Colorado and Colorado State renew their Rocky Mountain Showdown rivalry on Friday in Denver, the home of the defending Super Bowl champions. But can either of the Rocky Mountain State’s teams make a bowl run in 2017?
For the Buffaloes, that would be a positive sign that Mike McIntyre has them on the correct path. Coming off a 4-9 season — Colorado opened the 2015 season at Hawai’i, allowing for a 13-game slate — that featured just one Pac-12 win, McIntyre could use some positivism for a program that hasn’t posted a winning record since 2005. He does have the advantage of a steady hand at quarterback: senior Sefo Liufau had his 2015 cut short by injury, but threw for 3,200 yards and 28 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2014.
The Rams, on the other hand, will be looking for revenge for one of their three one-possession losses in 2015, and with a roster that foretells a step back. Second-year coach Mike Bobo has a passing game to rebuild, as Rashard Higgins is just one of the Rams’ top four pass-catchers in 2015 who is not on the roster in 2016, but Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews each had more than 500 rushing yards last season, and could form a potent 1-2 punch at running back.
Colorado has historically dominated the Rocky Mountain Showdown and holds a 63-22-2 mark in the rivalry, but Colorado State has been far feistier since the eve of the 21st century, posting a respectable 7-10 mark against the Buffs since 1999.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: Colorado opened as a 10-point favorite.
Three big things to know
1. Is Liufau going to be good again? While his sophomore season was promising, Liufau didn’t light the world on fire as a junior, even before getting hurt. He threw for just nine touchdowns in 11 appearances in 2015, and freshman Cade Apsay looked game against USC in relief of Liufau. But Apsay also threw five interceptions in his next two games, so it’s three-time captain Liufau’s job to keep — and the Buffaloes will likely go as he does.
2. Can Colorado set a tone for a bowl run? The Buffs have a withering schedule in 2016, with trips to Michigan, Oregon, USC and Stanford looking like likely and understandable losses. For Colorado to get to bowl eligibility, it will need a 6-2 record in its other eight games. The Buffs can’t really afford to take one of those losses to Colorado State and further whittle an already slim margin for error in Pac-12 play.
3. How good can Nick Stevens be? The Rams’ incumbent starter finished his sophomore season strongly, leading Colorado State to a four-game winning streak that just barely earned it a bowl trip. But his final five games included three in which he completed at least 68 percent of his passes and two in which he managed just a 52.4 percent completion rate. Stevens was brought in by former Rams coach Jim McElwain as now-NFL backup Garrett Grayson’s successor, and is getting strong tutelage from former Georgia offensive coordinator Bobo — but Georgia transfer Faton Bauta now lurks as a possible competitor for the starter’s role in 2017 and beyond.
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