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Colorado quarterback Steven Montez is back for his third season as a starter.
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado quarterback Steven Montez is back for his third season as a starter.
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Buffaloes at a glance

Record: 0-0; Went 5-7, 2-7 Pac-12 in 2018

Statistical leaders (top returners from 2018)

Passing

Steven Montez, Sr.: 258-of-399, 2,849 yards, 19 TD, 9 INT

Sam Noyer, Jr.: 8-of-14, 60 yards, 2 INT

Tyler Lytle, So.: 4-of-5, 55 yards, 1 INT

Rushing

Montez: 94 att., 238 yards, 4 TD

Beau Bisharat, Sr.: 21 att., 143 yards

Laviska Shenault, Jr.: 17 att, 115 yards, 5 TD

Receiving

Shenault: 86 catches, 1,011 yards, 6 TD

KD Nixon, Jr.: 52 catches, 636 yards, 4 TD

Tony Brown, Sr.: 32 catches, 333 yards, 1 TD

Defense

LB Nate Landman, Jr.: 123 tackles, 4 sacks, 13 TFL, 2 INT

DL Mustafa Johnson, Sr.: 73 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 17.5 TFL

STAR Davion Taylor, Sr.: 75 tackles, 1 sack, 12 TFL

Christian Petersen / Getty Images
Colorado cornerback Delrick Abrams Jr

5 Buffs to watch vs. CSU

CB Delrick Abrams Jr.: Someone for CU has to cover Rams receiver Warren Jackson, and Abrams could get the nod. At 6-foot-3, he’s the biggest of CU’s corners and matches up best with the 6-6 Jackson.

RB Alex Fontenot: The Buffs don’t have much experience at the position, but Fontenot comes in as the starter and is sure to get opportunities to shine against the Rams.

LT Arlington Hambright: A graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, he was brought in to solidify the offensive line and he brings good experience to the table for CU.

WR Dimitri Stanley: There will be a lot of attention on Laviska Shenault, which could open things up for other receivers. There are high expectations for Stanley, a freshman who play in the slot and also return punts.

ILB Jonathan Van Diest: A former Cherry Creek High School star is slated to get his first career start. The competition at this position is still ongoing and Van Diest will be motivated to perform – not only to help his team get a win, but to earn the right to keep his spot.

Bottom line for CU

There has been a lot of hype for the start of the Mel Tucker era, and after back-to-back 5-7 seasons, the Buffs want to win now. The quest for a postseason spot begins with this game. Win this game and the Buffs get the start they need. Lose it and it could be a long year.

Rams at a glance

Record: 0-0; Went 3-9, 2-6 Mountain West in 2018

Statistical leaders (top returners from 2018)

Passing

Collin Hill, Jr.: 119-of-202, 1,387 yards, 7 TD, 7 INT

Rushing

Marvin Kinsey Jr., Sr.: 63 att., 256 yards, 2 TD

Marcus McElroy, Jr.: 52 att., 219 yards

Adam Prentice, Jr.: 16 att., 62 yards

Receiving

Warren Jackson, Jr.: 32 catches, 405 yards, 4 TD

Cameron Butler, Jr.: 29 catches, 312 yards

Kinsey: 22 catches, 204 yards, 1 TD

Defense

S Jamal Hicks, Sr.: 93 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 PBU

DL Ellison Hubbard, Jr.: 37 tackles, 2.5 sacks. 6 TFL

DE Emmanuel Jones, Jr.: 34 tackles. 2 sacks, 7.5 TFL

5 Rams to watch vs. CU

CB Rashad Ajayi: A true sophomore, he’s one of the  Rams’ best corners and will be called upon to help slow down the Buffs’ talented receivers.

QB Collin Hill: The junior quarterback finally has the starting job after sharing it at times in 2016 and 2018 and battling through two ACL tears. He has seven career starts under his belt, but will be looking to make a good impression in his first time as the opening day starter.

DT Toby McBride: Injuries have taken him off the field the past year and a half, but he’s now healthy and could be a key player up front. As a true freshman reserve in 2016, he led the Rams with four sacks.

MLB Max McDonald: The Rams are replacing their entire crew at linebacker and McDonald, a Rocky Mountain High School graduate, will be counted on to step up and be a leader in the middle.

RB Marcus McElroy: Once a CU recruit, McElroy has been a backup to this point in his career, but comes in as the starter. He will certainly be hyped up, saying this week he has “animosity” toward the Buffs.

Bottom line for CSU

This is never as big of a game for CSU as it is for CU, but the Rams have lost four in a row in this series, and head coach Mike Bobo is well aware that he’s got to start winning some rivalry matchups. There are low expectations for CSU this season, but winning this game could change the outlook in a hurry.

University of Colorado’s Laviska Shenault during football practice in Boulder on Aug. 1, 2019.(Photo by Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Key matchups

CU receivers vs. CSU secondary

To be more specific, this is CU receivers not named Laviska Shenault vs. the CSU secondary. The Rams will be well aware of Shenault all night, but if they focus too much on the All-American candidate, the Buffs have enough explosive play-makers, such as KD Nixon, Tony Brown, Dimitri Stanley, Daniel Arias, etc., to put up big numbers.

CU coverage vs. CSU TE Cameron Butler

The Rams have been known for their receiver talent in recent years, but they have two tight ends that are exceptional. Butler leads the way, but Trey McBride is a weapon, as well. Both are on the preseason watch list for the Mackey Award.

CU DL Mustafa Johnson vs. CSU offensive line

Johnson had a monster year last year, but his two starting line mates from last year – Javier Edwards and Israel Antwine – are gone. The Buffs are looking to Johnson to wreak havoc and be a leader up front. CSU has to find a way to contain him.

CU defensive coordinator Tyson Summers vs. CSU head coach Mike Bobo

Summers was Bobo’s DC at Colorado State in 2015 and knows Bobo’s tendencies as an offensive play caller. Summers isn’t running the same defense he ran at CSU four years ago, so there could be an advantage for Summers in this matchup.

CU’s pressure vs. CU’s anxiety

There has been a lot of talk this offseason about the pressure on the Buffs to win, especially in this game. Pressure is expected and isn’t a big deal, head coach Mel Tucker said; it’s anxiety that’s a problem, because that comes from lack of preparation. If the Buffs are prepped and respond to the pressure, this could be a good debut for Tucker.

Numbers game

2 – Wins for the last 15 full-time CU head coaches in their debut. Dating back to Bunnie Oakes in 1935, CU coaches are 2-13 in their opening game, with wins by Rick Neuheisel (1995) and Mike MacIntyre (2013).

11 – Consecutive non-conference wins for the Buffaloes in the state of Colorado (seven in Boulder, four in Denver).

16 – Consecutive CU-CSU games (from 2004 to now) in which neither team was ranked. At least one of them was ranked in each of the 11 games before that, from 1992-2003.

23 – Points scored by CSU in the last three matchups with the Buffs. CU has won all three, by a combined score of 106-23.

179 – Total number of previous career starts at CU for the current Buffs’ roster. That’s the fewest in program history, dating back to 1971 and the advent of the 11-game schedule.

35,954 – Tickets sold by CU for Friday’s game, as of Thursday afternoon. Of those, 11,154 have been purchased by students.

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