Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Kyle Rini at email@example.com.
Can the Buffs take down the Rams in the 88th Rocky Mountain Showdown this Friday at Sports Authority Field in Denver? The CUI’s Justin Guerriero and Kyle Rini engage in a battle of wits, arguing both the Buffs’ and Rams’ case. Who’s right and who’s wrong? You be the judge.
Justin Guerriero: Let me just come out and be honest about one thing: I think that the 2016 Buffaloes are a better team than the 2016 Rams. In terms of experience, maturity and overall skill on both sides of the ball, I think CU has the edge. But I don’t think the Buffs are going to win this game. Why, you ask? Precedent, that’s why. I’ve been watching this team intensely since my freshman year at Colorado in 2013. One consistent theme that I’ve noticed since head coach Mike MacIntyre took the helm of the program in December 2012 is that during each summer camp leading up to the regular season, coaches, fans and players alike believe that particular season is the season in which the Buffs will finally win some football games.
Let’s not kid ourselves. In 2014 and 2015, the Buffs should have been a winning team, or at least close to it. But both years saw the team fail to execute at opportune moments. This caused winnable games to slip away and turn into regrettable losses. I really do think that the Buffs are the superior squad here, but noting their history, I’m not confident enough to say on the record that this team is going to take down the Rams. I think that their normal problems of offensive inefficiency, red zone blunders and what MacIntyre has referred to as “bonehead mistakes” will cripple the Buffs and dictate how the game goes. But Kyle, please prove me wrong. Really, though.
Kyle Rini: Sorry Justin, but just like the Ice Bucket Challenge and Uptown Funk, CSU’s superiority is a trend that died back in 2014. Former Rams head coach Jim McElwain is gone and he took his recruiting edge with him. New head coach Mike Bobo has done well, but the talent on both sides of the ball is drying up quickly. Meanwhile, MacIntyre’s rebuilding effort is finally seeing results, even if they’re not easily apparent. Last season’s 4-9 record doesn’t accurately reflect the huge strides the Buffs made. Nor does it show how close the team came to knocking off teams like UCLA, Arizona, USC and Utah. We don’t know yet if CU will be able to close out games against Pac-12 giants, but CSU is a lowly non-power five squad in comparison to those teams.
Unlike the Rams, Colorado is returning nearly all of its 2015 defense which should prove more mature and battle-tested. On offense, senior quarterback Sefo Liufau is back from injury and is poised to have his best year as a senior with weapons like junior receivers Shay Fields and Devin Ross as well as junior tailback Donovan Lee at his disposal. CSU’s defense has lost eight of its starters with little in the way of notable replacements. This leaves holes at all three levels. On offense, the Rams also lost their two star receivers in Joe Hansley and Rashard Higgins. Without Higgins to carve up the field like last year, CU’s mature secondary led by senior defensive back Chidobe Awuzie should have a handle on the passing game. You also have to consider CSU’s Bronco-esque quarterback controversy and how that uncertainty should play into the hands of the Buffs.
JG: Well Kyle, I have to agree with you about the returning starters on the Buffs’ defense. Having the same guys, with another year of experience and maturity under their belts, will be a key factor. A key factor in the defense allowing an opposing team to carry the ball more than five yards each time they touch it this season, that is. I think that people are putting too much weight on the fact that CSU lost some starters on both sides of the ball. Right now, players aren’t taking this game lightly. Neither is MacIntyre. First of all, most of them have lost to the Rams at some point in their careers. Secondly, many will tell you that once you step foot onto the field, anything can happen. The end result ultimately is determined by which team executes better, which is something that the Buffs have been painfully bad at in recent years.
And can we please talk about CSU’s star tailback, Dalyn Dawkins for a minute? He shredded the CU defense last year, running for 118 yards on 20 carries, while also racking up 59 receiving yards. The rams return six starters on offense this season, four of whom are offensive linemen. With that good of an O-line, I can’t help but assume that Dawkins will have his way again in this year’s Rocky Mountain Showdown. I foresee him running for 100 yards. And Kyle, I think you’re being quite harsh with the Rams’ quarterback situation. It’s true, that, even as of this moment, Bobo hasn’t announced who his starter will be. I’m going to assume it’ll be Nick Stevens, who stunk against the Buffs last season, but went on to have a pretty solid year in the Mountain West Conference.
On paper, the Buffs should steamroll this 2016 Rams team. But in actuality, it’s going to be much harder of a task, given the Buffs’ apparent love for shooting themselves in the foot. I hope I’m wrong. After the last few seasons of abysmal game time execution, my expectations are low. Losing to CSU in the opener, while also deflating the confidence that these players have worked so hard to attain, would be a TBM (Total Buffs Move).
KR: I knew you would bring up Dawkins. And sure, he, along with Izzy Matthews, will probably present the biggest playmaking threat on Friday. But I have confidence that this Buffs defense can learn from last year’s showdown and use the experience they gained playing against the high-performing rushers of the Pac-12. I’m not saying they will shut down Dawkins and the running attack, but they should have a better handle than last year. Especially if CU can contain the passing game. Stevens did in fact stink last time, and then got to play the rest of the season against teams like New Mexico and Utah State. Not exactly powerhouses.
As for hype, I don’t think CSU can match the excitement of these CU players and coaches. A win for the Rams is a great achievement, but a loss for the Buffs is an unacceptable tragedy. These players are incredibly determined not to let the natural order be upset again. MacIntyre has his sights set on an ass-kicking and this year he has the stats to back it up.
The 2016 Buffs should, in fact, steamroll on paper, on the field and on Friday. Sure, Colorado does have a pretty bad history of executing in the clutch, but this isn’t Cleveland we’re talking about. This team isn’t cursed or otherwise destined to fail. They proved that last year when they successfully brought home the Centennial Trophy. This year, CU has improved while CSU has declined. The equation is simple. If the Buffs win, they will probably do so by double digits (even Vegas says so). CSU’s era of fun and recruiting dominance is over. Two straight losses in the Rocky Mountain Showdown should make it official.