Ryan Thorburn, Camera Sports Writer
Ryan Thorburn, Camera Sports Writer ( PAUL AIKEN )

FORT COLLINS -- The Rocky Mountain Showdown could use another memorable villain to spice up the plot.

Sadly, there won't be another Bradlee Van Pelt anytime soon.

Love him or hate him, BVP made the Colorado-Colorado State rivalry great during the Sonny Lubick glory days here. Back when the Rams were winning Mountain West championships and trading haymakers with their big brothers in front of 70,000-plus fans in Denver.

These days CU vs. CSU draws about as well as a Peyton Manning practice at Sports Authority Field.

"I think it's good for the State of Colorado when both programs are good," first-year head coach Jim McElwain said on Monday at CSU football media day. "I know Jon (Embree) will get those guys going. They do a great job up there."

Garrett Grayson won't be spiking the ball off the face mask of a CU defensive back or calling the Buffs overrated in a postgame interview. But there is a feeling inside the McGraw Center that the sophomore signal caller has the right stuff to revitalize the Rams.

That confidence, which wasn't there when Grayson was learning some violent growing pains against TCU's defense late last season, begins in the mirror.

"I've never felt someone instill confidence in me like Coach Mac does," Grayson said of McElwain's influence. "When you have that, you go out every practice and you want to practice. You don't look at it as a practice, you look at it as how you can get better today."


That's the kind of positive coach speak the new sheriff likes to hear. There simply isn't room for a BVP-sized personality in McElwain's program.

These Rams don't have the kind of talent McElwain enjoyed as the offensive coordinator at Alabama the last four seasons. However, they did survive the same offseason strength and conditioning program the defending national champions use.

All players understood they had to show up on time for intense workout sessions wearing the same shirts, shorts and socks.

"There is no individuality in that program," CSU offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin noted.

During the spring CSU sent a message that the football team isn't going to win with selfish young men who make headlines for the wrong reasons. Three of the best players McElwain inherited from Steve Fairchild -- Nordly Capi, Mike Orakpo and Colton Paulhus -- were expelled from the university in May after being charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

There was obviously an entitled faction inside the locker room that didn't by into the discipline and all-for-one concept McElwain was selling.

Players said the dynamic changed dramatically during the summer when 100 individuals finally decided they were tired of 3-9 seasons and ready to perform as a team.

"We have confidence in each other, which is the biggest thing," running back Chris Nwoke said of the change in attitude. "We're playing like family."

Embree, who opened his second camp as CU's head coach on Monday night, had to "change the culture" in his program last year. This year he can focus more on football as preparations for the 2012 season begin.

That's a good thing considering the Buffs don't know who will be breaking the huddle, if Paul Richardson will be available, or how the promising true freshmen the team is counting on will perform against CSU on Sept. 1.

The Rams don't care.

"We have to worry about how prepared we are with our kids. I guess it would be hard to know any of that stuff," CSU co-defensive coordinator Marty English said on scouting the mysterious CU squad. "It probably doesn't matter to us right know who they are. It's just 11 guys over there."

CU's guys are supposed to beat CSU's guys. That's what has happened in seven of the last nine games since 2003 and 61 times in 83 meetings since 1893.

The realignment-ravaged Mountain West desperately needs McElwain, whose base salary is $1.3 million, to transform the Rams into a top-25 program.

The Pac-12 will be even better if Embree, who was paid roughly $725,000 in guaranteed compensation during his first year, can return the Buffs to dominance beyond the CSU game.

If the Rams and Buffs are relevant at the same time, perhaps playing in Denver will make some sense (and cents) for both programs.

"It's going to be a good game. It will be a landscape for us to get that rivalry W," Nwoke said. "That will amp us up and give us a lot of confidence going into those next games."

And if CSU does successfully rebuild and then constructs an on-campus stadium, should the series be contested in Boulder and Fort Collins?

"Where we play it ... that's not for me to determine," McElwain said. "I think it's a great venue to bring everybody into Denver in a beautiful facility. Yet I think there are some bonuses for both sides playing on campus.

"But that's for someone else to answer, not the head ball coach."

The Buffs are early 51/2-point favorites to make it three consecutive wins over CSU, despite uncertainty at quarterback. Embree is busy evaluating Connor Wood, Jordan Webb, Nick Hirschman and Shane Dillon for the lead role.

Without Nick Saban's defensive personnel or Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson in the backfield, McElwain must also choose wisely at quarterback.

"The most exciting thing we've seen is (Grayson's) development this summer," Baldwin said. "And the progress that the team made with his leadership."

It appears Rams fans may already have their new hero.