Like many of his players now, Colorado football coach Jon Embree's favorite memory of the rivalry with Colorado State is his first.

He was a freshman in 1983, and CU and CSU hadn't played in 25 years. It was Year 2 of coach Bill McCartney's rebuilding efforts. Year 1 had been a rough one, and the Buffs were coming off of an opening-week loss at Michigan State.

The Rams brought to Boulder the prolific receiving duo of Jeff Champine and the late Keli McGregor, who would go on to become president of the Colorado Rockies. But the Buffaloes celebrated a 31-3 triumph that day.

"That was my first time being in Folsom Field and it was just special," Embree said recently. "There was a lot of intensity."

And the atmosphere was hardly dampened by the fact that the game wasn't the first of the season.

When the Buffs and Rams knock heads at Sports Authority Field in Denver on Saturday, it will mark just the third time in 15 years that the game hasn't been the season opener for CU. But as far as the players are concerned, it really doesn't matter on which week the game falls. And with Nebraska off the schedule, the CSU game is the only rivalry game for the Buffaloes, at least until something gets stirred up with one of their new Pac-12 Conference brethren.

"Either way it's going to be a heated, intense game," CU quarterback Tyler Hansen said. "It's fun either way. First game of the year, third game of the year, it really doesn't matter."


The ritual of opening the season against the Rams is a fairly recent development relative to the entire scope of the series. Before that 25-year hiatus, the game was traditionally an October or November affair. While the game opened CU's season a trio of times in the 1980s and early 90s, it wasn't until 1997 that it got a serious hold on that spot.

For current players, though, opening the year against CSU is all they knew before this season's trip to Hawaii.

"That was a lot different not having our main focus on (CSU)," CU tailback Rodney Stewart said of offseason workouts and fall camp.

Plenty of theories exist about the ideal timing for rivalry games.

There are plenty who believe playing the Rams -- and their lesser mid-major conference talent base -- in the first game of the season helps level the playing field for little brother by giving CSU a full offseason to scheme exclusively for the Buffs. Colorado is 11-6 (.647 winning percentage) in openers against the Rams and 49-14-2 (.754) the rest of the time.

Embree downplays that notion given the upsets that happen across the country throughout the entire season. But he does prefer the game in Week 3.

As a coach, he said, it takes away some of the pressure to be secretive about what you're doing during spring ball and fall camp. If you've got a new scheme you want to get ready for the first game, there's a lot less chance that Hawaii is going to get a good look at it in your spring game than CSU coaches might. And by game 3, all of your secrets are on film anyway.

Particularly coming in as a new coaching staff with new wrinkles up its sleeve, Embree said facing CSU in Week 3 made him feel more comfortable about opening the first three weeks of August camp to the public than he would normally have been, knowing that it didn't matter as much if CSU coaches got a whiff or two of what the Buffs had brewing.

"It definitely did change it for me," Embree said.

While the spotlight on the CU-CSU game from a national standpoint might be brighter in Week 1 when most of the nation's top programs are playing snoozers against the Chattanoogas of the world, enthusiasm locally for the rivalry might get an added boost this year without Nebraska in the mix.

For Embree and multiple players, the CSU rivalry will never be able to replace the one with Nebraska just like CU could never replace Wyoming for the Rams. The CU-CSU clash, they said, stands on its own merits for what it is -- an in-state duel between squads a mere 45 miles apart.

That said, senior offensive lineman Ryan Miller admits he and other Buffs might have a little more competitive juice flowing for the Rams this year given all of the change headed CU's way in a new conference.

Colorado is contracted to play the Rams through at least 2019, with season openers against CSU in all but the 2015 game (at Hawaii).

"It's kind of a little piece of the past we still get to hold onto a little bit," Miller said. "It's great moving forward into this new conference and everything. But we'll always have CSU (as a rival)."