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Key matchups to determine Rocky Mountain Showdown outcome

On Friday night, fans from different sides of the Centennial State will make their way down to Denver for the final rendition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Mile High Stadium. The University of Colorado and Colorado State University football teams will both be aiming to start their 2019 campaigns on a winning note. 

K.J. Carta-Samuels (1) passes to a teammate during the 2018 Rocky Mountain Showdown. The Rams lost to the Buffs 13-45. (Tony Villalobos May | Collegian)

A season ago, the Buffaloes dominated the Rams in a convincing 45-13 victory, but that game didn’t reflect the team’s season, as both teams sunk to under a .500 overall record. Now, with the final game in Denver set, can the Rams get revenge against their instate rival? More importantly, can the Rams snap a four-year losing streak against the black and gold?


Here’s a deep dive into the pivotal matchups that will determine if the Rams can dethrone the Buffs.

Hill vs. CU Secondary

All offseason, the Ram Faithful have heard the hype surrounding starting quarterback Collin Hill. Hill, who is only starting in his eighth game, experienced his first full offseason since his freshmen season.

For the first time in his entire collegiate career, Hill will get to line up under center as the leader of the program. CSU’s fans will finally get to see if the hype surrounding the 6-foot-5-inch quarterback is real.

Collin Hill (15) throws a pass during a drill at practice on Aug. 2. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

This season, CU lacks experience in the secondary, and it could be an area of weakness for Hill to try and exploit throughout the game. If Hill is able to find success with his receiving corps early and often, CSU’s offense can put a lot of points on the board. Look for CSU to try and get a lot of action going through the air in this one.

CSU O-line vs. CU D-line

Much like CU’s secondary, CSU’s biggest concern is on the offensive line. Going into his second season as the offensive line coach, Dave Johnson’s group has had some shuffling around. The only true freshmen in the entire Rams starting lineup is on the offensive line, as Nouredin Nouili received the nod at left guard.

Colorado State University football players are dogpiled during the Rocky Mountain Showdown. The Rams lost to the Buffs 13-45. (Tony Villalobos May | Collegian)

The Rams offensive line will be tasked with controlling CU defensive end Mustafa Johnson. Johnson earned preseason first-team all-conference recognition after his eight sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss last year. Outside of Johnson, the Buffs have no projected returning starters on the defensive line.

With both teams having question marks on each front, whichever group manages to outshine the other can have a huge impact on the outcome of the game.


Ajayi vs. Shenault

The most talented player on the field come Friday night will be wearing No. 2 and will have a Buffs helmet on. Laviska Shenault is a name that many college football fans will get to know if they don’t already. NFL Draft Analyst Matt Miller ranked the wide receiver as the sixth-best prospect in the 2020 draft, and he received AP All-American second-team honors this preseason.

men play football
Rashad Ajayi and Jamal Hicks tackle an Illinois State player during the game on Sept. 22. The Rams lost 19-35. (Matt Begeman | Collegian)

Rams defensive back Rashad Ajayi will have the task of stopping one of the best players in college football. Last season, Shenault totaled 11 catches, 211 yards and one touchdown against CSU’s defense, which included Ajayi. The leader of the Rams’ secondary faces his toughest task of the season yet again in week one. Ajayi can make a name for himself and help the Rams walk out victorious if he limits Shenault.

Bobo vs. Tucker

Both men calling the game on opposite sides of the field are coaching for something more than a win on Friday night. CSU Head Coach Mike Bobo is looking for his first victory against CU. CU’s Mel Tucker is coaching for his first win as a head coach.

Head Coach Mike Bobo looks up at the scoreboard during the first half of the Rams’ 16-13 loss to Wyoming in the Border War. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

A win for Bobo in one of the biggest games of the season will be a step in the right direction for not only the team, but also his job.

If Bobo gets heavily out-coached by first-year Tucker, then his coaching seat will get a bit warmer. As much as the players are responsible for the outcome on the field, the coaches ultimately are in charge of preparation and making sure the team is ready to play. Bobo has five years of experience as a head coach, and that should give him a slight edge in this one.

Win or lose, Bobo needs to make certain Tucker’s team doesn’t turn this into another Rocky Mountain blowout.  

Sergio Santistevan can be reached at or on Twitter @TheRealsSergio.

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