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Rocky Mountain Showdown preview: Three things to look for, prediction

Everyone from College Gameday to 60 Minutes will be watching Colorado State and Colorado duke it out for the Centennial Cup. Do the Rams have any chance at pulling off the impossible?

Colorado State vs. #18 Colorado

Location: Boulder, Colorado (Folsom Field)

Date/Time: Saturday, September 16th at 8 PM (Mountain Time)

Television: ESPN

Streaming: // Log into television provider on site, not necessary if you have ESPN+ account

Radio: // Create an account, scroll through active game feeds to Colorado State broadcast, or follow Colorado State and select their active broadcast

Head-to-Head: The Rocky Mountain Showdown was first played in 1893, and the Buffs and Rams have squared up 91 times in total. The winner will get to hoist the Centennial Cup. Colorado has controlled the series, with a record of 67-22-2. The games were played on campus until 1998, when the teams began meeting at Mile High Stadium, and later at Invesco / Sports Authority / Broncos Stadium at Mile High (the naming rights have changed hands constantly over the last two and a half decades). The most recent on-campus match-up took place in 2009, which Colorado State won 23-17 in Boulder. Colorado has also won the last five contests, including a 52-31 win in the most recent game in 2019. While Colorado State has been the underdog for the majority of the series, they’ve been much more competitive since the late 90’s. Between 1999 and 2014, they won 7 of the 16 meetings, their best stretch since the 1920’s.

Three things to look for:

  1. Travis Hunter vs. Tory Horton

This titanic match-up on the boundaries will be one of the deciding factors in which team keeps the Centennial Cup for the next year. Horton was solid in the first game of the year, with 9 catches and 81 yards, but he didn’t make an impact on the game until the second half, when Washington State was well in control of the game. He’ll likely need to make several big plays for the Rams to have any chance at pulling off the upset. The question is, will Hunter stop that from happening? He’s somehow playing elite football on both sides, but his NFL future lies as an elite boundary corner. His speed and ball skills are incredible. If he can shut down Horton, there’s simply no way Colorado State can keep up with their high-powered offense.

2. Is Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi the answer at QB?

The announcement of the benching of Clay Millen was unexpected, to say the least. Fowler-Nicolosi did run the offense better in week one, there’s no question, but what if that was just a flash in the pan against a defense that wasn’t dialed in because they were up by 30 points? Jay Norvell has already shown he lacks faith in Millen, so how can they expect him to play if called upon if he knows the coaching staff doesn’t have confidence in him?

There’s two ways this can play out. Maybe BFN will have his coming out party on national television. He goes toe-to-toe with Shedeur Sanders, and is suddenly the undisputed QB1 of this team. Or he struggles against a team filled with blue chip recruits and NFL talent, and the Rams get washed. The latter scenario, which is unfortunately more likely, would lead to a strange dynamic at the quarterback position for the rest of the season.

3. Are the Rams ready for this moment?

Against Washington State, Colorado State started off by taking a 3-0 lead after a stop and solid drive down the field. They completely folded after that, going down 14 at halftime and not scoring again until the fourth quarter, when they were already down 33 points. On a day where Wyoming showed the impact a win over a good power five team can have on a season’s trajectory, the Rams failed to seize the moment.

With an extra week to prepare, they’ve been given a mulligan. Only this time, the exposure and opportunity in front of them is twice as large. ESPN’s College Gameday AND FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff will both be there to cover the game. Coach Prime has the Buffaloes ranked higher than they’ve been in seven years after just two games, and he brings his Louis Vuitton bag with two Heisman candidates in it. If the Rams were able to win the Rocky Mountain Showdown for the first time since 2014, as well as beating their first ranked opponent since the Bradlee Van Pelt head spike game in 2002, Colorado State might go from getting blown out at home in week one to getting an AP vote or two by week three. But will the offense reach it’s full potential on Saturday? Will the defense, that has some studs but not enough to fill all their holes, stop one of the country’s most explosive offenses? Will a freshman quarterback in his first career start beat a team coached by arguably the greatest cornerback of all time? We’ll have to wait and see.


With all of the odds stacked against Colorado State, from the switch at QB to the insane hype surrounding their opponent, it wouldn’t be shocking if they are easily dispatched by one of the most talented rosters in college football. That’s what would’ve happened to last year’s team.

This isn’t the same old Rams, though. Even with their disappointing showing in game one, the roster is more explosive and experienced than the previous squad. Stars like Jack Howell and Tory Horton have gotten another year of development under them, along with all of the other additions and improvements. They’re capable of seizing this moment.

Expect the Buffs to get off to a fast start, maybe even taking a two possession lead in the first quarter. But CSU doesn’t fold. The ground game starts to get rolling with Avery Morrow and Kobe Johnson. Fowler-Nicolosi isn’t perfect in his first career start, but he’s efficient enough to keep the offense moving.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Rams are only down by 7. Sanders has had some dazzling displays of athleticism and arm talent, but he’s also been sacked several times. Colorado’s run game also struggles, leading to predictable play calling from their side. After a huge sack from Grady Kelly pushes them out of field goal range, the Rams have a chance to tie it with five minutes to play. But Fowler-Nicolosi finally makes an ill-advised throw, trying to squeeze one into Tory Horton’s arms on the sideline. Travis Hunter jumps the route, snags it out of the air, makes one juke to get past BFN, and seals the Rocky Mountain Showdown win for the Buffs. The Rams put up a heck of an effort, but make one too many mistakes to pull off the impossible.