DENVER (AP) — CSU is coming off a bowl win and returns a starting quarterback who set the team’s single-season passing record last season.
Still, coach Jim McElwain considers his team the vast underdog heading into the season opener against Colorado on Friday night. The Buffaloes are a Pac-12 team, McElwain pointed out, with more money, more resources, more top talent and a more lucrative television contract.
“Our little guys will show up and we’ll go play a game,” McElwain said.
That’s straight from the playbook of renowned CSU coach Sonny Lubick, who was always a master at motivation.
“I’ve never been compared to that legend,” McElwain said. “We have to take care of business against a team that has all the advantages.”
The Rams are on the rise after turnings things around in 2013. The Mountain West squad went 8-6 and beat Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl. They’re once again led by senior quarterback Garrett Grayson, who threw for a school-best 3,696 yards and 23 TDs last season.
Even with all that, McElwain implied the pressure lies solely with the Buffaloes, who rallied in the fourth quarter for a 41-27 win a year ago.
Although, Buffs coach Mike MacIntyre wasn’t quite buying it.
“Jim is really smart,” said MacIntyre, who went 4-8 in his inaugural season in Boulder, Colorado. “I think it’ll be a heck of a football game for both of us.”
MacIntyre’s a big fan of the resurgent Rams. Well, every week with the obvious exception of this one.
“I like CSU to win every game but the first. I really mean that,” MacIntyre said. “Some people would say, ‘Well …’ No, I’d like for them to do that because they are in our state. There are a lot of Colorado kids that play on their team. I think it’s an opportunity to get our name out there.
“That’s a very good football team.”
A team that definitely has Colorado’s complete attention.
“We are going to treat it like a Super Bowl,” said quarterback Sefo Liufau, whose team is a three-point favorite. “This is the biggest game of our lives coming up and we just want to go 1-0 each week. You can’t take any team lightly, especially CSU.”
Here are some things to look for Friday night when the Rams play the Buffaloes for the 86th time:
EVERGREEN STATE RIVALRY?: The starting QBs in this contest both are from Washington. Grayson is from Vancouver, Washington, while Liufau hails from Tacoma. The two actually got to know each other a little bit at the Manning Passing Academy.
FAREWELL: No one may be more elated that Paul Richardson bolted for the NFL than Colorado State. The electric Buffaloes receiver — now with Seattle — had 10 catches for 208 yards and two long TDs against the Rams last season. “He got really open,” McElwain said. “And when you let the fastest guy in the state of Colorado get open like that, not good things happen.”
THE RUN DOWN: Looks like Colorado State junior tailback Jasen Oden Jr. will get the first crack at replacing Kapri Bibbs, who rushed for 1,741 yards and 31 TDs last season. “We know you have to run the ball to win,” McElwain said. “You have to be able to run it when you have to. … We will maintain our balance.”
CENTER OF ATTENTION: Grayson will have a new center this season in freshman Jake Bennett after the departure of All-Mountain West Conference snapper Weston Richburg, who’s now a member of the New York Giants. “I have total confidence in them and they will go out and play their tails off,” McElwain said of his offensive line. “I’m sure there will be some first game jitters for some guys. There will be some missed assignment in communication, just because that’s the nature. The key is how we overcome the negative.”
ON CAMPUS: There are those who argue this rivalry should be held on campus and not in Denver. Liufau enjoys playing at the home of the Broncos. “It’s a bigger stadium and a bigger stage,” Liufau said. “You have an even amount of fans from each side coming to the game, which is really exciting and fun.”
By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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