There are in-state college football rivalries like Alabama-Auburn, USC-UCLA, Michigan-Michigan State, Florida State-Florida, Clemson-South Carolina, Oklahoma State-Oklahoma, Oregon-Oregon State, Brigham Young-Utah, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, and then there are rivalries such as Colorado State-Colorado.
It may mean something for Coloradoans that attend those universities as alumni or students, but in reality, the Rocky Mountain Showdown does not register any relevance. Not when one program is starting all over again while another is in the middle of the rebuilding process. Not when both programs have ways to go.
What we learned is the Colorado Buffaloes have so much work to do before they can be great again, and Colorado State Rams avoided embarrassment from losing to a bad team by rallying from a 10-point deficit in the second half that helped them get a 31-17 victory over their in-state rivals. On this night, it was about dreaded bragging rights for CSU. Whatever.
As great as local bragging rights go, it means nothing when Colorado State and Colorado are still on a building stage. Rocky Mountain Showdown means something only if both teams are relevant by being a conference contender. It would only mean something if ESPN College Gameday crew traveled to the Mile High City rather than have this in-state rivalry televised on an irrelevant channel like Fox Sports 1 last night.
Colorado fans like to dismiss Colorado State by calling them their little brother. It’s a way of saying CSU is irrelevant. That bothers Colorado State fans, and understandably so. It’s amusing Colorado fans act like that. Colorado has been awful for eight years now, and they haven’t won 10 games since 2001, so they shouldn’t be looking down at any team.
Same can also be said for CSU fans. Colorado St. has made strides, but they still have ways to go until they are relevant in college football.
Colorado embarked on a rebuilding project last season by hiring first-year coach Mike Macintyre, who oversaw a rebuilding project at San Jose State. His first season was obviously not good as the Buffs went 4-8 overall along with going 1-8 in Pac-12 play. It’s going to take three or four years until MacIntyre’s recruits make an impact.
By then, Colorado hopes to improve by being awful to decent. That’s a good start, but this once proud program needs to get back to the days where they are contending for national championships. That’s when anyone can say Colorado is back.
As for Colorado State, this is the year the football program needs to make strides. Third-year CSU football coach Jim McElwain is in his third year of overseeing this rebuilding project. The Rams made incremental progress by improving from 4-8 in his first year to 8-6 in his second season. It was good enough for them to play in the New Mexico Bowl.
With due respect to mediocre bowl games, it means nothing. CSU needs to participate in BCS games or at least win the Mountain West Conference.
It remains to be seen if Colorado State can be a powerhouse football program. There’s a good chance McElwain could eventually leave the university and coach another program. With better football facilities and a competent AD, it would be hard to blame him.
Only thing Colorado State can play in a BCS bowl game if they play in a BCS conference such as the Pac-12 or the Big 12. For that to happen, they need to win games, build a good program and get that football stadium approved. They also need to hire a competent athletic director and keep McElwain.
Colorado and Colorado State have their work cut out. It will be a long process.
For the Rams, they needed this more than the Buffaloes. They have to get off to a good start and a win against rebuilding team points them to that momentum. Losing this game would not be a good selling point to this season.
Credit CSU for not making this win big as it is. They know it’s another game. They know this win is more about a process of building a good program rather than gloating about a win against an in-state team.
CSU fans feel differently. They are very proud of their school and their players. Beating Colorado means something to them. It’s understandable if they make this a bigger game.
Still, it would be more meaningful if both teams are elite teams playing for higher stakes. When that happens, then this Rocky Mountain Showdown will be relevant.
Maybe it will happen one day.
It will be beautiful when it does.
Contact or follow Leslie Monteiro: @LightRodWriter