BOULDER — The Colorado Buffaloes would be blind not to spot the warning signs.
Last year, when the Buffaloes escaped a loss to rival Colorado State thanks to a dramatic goal-line stand, they didn’t only preserve their own hides.
They didn’t only turn a potentially heartbreaking situation into a momentum builder. They didn’t only salvage their pride in their own stadium. They didn’t only re-establish themselves as the state’s premier college football team.
They ruined the Rams’ season. And even though they come into today’s game favored by a touchdown, their shoulders aren’t hauling the chip this year. If the Buffs expect anything less than CSU’s best shot, they’re likely expecting too little.
“My memory (from last year) is a blur for everything except the last play,” CSU quarterback Justin Holland said this week. “I’ll stop thinking about it when we leave for Boulder.”
Rams head coach Sonny Lubick said the way last year’s game ended has stuck with him.
“It haunted me for a while,” he said. “For coaches, it kind of lingers. All those close losses always linger.”
Despite that dynamic, the Buffs haven’t done much to bottle the feeling that they are the team with something to prove. Head coach Gary Barnett scolded two of his younger players this week for telling the media they have been taught to treat CSU as the little brother who needs to be kept in line.
During a kickoff luncheon Thursday, however, it was Barnett who told fans he was tired of hearing about how CSU botched the game last year, and he said he was willing to give the Rams a shot from the 1-yard line to start today’s game.
Senior fullback Lawrence Vickers, one of the team’s captains, also takes exception to the idea that the Buffs were lucky last year.
“It’s hard for a man. It’s a pride thing. That’s the last thing a man wants taken away from him: his pride,” Vickers said. “But at the same time, if you beat a person, they can do nothing but respect you. All I want is for them to respect that what is going to happen (today) is what was going to happen in the first place.
“There’s a lot to prove. They think it was a fluke, like they should have won,” he said. “I want to beat them to show them, ‘Whoa, they really did beat us.’”
CU junior guard Brian Daniels, who classified the annual contest as a “hatred rivalry,” said he expects the game to go back and forth but also hinted that a close win wouldn’t be acceptable.
“We want to win handily,” Daniels said. “And we feel like we can do that.”
In order to shut down CSU, the Buffs will start with the running game, although quarterback Justin Holland and receiver David Anderson represent the Rams’ biggest offensive threats.
“When they run, they’re a really, really good throwing team (off play-action) because they throw the ball down the field so well,” Barnett said. “So if we have to bring a bunch of guys up to stop the run, we’ll be on an island in the pass game and they’ll have us where they want us.”
CSU’s ability to run is largely a mystery, however. Junior transfer Nnamdi Ohaeri, who last played as a cornerback for UCLA, will get the start, with sophomore Kyle Bell and junior fullback Tristan Walker also expected to get carries.
Ohaeri, who went from last to first on the Rams’ depth chart this summer, could be the difference for CSU if he’s as good as hype suggests.
The Buffs have their own question marks at running back. Barnett has been optimistic about his two sophomores, speedster Hugh Charles and crafty Byron Ellis, but the two have combined for only 41 collegiate carries.
Behind the Xs and Os, however, today’s game will likely come down to emotion, and which team rises above it to prove its cause.
“We’re both going to bring our best game, and all of the publicity won’t even matter once the game starts,” CU senior linebacker Brian Iwuh said. “Whoever wants it the most is going to come out victorious.”
Sellout: According to CU sports information, all public tickets for today’s game have been sold, marking the second consecutive year Folsom Field has been full for the rivalry.
The sellout came after the school sold nearly 4,000 tickets in the week leading up to the game. Last year, the CU-CSU game set a Folsom record for the largest crowd to see a football game.
Also, all 41 suites have sold for the first time in any contest since they were built in 2003.
Hurricane relief: The CU athletic department, on behalf of the American Red Cross, will conduct a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Katrina before and during today’s game.
Donations will be taken by 25 volunteers stationed around the stadium, who will collect cash or check donations starting at noon and lasting until midway through the second quarter.
Checks should be made payable to “American Red Cross Disaster Response Fund.”