Collegian sports editor Chad Deutschman chats with CU Independent sports editor Justin Guerriero about the state of the rivalry heading into the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
Chad Deustchman: There is an obvious passion between fans of CSU and CU, look no further than the chants both sides dish out every year, but we don’t hear a lot about how the players feel. How do CU players feel about CSU football? Do they view the Rams as a legitimate rivalry?
Justin Guerriero: In terms of the fan’s overall general mentality, I think they enjoy the hell out of the Rocky Mountain Showdown. I will say though, there is a contingent of CU fans that despise the game and think of CSU as an inferior institution. In my experience, these people are mostly made up of a so-called “old guard” of fans. In other words, people that remember CU competing with Nebraska and Oklahoma back in the glory days of the late 80s-early 90s. But I couldn’t disagree more with those people. I don’t know how they look at CU’s football program, which has been garbage for about a decade now, and rationalize calling CSU an unworthy opponent. Once we can handle the Rams with relative ease, then the Buffs can start to develop more legitimate and intense rivalries with schools of the Pac-12. I think the current players feel the same. They’re not cocky and certainly are not dismissive of the Rams; the Rams have beaten many of the guys on the roster. So to answer the original question posed, I think the players definitely view this rivalry as legitimate and worthy of their best effort. Beating CSU is something that every man on the roster desires greatly.
CD: A win over CU means a win over a power-5 school for CSU. A win over CSU for CU is a game they are supposed to win. What do the Buffs risk in playing CSU? Do fans want the series to continue?
JG: If the Buffs lose this game, it really will dampen the mood heading into a Week 2 matchup with Idaho State and a Week 3 showdown in Ann Arbor with Michigan. For the Buffs, winning this opening rivalry game is very important. The program is desperately trying to prove its worth on the national collegiate football level. A loss to CSU in the season opener would not help their efforts.
CD: The Rams are going to run early and often this year. The run game will be their biggest strength. CSU put up 218 yards on the ground last year in the Showdown. While the Buffs return a ton of talent on the defensive end, how do you see them fairing against an improved Rams run game?
JG: On paper, I have full confidence in the Buffs’ defensive abilities. Experience, as you noted, is a key strength of this 2016 Buffaloes team. I usually talk to Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre after practice a few times a week and that question has been raised. He does not take the Rams’ run game lightly, and neither does the defense, for that matter. Last season, the Rams were very successful on the ground against CU and they will definitely be looking to repeat that success Friday. But I am confident that the Buffs are going to be an improved unit in terms of containing the enemy’s run game. Specifically, I’m talking about the linebackers. Addison Gillam is looking like his old self again. I expect him to be a force to be reckoned with. I’ve heard good things about CSU’s offensive line, but if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the Buffs’ defense having the upper hand and limiting the Rams’ ability to gain yardage via the run game.
CD: What is CU’s biggest strength, offensively and defensively?
JG: Offensively, the Rams need to keep an eye on tailback Philip Lindsay. He led the Buffs tailbacks last year with 653 rushing yards, and had a 4.77 yards per carry average. He also is a threat at the receiver position, coming in third on the team last year with 211 receiving yards.
On the defensive side of things, I’m going to go with the secondary as a whole for CU’s biggest strength. Last week, safeties coach Joe Tumpkin told me that this spring and summer, the secondary has really been “sharpening their tools.” Last year, the defense recorded the most interceptions by a Buffs’ D in a decade. Expect turnovers to be a key factor in this game.
CD: The teams have alternated wins the past few years. CSU fans like to think the “little brother” stigma placed on them by CU fans is a thing of the past and that there is not any significant difference between the two programs. Is CU on a mission to prove that the Buffs are still the top dog in Colorado?
JG: I really do think that a lot of CU fans have those thoughts about CSU. At the end of the day, all that separates the Buffs and the Rams is that CU had some national success for the better part of a decade in the late 80s/early 90s. We’ll always hold that over your heads. But other than that, the two programs aren’t that different. I think that the players view this game as an opportunity to make a statement. If they can come in and manhandle an inexperienced CSU team, and look good doing so, it’ll help their case for national recognition.
CD: Whether the team will announce it or not, Nick Stevens is probably going to start against the Buffs. While he started off slow last year and didn’t play well against CU, he ended the season as one of the best quarterbacks in the MW. Do you expect the CU defense to have similar results against Stevens this year?
JG: Stevens did end up having a more than solid year, but yes, he was shaky against CU. And again, going back to what I said about the Buffs’ secondary, I like our chances against him. Big plays were key last year. The Buffs and the Rams exchanged them in last year’s matchup. I expect to see less of that from the Rams. My reasoning for this is that the 2016 Rams really strike me as a team trying to rebuild, while the Buffs are returning so many starters on both sides of the ball and are sick and tired of blowing winnable games.
CD: The moment we’ve all been waiting for, your prediction? Will CU take care of business or can a young Colorado State team get redemption for last year?
JG: 31-14 Buffs. I know…I’m cocky. I can live with that. Let me just make it clear that the score prediction requires the Buffs to do away with their usual sins: offensive inefficiency, struggles in the red zone, and leaving the defense out on the field for ridiculous amounts of time.