Colorado football coaches began the guessing game of preparing for Colorado State months ago and their test arrives Saturday with the season opener against the Rams in Denver at Sports Authority Field.

The prospect of predicting what the Buffs will see from the Rams is most difficult for CU defensive coaches because first-year CSU head coach Jim McElwain employed an offensive system at Alabama that was quite different from what Utah State and new CSU offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin used last season.

"With them, they're pretty distinctive offenses," Embree said. "So I don't know how you blend it. You've just got to be able to adjust defensively and try to figure it out as you go and make adjustments."

Embree and his staff are counting on a few things from the Rams. A heavy dose of running back Chris Nwoke is at the top of that list.

Nwoke, a product of Highlands Ranch who would have looked good in a CU uniform but didn't get recruited much by former Buffs coach Dan Hawkins, is coming off a season in which he ran for nearly 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns.

He has three returning starters on the CSU offensive line to block for him and a fourth member of that unit has started 12 games. Rams' center Weston Richburg is a candidate for national honors this season.

It's an experienced crew that helped the CSU offense average 167 yards and 4.4 yards a carry on the ground in 2011. Those numbers are why Embree figures no matter what McElwain has up his sleeve, he won't stray far from the running game.

The CSU offensive line is likely licking its chops to get a chance to tussle with some of the four or five true freshmen defensive linemen expected to play in the game for Colorado.

But the strength of the CU defensive is its linebackers, who are already geared up for plenty of up-close and personal moments with Nwoke this weekend.

Senior middle linebacker Doug Rippy is at the top of that list. Rippy will be back on the field in a game for the first time since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at Washington midway through last season. He was the Buffs' leading tackler at the time of his injury.

Rippy said Monday he is "really close" to 100 percent with the season just a few steps ahead.

"I'm just ready to get out there," Rippy said. "It's been a long time. Of course we're going to watch it carefully, but I'm playing this Saturday."

There might have been some question about Rippy's availability for the opener just a few weeks ago. Rippy underwent a minor follow-up knee surgery just before camp started to remove debris in his knee. He said the recovery time from the procedure is normally two weeks and he had a week under his belt before camp even started.

Rippy said he doesn't expect his knee to be an issue, but veteran linebackers coach Brian Cabral said last week he plans to take things slow with Rippy, at least in the first few weeks of the season. He wants to make sure Rippy is completely healthy. Cabral said he will likely used sophomore Brady Daigh to spell Rippy a little bit more often than he otherwise would in the first few weeks of the season.

"I need to be smart about how I bring him along," Cabral said. "I'm going to bring him along at a speed that I think is healthy for him."

Cabral said Daigh is up to the challenge after earning playing time last season as a true freshman. Daigh vowed Monday he will be ready for whatever role coaches want him to play any amount of time they need him on the field.

"I know what to expect going out there," Daigh said. "That experience as a freshman really helped me."

This will be Daigh's initiation to the CU-CSU rivalry. He has been around the game plenty in the past having played high school football for Mullen in Denver and being recruited by both programs. But he missed last year's game with a hip injury.

"I'm excited for it," Daigh said. "It's always a tough game. Both teams bring their A games for it every year because you want to be the top dog in the state."

Daigh said when he is in the game he will be prepared to see plenty of Nwoke.

"He gets going in the open field and he's got some good moves. He's a pretty strong back. Their center is someone we've looked at as a real strong player. He is something we've seen in film that we have to adjust to and game plan around."

Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleRingo