On Aug. 30, Colorado State football will play the University of Colorado in Denver for likely the final time. After years of memorable matchups in the neutral site, the 2020 edition will be in Fort Collins before there is a brief break in the series.
The Rocky Mountain Showdown, though controversial, has always been a big deal to local college football fanatics. The chance to represent one’s school, drink like there’s no tomorrow and scream the fight song until it hurts is always a can’t-miss event for both sides of the rivalry.
However, the 2019 edition just may be one of the biggest games in the history of the in-state clash.
Before you jump down my throat for using hyperbole or putting too much weight into a Week 1 non-conference game – hear me out. Bragging rights will obviously be on the line, as both sides will want to end the Denver era of the RMS on top. But, gloating isn’t what truly matters this time around – it’s the harsh reality that neither side can afford to lose.
For CU, it will be Game 1 under Mel Tucker. And after concluding the 2018 season with seven consecutive losses, the Buffaloes will certainly be looking to get the taste of missing out on the postseason out of their mouth.
With the Buffs slated to face Nebraska in Week 2 and then Air Force on the ensuing Saturday, a loss to the Rams would leave CU with little room for error in the non-conference slate. (Not to mention, losing to “little brother” is a particularly sore subject for the fans that definitely ‘don’t care’ about the rivalry).
But for CSU, the game means even more this season. Mike Bobo is 0-4 in the RMS – the last thing that he needs is to kick off another campaign with a fifth L to Boulder on his resume.
Withal, a deeper dive into the recent history of the Rams shows that the relevance of defeating the Buffs is paramount to CSU’s overall success. Since 2000, Colorado State’s three most successful seasons all included victories in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. In 2000, 2002 and 2014, CSU finished each season with 10 victories, including wins over the Buffaloes.
Even more telling is that in years where the Rams have lost to the Buffs, CSU has only finished with eight or more victories once. In 2013, Jim McElwain’s squad started 1-3, before going 6-3 down the stretch and ultimately topped Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl (48-45).
In years where CU has won by two or more scores, the Rams have averaged only 5.6 wins per season. Most recently, the Rams lost by 32 in 2018 and proceeded to win three games all season.
So, while the RMS isn’t necessarily a defining game for the Rams’ season – CSU has lost the in-state matchup and still qualified for the postseason eight times since 2000. The game is definitely a telling indicator of the amount of talent on the roster, because even in those eight seasons where they reached a bowl game, CSU’s combined winning percentage is barely over .500. (It’s .543).
Assuming that you’re reading this article after cracking open an ‘ice cold’ Avalanche Ale and feeling confused by all these numbers, here’s a simple translation: when the Rams beat the Buffs, it usually means the team is pretty damn good. Although there were some outliers between 2006 and 2012, which was arguably the state’s worst period of college football ever – each team qualified for the postseason once.
If the Rams are going to be more competitive this fall than they were a season ago, beating CU is the first step. Obviously there is a path to the postseason, even with a loss to the Buffs. But after everything that CSU fans suffered through in 2018, a victory over the local foes would go a long way in generating excitement for the season.