Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Game at a Glance
Matchup: Colorado State Rams (0-0) vs. Colorado Buffaloes (0-0)
Kickoff: 6:01 p.m. MDT
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Capacity: 76,125; Turf: Grass
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM).
Odds: Colorado by 10.
Coaches: Colorado – Mike MacIntyre (10-27, 4th season); CSU – Mike Bobo (7-6, 2nd season).
Series: Buffs lead 63-22-2, including 9-5 in Denver
CU defensive line vs. CSU offensive line
Colorado has lost this battle two years in a row. It cost the Buffs in 2014, when CSU racked up 266 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Last year, CU managed to win in overtime, despite CSU’s 218 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. CU appears to have a distinct advantage in the passing game, and if the Buffs’ defensive line plays well, the Rams will have a tough time moving the ball.
A year ago, the Colorado football team opened its season with a disheartening effort and result in a 28-20 loss at Hawaii.
It was the first of several disappointing games in what turned out to be a 4-9 record, CU’s 10th losing season in a row.
Senior outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert has no desire to dwell on what’s happened in the past. He’s only concerned with what’s ahead of the Buffaloes, who open their season on Friday against rival Colorado State.
“I don’t really remember the Hawaii game too much, because once that game is over, you move on to the next game because there’s nothing you can really do about it,” Gilbert said. “As far as approaching this game, we’re searching for perfection: no missteps, no offsides, doing your responsibilities as precise as you can possibly be. If we do what we do better than they do what they do, we’ll come up with a win.”
Entering head coach Mike MacIntyre’s fourth season in Boulder, it’s critical for the Buffs to be better at what they do, because this team needs to come up with wins.
MacIntyre has a 10-27 record in his three seasons, and the Buffs are 14-48 during the past five years since joining the Pac-12 Conference. The CU fan base is itching for success and those within the program are just as antsy.
“We have a talented enough team (to win),” Liufau said. “We had a talented enough team last year. It just all comes down to holding each other accountable and being consistent and being able to make those plays when the opportunity arises.”
There is a big opportunity for the Buffs on Friday night. They’ve spent the offseason gaining confidence and talking about the improvements they’ve made, but a lot of their fans are waiting to see it show up on the scoreboard.
A year ago, the Buffs had a similar offseason and came in with high expectations, only to fall flat in Hawaii. Mistakes in that game and others cost the Buffs some opportunities to win more games.
“I think last year a lot of times in all three phases we hurt ourselves in different ways,” Liufau said. “Whenever you want to be a great team you have to limit your mistakes, especially self-inflicted ones. This year, especially in this first game when you come out, you want to make sure you have all your substitutions — offense, defensive and special teams — you want that to go well and smooth. You want to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing, what their assignment is on each play.
“If you make it harder on yourself, it just makes it easier for the opponent.”
As for the opponent, the Buffs don’t seem to care that CSU is their biggest rival. Sure, they want the in-state bragging rights, but that’s not the motivation for this team. They have a broader perspective.
“I feel like this year it’s just about intensity more than anything,” senior center Alex Kelley said. “We only have X amount of practices, X amount of games and then we’re done — most of us possibly forever. As a whole, this senior class has really taken everyone else under our wings like, ‘Hey we don’t have that many chances.’ We’re trying to get (the underclassmen) to realize how short this actually is and what an opportunity we have.”
It’s an opportunity the Buffs don’t want to let slip away. They know the importance of this game and this season for the CU football program.
“This year, it’s about starting the season off right and on a winning note,” Gilbert said. “It’s a year-round bragging rights for the people who live here, but for us seniors, it’s the last first game that we’ll ever get so we have to come out good.”
To finally end the string of losing seasons and achieve their goal of playing in the postseason, the Buffs have no choice but to play well and come out on top against the Rams.
“This is, by far, the most talent we’ve had in the four years I’ve been here, the best football team we’ve had, so I’m excited about seeing what they do,” MacIntyre. “Now we have to go do it on Saturdays – or Friday nights or Thursday nights, or whenever. I’m excited about this team. It’s all evolved, and I’m really happy to see what they do.
“We’ll have some tough moments (this season); we’ll have some exhilarating moments. But, I do feel like this team can make that step in the right direction.”
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.