at Invesco Field (Denver) • Sept. 9 • 3 p.m. • CSTV
Head Coach: Sonny Lubick (14th season)
2005 Record: 6-6/5-3 Mountain West
Series Record: 57-18-2
What To Know: The instate rivalry returns to Denver's Invesco Field for the first time since 2003. The past four games between the Buffs and Rams have been thrillers, coming down to the final series of the game, with CU winning three.
CSU boasts one of the better receiving corps in the nation in 2006, led by senior Dustin Osborn and juniors Johnny Walker and Damon Morton. Caleb Hanie replaces Justin Holland at quarterback, and his game resembles former CSU QB Bradlee Van Pelt's more than Holland's. Hanie — who started several games in 2004 as a freshman — is a threat to run at quarterback, but most of the load will be put onto the capable shoulders of bruising junior tailback Kyle Bell. He'll be running behind an experienced offensive line.
The Rams will try and improve on defense after two subpar seasons. How well the defense plays will be a key in the Rams' quest to contend for a Mountain West title, something they haven't done since Utah, and, last season, TCU, knocked them out of the top spot. While it's not likely CSU will regain their status in the MWC, the once youthful defensive unit has aged — seven full-time starters return from a year ago — and that bodes well for improvement. Still, the Rams' front seven will have to prove they can slow opponents' running games, something they rarely did in '05.
Colorado Connection: Projected CSU starting tight end Chris Kawulok grew up in Boulder County and starred at Monarch High School in Superior.
Players To Watch: Junior H-back Kory Sperry is a huge talent. S Ben Stratton returns for a senior season after missing last year with a knee injury. Junior DE Jesse Nading has steadily improved as a defender. P Jimmie Kaylor is one of the better ones in the nation.
Returning Leaders: PASS: Hanie 29-13-251, 2 TD; RUSH: Bell 276-1,288/4.7, 10 TD; REC: Walker 43-663/15.4, 2 TD; TCKLS: Robert Herbert 72; SACKS: Nading 4.