Colorado ended last season with a little bit of momentum, closing out the 2011 campaign by winning two out of three -- including a big-time upset of Utah in Salt Lake City. That momentum was halted a bit in the spring with the loss of wide receiver Paul Richardson, an A-list playmaker who surely would have been the go-to guy for Colorado's to-be-named-later quarterback.
But folks in Boulder feel the pendulum has swung back their way yet again with the arrival of Jordan Webb -- an experienced quarterback who brings some much-needed maturity to the position. The Buffs will look to carry that momentum into Saturday when they face in-state rival Colorado State in Denver.
It's a big game for the Buffs. After all, they've played Colorado State more than any other team in school history, boasting a robust 61-20-2 all-time record against the Rams. It's also a big game for second-year coach Jon Embree -- who went 2-1 against the Rams as a Colorado player back in the 80s, but remembers the loss his senior year.
"My senior year, we had six turnovers in that game against CSU," Embree recalled. "It was 23-7 and we threw a pick-six late in the game. It was kind of rainy. You remember those things vividly. I remember the first time we played them in 1983, and they had some really good players. Keli McGregor, Jeff Champine, Kevin Call. I have been on both sides of the fence as a player and a coach. I think it is good for the state that we have this game and that we are playing."
Of course, there are the recruiting implications that go along with in-state games. While Colorado has a bit of an edge outright -- the fact that they play in a stronger conference than the Mountain West should be a draw for the state's top players -- a reputation for winning goes a lot further.
"We have to be better recruiting in state; Jim [McElwain] has gotten off to a good start in the state," Embree said. "I think some of it is kids choosing to play in certain programs. There are some of those allegiances, but also to the uniqueness to the state that there are a lot of kids who could care less about a certain program from a rooting standpoint because they moved here from Texas, Arizona or Florida. This rivalry isn't yet a rivalry where kids are raised where there is a line -- you are either a Ram or a Buff."
Colorado enters this game knowing it might be a rough season. Webb -- while not exactly a rookie -- is still learning the lay of the land, plus as many as 16 true freshmen could play this year for the Buffs. Of the 77 players Colorado is dressing for this game, 26 are freshmen (16 true, 10 redshirt). Of the 77, 65 percent are underclassmen and 39 percent haven't played a game beyond high school yet.
That means getting off to a quick start against an opponent they should beat is going to be fairly important for their confidence moving forward. The fact that it's a rivalry game to start the year adds that much more fuel to the fire.
"You know you have to play them at some point, because we are in different conferences playing them first makes sense -- playing them before you get going in your conference," Embree said. "It doesn't change anything from that standpoint. It makes the first game a little more exciting, you have a little more bounce in your step, knowing you’re playing them in your first game. You know how important it is, both programs want to get off to a good start. It will be fun."