Let me preface this by saying to any Colorado fans that might be reading this; this is not in any form a compliment to the Colorado football team. Do not take this as another example of how much "little brother" Colorado State needs "big sister" Colorado, it is more about winning the first game and starting the season with momentum than beating Colorado.
So in a season with 13 regular season games, contests against dynasty status Alabama, Mountain West Co-Champion Boise State, and rivals Wyoming and Air Force, why is the first game of the season against the Colorado Buffaloes so important?
Well, there is the rivalry aspect. Despite some less-than-entertaining match-ups the past couple years, this is still a heated rivalry with much vitriol between fans and players alike. Last season the Rams shut down the Buffaloes in the second half to secure only their fifth win in the series since 2000. After a tumultuous off season for the Buffaloes, and more strides for the Rams under second year coach Jim McElwain, Colorado State will go into the Rocky Mountain Showdown in a spot they are not accustomed to in the long history of this series, favorites. Early lines from Vegas project the Rams as two-point favorites.
But that is not the reason why the Rams need to win this game.
Look at the players who will most likely make contributions to this team throughout the season. At least twenty were present during a year or more of 3-9 under former coach Steve Fairchild. Now this team, mentally, is much improved compared to the teams that went 3-9, but that vulnerability is still there and was apparent during the Rams six game losing streak last season. When they faced any form of adversity, they tended to falter under the pressure and not play to their potential. After earning a huge victory over Colorado in the season opener, they got hit in the mouth by a very good North Dakota State squad and were a different team for much of the season.
So far this off season the players have shown a determination and outlook much more positive than previous years, but if the Rams were to suffer a defeat against a Colorado team they should beat, could this team put it behind them and move on with their season? After the season opener on Sunday, the Rams have to quickly regroup during a shortened practice week and go face a dangerous Tulsa team at home. If they lose focus, they could quickly be in a 0-2 hole going into games against a tough FCS opponent in Cal Poly and then the meat shredder that is Bryant-Denny Stadium. Now, all of the sudden, that conference slate becomes a lot more demanding for coaches and players.
Looking at the conference schedule, none of the games are "guaranteed" wins. There are tough road tests at Wyoming and Utah State, and difficult home match-ups against Boise State, Nevada, San Jose State, and Air Force; all teams that have beat Colorado State at least once in the past three years. For a team that expects, and certainly has the ability, to get to a bowl game this season, it is tough to find the seven wins needed if they can not pull out wins in their non conference schedule.
If the Rams and coach McElwain want to get to the school's first bowl game since 2008, it is imperative they come out of the tunnel in Denver ready to play. Because one thing is for sure, Colorado Coach Mike MacIntyre knows how to beat this Ram squad and will have a very motivated team under him looking for some payback for last year.