Game at glance
Matchup: Colorado State Rams (1-0) vs. Colorado Buffaloes (0-0)
Kickoff: 6:07 p.m. MDT
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Capacity: 76,125; Turf: Grass
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: 760 AM
Odds: Colorado by 4
Coaches: Colorado — Mike MacIntyre (20-31, 5th season; 36-52 career); CSU — Mike Bobo (15-12, 3rd season)
Series: Buffs lead 64-22-2, including 10-6 in Denver
How the Colorado Buffaloes finished the 2016 season has bothered them throughout this offseason.
After going 10-2 in the regular season and winning the Pac-12 South, the Buffs were routed by Washington, 41-10, in the conference title game. Then, they got rolled in the Valero Alamo Bowl by Oklahoma State, 38-8.
"The same intensity that we started the year off with, we didn't end the year off with," running back Phillip Lindsay said this summer. "I feel like we peaked and then we didn't know how to peak again. There's a point where you have to peak again.
"It won't be like that this year."
CU enters the 2017 season eyeing the Pac-12 title it fell short of winning a year ago. Yet, to finish the way they want, the Buffs need a strong start.
On Friday night, CU will face rival Colorado State (1-0) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. The game against the Rams will have no bearing on the Pac-12 title, but it is a massive game for a CU team loaded with question marks.
"It's about that time," Lindsay said this week. "It's been a long camp and we're ready to go out there and showcase what we've got and put on a show."
The show, at least on offense, should be a good one. Lindsay is one of several explosive playmakers returning, and the offense is led by talented quarterback Steven Montez, who gets his first chance to be the full-time starter.
Montez's confidence matches his talent. He said this week he expects the Buffs "can do some stuff with our receivers and our run game that can hurt the Rams defense a lot."
Defensively, the Buffs are brimming with confidence, as well, but have a lot to prove after losing three assistant coaches, eight starters and 10 major contributors from a year ago.
"We're just going to rebuild and revamp and retool," senior safety Afolabi Laguda said.
Laguda believes the Buffs have more speed on defense, especially on the defense line. He added that many of the returning players have adopted the rigorous film study habits that the 2016 seniors had.
In addition, head coach Mike MacIntyre has repeatedly talked about how improved the Buffs will be on special teams, with kickers doing better than they've done in years.
"I'm very confident in our football team, going out there and executing and playing as well as they can play," he said.
With an explosive offense, confident defense and improved special teams, the Buffs have sounded all offseason like a team can win a Pac-12 title.
Now, it's time for them to prove it, and this game against the Rams could be a strong indicator as to whether the Buffs are a legit Pac-12 contender, or a team that hasn't fully reloaded.
Two years ago, following an offseason of talking about how they were finally ready to win, the Buffs went to Hawaii and looked lost. A 28-20 defeat — against a Hawaii team that would finish 3-10 — set the tone for a 4-9 campaign. It was CU's 10th consecutive losing season.
Last season, the Buffs backed up their confidence and opened a lot of eyes with a 44-7 rout of Colorado State. It set the tone for one of the most remarkable seasons in recent CU history.
While 11 games remain after this one, the opener is often an indicator for the season. In their history, the Buffs have won the opener 78 times, and have gone on to have a winning season in 78.2 percent of those campaigns. After the 44 openers they've lost, they've finished with a losing record 56.8 percent of the time.
How the Buffs look against the Rams could determine how this season turns out.
Lindsay said the game simply boils down to this: "We just have to go out there and play Colorado football."
We know what Colorado football looked like in 2016. We're about to find out what it'll look like in 2017.