This one's going to hurt for a long, long time in Boulder.

It's going to be one they remember fondly for just as long in Fort Collins.

Mike MacIntyre's Colorado Buffaloes let one get away from them Friday night at Sports Authority Field in Denver. A game the Buffs had the every opportunity to dominate early turned into a lost opportunity late when Jim McElwain and the Rams refused to take the hint and go away quietly.

The Rams are for real. The Buffs are simply reeling after Friday night's 31-17 loss.

Earlier in the week, McElwain called it a "must win" situation for the Buffs.

Today, the Buffs must be wondering how they'll recover from this one — and how it got away so quickly.

With 9:47 left in the third quarter, Colorado had a commanding 17-7 lead. Roughly 15 minutes later, the Rams were celebrating their fourth touchdown of the night and a 28-17 lead.

Even more befuddling for the Buffs? The Rams did it on the ground behind an inexperienced offensive line that was supposed to be CSU's weak link.

That's not what the Buffs saw. Instead, they saw an offensive line that paved the way for 266 yards rushing, led by 139 from Alabama transfer Dee Hart. They saw an offensive line that found a way to protect CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson just enough to allow Grayson to complete three key third-down passes to keep scoring drives alive.


And today they see a Pac-12 schedule that includes a half-dozen offenses as good or better than Colorado State's.

Give the Rams credit. When starting tackle Ty Sambrailo went down with a knee injury, they didn't flinch. When Grayson struggled early, they adjusted by turning to a running game the Buffs apparently didn't expect — and couldn't stop.

McElwain's adjustments were masterful. MacIntyre had no answer.

Now, the question is what direction the two programs are headed.

The Rams are looking at a schedule that realistically has eight wins on the docket — maybe more. There's a bowl game in CSU's future.

The Buffs see a schedule that makes it almost impossible to imagine them being anywhere but home again for the holidays.

The numbers were harsh under Friday night's lights. Colorado gave up 281 yards and 24 points in the second half. They yielded scoring drives of 56, 92 and 60 yards.

But the harshest reality is this was a game the Rams could afford to lose and still have a successful season. They did exactly that one year ago.

The Buffs have no such luxury. With virtually no room for error, they played an inconsistent, mistake-prone second half that gave their in-state rivals every reason to say they are the state's best college football program.

Optimists will say it's only one game, that the Buffs have plenty of time to improve. They have two very winnable games on the immediate horizon, sandwiched around the home opener vs. Arizona State.

But realists will wonder why CU's defense can't stop the run and why the offense had no consistency. They'll wonder just how much the Buffs have improved — or whether all that preseason confidence was a smokescreen.

One thing, however, is certain.

They're not asking those questions today in Fort Collins.