While the game has been moved back to campus at CU instead of it's usual neutral site at Invesco Field in Denver, it still promises to have plenty of fireworks.
"You always wonder about the first game," said CSU coach Sonny Lubick. "Did we go over the right things, are we ready to go? I know that our guys are excited to play a game. I think they are tired of hitting one another."
The Rams, who finished 7-6 a season ago and lost the San Francisco Bowl to Boston College, will open the season with junior Justin Holland at quarterback. Holland is the most prolific schoolboy passer in Colorado High School history and was the understudy to Bradlee Van Pelt the past two seasons. Holland, who started last season's bowl game when Van Pelt was injured, will look toward H-Back Joel Dreessen, tight end Matt Bartz, and wide receiver David Anderson as his main receivers. Colorado will counter with second-year starter Joel Klatt, who entered this game a year ago as an unknown and emerged as a star. It was a bumpy ride the rest of the way for CU, which finished 5-7 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in three seasons.
Both teams also feel they will be able to run the ball this season, something neither did well a season ago. CSU's best running threat last season was Van Pelt, while CU's leading runner, Brian Calhoun, transferred to Wisconsin. Ironically, the Rams will count on a former Buff, Marcus Houston, to spur their ground attack, as well as injury-plagued Tristin Walker, a high profile Colorado recruit coming out of high school.
The Buffs lost Calhoun, but the got back their starter from the past two seasons in Bobby Purify, who missed most of last season with an ankle injury. A healthy Purify and an improved offensive line give CU's ground game a healthy boost.
Both clubs figure to struggle some on defense - especially early in the year. Both were torched a year ago by big play after big play, and both have vowed to make their opponents earn their yards in smaller chunks this year. Both are young and inexperienced - CSU returns only three starters on defense - but both hope the youth brings renewed enthusiasm with it.
For the Buffs, just getting a chance to play a football game again is a welcome relief. An off-season of turmoil - the product of a recruiting/sex scandal which led to a prolonged 'leave of absence' for head coach Gary Barnett, has been the talked around the state, and removed the focus on the Colorado football team. The lingering effects are likely to be a factor when Colorado takes the field Saturday evening. Either CU's is sky high when the come out, or they'll struggle through the motions. Either way, their performance will be attributed to the off-season distractions - which may be an unfair assessment.
"I don't know that the 'scandal' is played on the football field, so I don't know that it really matters," said CU offensive lineman Sam Wilder. "This team has already pushed forward. There's no question it's move on."
"A lot of people look at us like, 'Well, what are they going to do now? What's left in them,' " said Buffs RB Lawrence Vickers. "We feel as if all this has brought us closer together as a team, and we just have a chance to show the world."
CU will also be fighting a recent history of trouble in season openers. Barnett is just 1-4 in his five years at the helm, including last season's dramatic 42-35 nail bitter against CSU at Invesco. The win was just Barnett's second in five meetings with Lubick.