more than their rivals did.
And as Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre addressed the media after the game, he made a statement that summed up the problem with CU’s version of the rivalry in four words: “It’s just one game.”
But anyone who can read between the lines of typical “coach-speak” clichés knew that the second-year head coach did not even believe what he was saying. Because the thing is, it is not just one game, especially for the Buffs.
Playing a schedule that includes No. 19 Arizona State, Oregon State (receiving votes), No. 15 USC, No. 7 UCLA, No. 25 Washington and No. 3 Oregon, conference wins will be tough to come by, making wins their non-conference schedule that much more critical. Losing to their “little brother” was not only a crushing blow to the possibility of them making a bowl game, but also to the confidence of a team who hasn’t had much to be proud of in recent memory.
But it was not just that the Rams won, it was how they did it. Outside of the first quarter and a half, Colorado State dominated the Buffs on Friday.
An inexperienced offensive line and running back group ran over, around and through Buff defenders like rag dolls stuck in quicksand. CSU’s linebackers and defensive linemen rattled Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau to the point of nearly leaving the game after Kevin Davis leveled him as he tossed the ball well short of an open receiver. CU’s “superior” Pac-12 athletes looked like boys among men compared to Colorado State. By the midway point of the fourth quarter, running backs Dee Hart (5’10, 190 pounds) and Treyous Jarrells (5’7, 185) were running over linebackers and safeties that outweighed them by 30-plus pounds. Jim McElwain’s “little guys” put their “big brothers” on their collective behinds over and over again.
There was a confidence and a swagger about Colorado State that started when they chose to take their sweet time walking out of the visitors’ tunnel while they stared down CU’s bench all the way until McElwain grabbed the microphone out of Denver mayor Michael Hancock’s hands and corrected him when he confused McElwain with MacIntyre during the presentation of the Centennial Cup.
These Rams are not afraid of anyone, not even high-ranking politicians.
That might not have been more evident than when to McElwain’s likely chagrin, Hart repeatedly got in the faces of CU defenders after his bruising runs to remind them that he and his team were going to be there all night long.
Were they ever?
Tired of the notion that they were inferior to their in-state rivals, the Rams took a giant step forward in their climb back to a bowl game while the Buffs fell even further by losing to a team they expect to beat every year. McElwain has brought a confidence and an expectation of winning that he learned under Alabama head coach Nick Saban, one of the notoriously “confident” coaches in college football.
As McElwain humbly downplayed his team’s dominance over their in-state rival during the post-game press conference, a sly smile appeared across his face.
McElwain and his little team own the state of Colorado for the next year. And all it took was “just one game.”
The Pope has spoken.
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.