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Already eager to witness an improved product on the field after last year’s disappointing, bowl-less 5-7 campaign, Colorado football fans surely were further encouraged by the dismal showing put together by the Colorado State Rams in their opener — at home, no less — last week against Hawaii.
They should. The Rams’ defense looked downright dreadful, allowing a quarterback who previously owned all of nine career pass attempts and was making his first start — on the road, no less — to throw for 418 yards and three touchdowns with another 96 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Rams fell behind by 30 points late in the third quarter before a much-too-late rally added window dressing to CSU’s 43-34 defeat.
It’s understandable if Steven Montez and the rest of the Buffaloes offense has been salivating all week while awaiting the opportunity to dissect a beleaguered Rams defense that ultimately allowed over 600 yards of total offense. The Boulder-based narrative for the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown, in turn, has morphed from a game the Buffs should win to a game the Buffs should win in dominant fashion.
If that happens, great. More power to the Buffs. Yet a win is a win, and a club breaking in as many new faces across its rotation as CU shouldn’t concern itself with style points Friday night.
For the record: On the radio, in our weekly BuffZone.com podcast, and now in print, I’ve got the Buffs winning 38-28 in a game that will be far more comfortable than the final score indicates. Not entirely unlike the 17-3 CU victory last year in which neither team scored after halftime. No one expects the same second-half snooze-fest this year, and regardless how the game plays out both squads are likely to put a much bigger dent into the scoreboard.
Yet a rout by the Buffs shouldn’t be the objective, no matter how overmatched the Rams looked in their dud of an opener. Again, if that happens, good for CU as it tries to gather momentum for next week’s momentous trip to Nebraska. But chances are the Rams won’t look as woeful as they did a week ago, and there remains far too many question marks the Buffs need to begin answering Friday night.
First and foremost are the big boys in the trenches. The Buffs generally were overmatched up front on both sides of the ball last year, and a combination of holdovers plus key newcomers on both sides are under pressure to turn that weakness into a strength in 2018. Travon McMillian rushed for over 2,100 yards during his career at Virginia Tech, while fellow running back Kyle Evans is eager to regain the form he sometimes flashed before a devastating hip injury helped derail his 2017 season. How those two mesh together in the backfield in hopes of replacing Phillip Lindsay while also complementing what is expected to be a strong CU passing game remains to be seen.
There’s more. Five players have been competing throughout camp for the two starting cornerback jobs. Whoever gets the nod Friday night will be tasked with slowing a CSU passing attack that eventually caught fire against Hawaii, with quarterback KJ Carta-Samuels finishing with a school-record 537 passing yards. And the receivers expected to be a team strength nonetheless are light on experience outside of Jay MacIntyre and, to a lesser extent, Juwann Winfree, who has battled a hamstring issue throughout camp.
The Buffs should get a win in the books and head to Lincoln for the renewal of a once-passionate rivalry with a 1-0 record. How that “W” goes on the board is less important to CU’s overall fate this season than seeing the players behind all those question marks settle comfortably into their roles.