Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, August 30, 2013

10th anniversary of the 'Rain Game'

It's time to jump in the WABAC Machine, as today marks the 10-year anniversary of the 'Rain Game.'  (Yes, it really was 10 years ago, doesn't that make you feel old?)

The 75th iteration of the Rocky Mountain Showdown was one for the ages.  A culmination of five years of in-Denver buildup, it was one of the most exciting games I've ever attended.  More than that, it was the last time both programs seemed to deserve the national stage.

The record 76,219 who packed Invesco Field at Mile High in 2003 were expecting a no-holds-barred show, and that's exactly what they got.  These were two teams loaded with talent and a deep dislike of each other.  Each had won their respective conference in the proceeding years, and had made a habit of biting each other in the press in the days leading up to the game.  CU desperately wanted revenge for 2002, when CSU QB Bradlee Van Pelt had spiked the ball at a Colorado defender on the game-winning touchdown run, and the Rams were looking for a statement win to mark their fourth over CU in five seasons. 
2002 had the Buffs seeing red.
August 30th, 2003, started out musty, with overnight rain dampening what normally would've been a bright late-summer morning.  The sky would remain overcast for much of the day, portending the deluge that would arrive that evening.  By early afternoon, I was with the marching band, huddled-up under the Colfax overpass as a micro-cell moved in an hour before kickoff.  Despite the rain, I remained excited about the new football season, and a national television audience on ESPN2.

Kickoff was right on time at 5:45, and the sun even made a brief appearance as the game got underway.  What would end up being a high-flying affair packed with offense actually started out mired in lethargy.  Six punts and a CU turnover scarred the opening quarter, with the lone productive drive being an eight-play march from CSU that ended on a 10-yard Van Pelt touchdown run.  Luckily, the two teams got that offensive mediocrity out of their systems early.

Once the second quarter hit, the Buffs came alive.  A 6-yard plunge from Bobby Purify was immediately answered by CSU, but the Rams had no answer for three successive touchdown drives to end the half.  The run started with a quick 82-yard streak over the top from Joel Klatt to Derek McCoy.  Staggered, CSU went three-and-out, leading to a vintage 13-play Gary Barnett grinder, capped by a slick little 10-yard completion to D.J. Hackett.  The Rams tried to answer with a 32-yard field goal, but CSU kicker Jeff Babcock shot it wide left.  CU would make them pay in the two minute drill, running Brian Calhoun off the right side for 31 yards before capping the half with a 45-yard bomb to John Donahoe.

What had been a dour affair had been completely turned on its head.  CU ran into to the locker room with a comfortable 28-14 lead.  As I prepared to take the field at halftime, I couldn't help but smirk at the CSU students hurling obscenities at us band geeks.  The win seemed to be in the bag.

But the Rams showed no quit, and strengthened out of the locker room.  They held the Buffs to four three-and-outs to start the third, and grabbed a quick score to bring it to within a touchdown at 28-21.  With the game now back in doubt, the Buffs needed a moment of brilliance to keep the win from slipping away.  Luckily, that's exactly what they got.

Midway through the third, the threatening heavens had finally started to open up.  Nearly an inch of rain would fall over the next hour, and, with repeated lightning strikes reported in the area, it became a dangerous situation for all involved.  The Buffs, however, were still focused on getting their foot back on the gas, and they turned to a classic Barnett play when they needed it most.

It was play-action post, with WR Derek McCoy set as the primary target.  Off of the stretch fake, Klatt continued his deep drop.  CSU had bit, and bit hard.  Klatt not only had time, but open receivers; it was now simply a matter of reading the play, and making a good throw.
(The play in question starts at the 2:12 mark.  You can clearly see the flash on the tape.) 

Just as the CU QB hit his plant leg, a bolt of lightning shot down south of the stadium.  It looked to me as if the bolt pointed the way to a streaking, wide-open McCoy.  Focused in-spite of the flash and thunder, Klatt threw a beautiful pass that hit McCoy in stride.  The star wideout sprinted down the sideline, untouched, for a 78-yard stunner.  CU was now back on top by two scores, 35-21.

With the CU side of the stadium erupting in celebration, the worsening weather became unavoidable.  The referees finally acquiesced to reality, and called a halt to proceedings.  The players filed back into the locker room, and the fans settled in to sit out the storm.  In the interim, charged by the play we had just seen, the CU marching band played on, holding court in the north stands for all who would put up with the elements to listen.  Of those who wouldn't were the CSU marching band, who fled for cover under the stadium.  It's a shame they weren't brave enough to stay, because we put on a hell of a show.
I'll have you know that marching uniforms suck in the rain.
28-minutes of lightning delay later, the teams finally returned to the field.  The Rams had used the break to re-group, and produced a brilliant drive of their own to bring the score back within seven.  After trading five-straight scoreless drives, CSU found themselves in great field position after a 40-yard punt return from Dexter Wynn. They capitalized, tying the game up with Van Pelt cracking off a 30-yard touchdown pass that nearly drove me to violence.

With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, CU needed a score to stave off overtime.  They engineered a textbook drive with Klatt completing four straight passes to get the Buffs inside the 10-yard line. With under a minute to play, it was now Bobby Purify's turn, and he hammered home the win with a 9-yard scamper.  Van Pelt's final attempts to avoid defeat fell short, and Colorado walked away as rain-soaked winners, 42-35.
The Buffs won a wild one in 2003, the last RMS that meant anything.
The '03 RMS was all about explosive offense. A total of 1,089 combined yards, including 741 through the air, set numerous records for the series. Powered by spectacular days from the two quarterbacks, it was a game of big plays, with a combined 14 (seven touchdowns) going for at least 30 yards.  Klatt came away with his first of three wins over the Rams, throwing for 402 yards and four scores in victory.  Van Pelt, damn him, was almost as good, producing 416 total yards, and finding the endzone five times (three through the air, two on the ground).

However, despite that impressive show, neither team managed to capitalize on the offensive momentum created in the opener.  After sneaking past UCLA the following week, the Buffs would lose six of their next seven, including a humiliating loss at Baylor.  For their part, the Rams would finish a disappointing third in the Mountain West, finishing with a 7-6 record.

The series quickly fell off the rails in the following years.  While it's true that the RMS being played in Folsom disrupted the rhythm of playing in Denver, the decline wasn't a result of the return to campus.  The series declined because the headlining team - the University of Colorado - hit a losing stretch of football not seen since the early 80s.  After the 'scandal' of 2004, the program quickly became a shadow of its former self, and the bar set for CSU to live up to was no longer high enough to lift their program to respectability.  With both programs making a habit of spending bowl season at home, the game simply stopped meaning anything.

In the early 2000s, when both programs were rolling, it was an important game even from a national standpoint.  Coaches Gary Barnett and Sonny Lubick were nationally-renowned figures, true legends of the game, who cast larger-than-life shadows over the proceedings.  It also had great built-in story lines, headlined by captivating villain Bradlee Van Pelt.  No one in the subsequent years has brought the spice to the RMS like he did in '02 and '03.
I'm not saying I miss the douche bag, just that, sometimes, the world needs an expert troll.
If you were to tell me that each year the RMS would be like 2003, with two strong teams playing in front of a packed house and a large national audience, I'd be all for it staying in Denver.  But the series is no longer what it once was.  Far too much has changed in the decade since that game, and it's time to move on.  You may think that's a shame, but it's the truth.

Friday Beer Post: 2013 Gameday Beer-o-the-week - RMS edition

Each week throughout the football season I'm going to suggest a good beer for the ubiquitous pre-game tailgate. Let's be honest, with tailgates it's not always top quality that you're looking for. To steal a phrase from the heinous beer terrorists at Budweiser, you want "drinkability." (or what a real beer connoisseur calls "a session beer") So, be warned, these may not be "the best" beers around. But, in the words of Dave Chappelle as Samuel L. Jackson "IT'LL GET YOU DRUNK!"

I may not know how this season will go, but I do know that the tailgate will be awesome.  The beer, the food, the pong... the tailgate has never lost a game.  Plus, I now live within walking distance of Folsom Field, which means safeties off on pregame beverage consumption.  Shit's about to get weird, yo.


Traditionally, I reserve the RMS for Buff Gold - so noble the packaging, so average the taste.  However, much like the football team, I feel we can do better. This summer I fell in love with a session ale from Odell Brewing.  That beer, Loose Leaf, is the first gameday beer-o-the-week for 2013.

Much like the opponent this week, my pick comes from Ft Collins.  For the record, Odell Brewing is the superior brewery in Ft Collins.  End of question.  If you prefer New Belgium, your opinion is wrong (Fat Tire sucks). 

Loose Leaf, only available in the Montage mix pack, is a light (4.5% ABV), yet surprisingly flavorful session ale.  New to the Odell lineup, it goes down easy with springy flavors of lemon grass, and shows a  supportive touch of hops.  This beer is incredibly easy to drink, but packs enough flavor to let you know that you're actually having a beer.

I'm surprised I haven't seen something like this around the Front Range before.  It's perfect for those long, hot days of the Colorado summer - easy to drink in bunches, but flavorful enough to pour proudly in a beer snob market.  Hell, maybe there is something like this in the area, and I just missed it.  Regardless, I highly suggest you pick up a summer montage pack if you can find one, and give Loose Leaf a try.

Happy Friday!  Go Buffs, sack the Rams!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

2013 Rocky Mountain Showdown Preview

Welcome to another year of Colorado football!  Aren't you excited?

Actually... well... kind of.  As a masochist, I'm interested to see what fresh hells this program can subject me to, but I'm also genuinely intrigued by the new coaching staff.  To digest this year, BuffNation will be treated to a whole new set of offensive and defensive schemes, a promise of faster play on both sides of the ball, and the growth of the young Buffs into men before our very eyes.  Hell, even if they pull another season-long disaster out of their ass, it should at least be an interesting car wreck this time around.

And so we come to the season's first game - the annual headache with CSU.  This is not a sexy matchup by any means, with both squads coming in off of a year of mostly unwatchable garbage. BuffNation is acutely aware of the final 1-11 turd laid by Jon Embree on his way out the door, but the Rams also suffered through their traditional bevy of losses last season.  While there was a glimmer of hope up north when they hit the tail end of their schedule, the crux of the year was a throw-away up-and-down the Front Range.

You have to be completely invested to watch this game. What was once, a decade ago, a showcase early-season event played to a national audience has been reduced to the cable backwater CBS Sports Network.  An also-ran stage for a game between also-ran programs.
 (It's the 10-yr anniversary of the 'rain game.'  Remember when the RMS was 'must-see?')

In that sense, CU and CSU deserve each other.


The 85th edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown kicks off from Sports Authority Field at Mile High at 4pm MT on Sunday.  Coverage can be found on CBS Sports Network, with Mark Johnson and the radio broadcast on 850 KOA.

You can find my previews from previous iterations of the series here, here, and here.

Click below for the preview...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Grab Bag: 2013's first game week - UPDATED

Happy Game Week everyone!  Break out the whiskey, it's high time for some football!

No, seriously, break out the whiskey, because it's still 73 days until the start of basketball season, and we're going to need a lot of help to get through the season.   Luckily, I still have some left over from my patented "Shane Harris-Tunks is playing - Emergency Kit," so I'm ready to go.  Do your worst, Buffs football...

Today in the bag, I'm talking continued delay on naming a starting QB, a strong start for the women's soccer team, and My Sox suddenly turning into an unbeatable juggernaut.

Click below for the bag...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday Grab Bag: Come on and slam, and welcome to the jam

Thanks to @Phyltopia, I went out of my way to watch Space Jam this weekend.  So, in lieu of an actual intro, I now present the unheralded star of the accompanying soundtrack.  The one, the only, "Hit 'em high (The Monstars' Anthem)."

LOL, Busta Rhymes.  (Basketball season can't get here soon enough...)

Today in the bag, I'm talking Saturday's scrimmage, football recruiting, and an update on the women's basketball team's trip to Italy

Click below for the bag...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Quick Post: #CUGameday - College Gameday possibly coming to Boulder

Twitter lit up today with the news that College Gameday might be coming back to Boulder!  No, silly, not for a football game, but for basketball.  

On February 22nd, the Buffs play host to Arizona, in what many expect will be a game between the top two teams in the Pac-12.  ESPN plans to chose between that titanic tilt and UCLA/Stanford for that weekend's traveling roadshow destination.

As long as CU holds up their end of the bargain, and play like the top-25 team they project to be this season, that choice will be a no-brainer for the big-whigs in Bristol.  Not only will CU/UofA be a high-profile rivalry matchup from one of the country's premier leagues, but the C-Unit has quickly gained a reputation for being one of the most passionate student sections in America.  Stanford simply doesn't measure up.

For the record, ESPN hasn't brought Gameday to Boulder since 1995, when they came to town twice for football (Texas A&M and Nebraska).  They've never been here for basketball.  It's time for that drought to end with a bang on 2/22/14!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Pac-12 throws up-and-in at DirecTV

This is getting serious.

With each passing day, we get closer to a second season of Pac-12 football on Pac-12 Networks.  Yet, in a continued standoff, the Pac-12 and DirecTV are still miles apart in negotiations for carriage rights of the fledgling channel, leaving millions of DTV subscribers in the west without access to the full slate of Pac-12 programming.  Early promises of a quick resolution have long since been forgotten, and reality is starting to set in: this deal isn't getting done any time soon, if ever.

For the record, I wholly blame DTV.  They've sniffed their nose at a fair deal that was accepted by the vast majority of the market.  Negotiation tactics aside, after over a year of stubbornness, they're long past any sympathetic bargaining position. 

However, my own frustration with the service went deeper than one carriage dispute.  I left Dish Network three years ago because I was tired of the seemingly endless stream of petty negotiation brinkmanship.  I went to DirecTV because I perceived them as a carrier that wouldn't nickel-and-dime their way out of content that I wanted.  Not anymore, apparently.  What was once the provider for sports entertainment has forgone logic, and started low-balling sports channels in favor of bullshit like DogTV.  

As a result, I jumped ship last week, and called Comcast.  I now pay less, and get Pac-12 Networks. I just couldn't be happier. Yep, couldn't be happier with Comcast.  Let that sink in.
Hooray, Pac-12 Network!
As frustrated as I had become with the stalling tactics of the satellite leader, the Pac-12 has been even further pushed over the edge.  Tired of boardroom sniping, they've ramped up their public campaign to get their fan base to leave for friendlier television pastures.  What started with a verbal salvo from El Jefe Larry Scott at last month's Pac-12 media days has now escalated, with the conference throwing a fastball right at DTV's noggin.  Yesterday, they released a series of school-specific advertising spots aimed a luring paying subscribers away from the carrier.  Here is the CU one:

It's a good ad.  Targeted, slick, and impactful. No punches pulled.

Some, however, like SB Nation's Rodger Sherman, are still dubious, mocking the campaign, in part, for suggesting that anyone would actually want to watch Colorado football.  While I'm sympathetic to the sentiment that CU football was (and probably still is) unwatchable to an outsider, the point of the campaign is that those loyal fans across the Pac-12 - yes, even including us poor, suffering Black and Gold diehards - who subscribe to DTV are weeks away from another season in the dark.  Regardless of how crap the product may be, College still fans want to watch their schools compete, and DirecTV won't give BuffNation the option.

The fact remains that DTV is not the place to be if you want to watch west coast sports.  Contrary to their own ads, you can't 'get the games' with their service.  This crap will only continue in future years, with disputes already forming around carriage rights for Fox Sports 1 and NFL Sunday Ticket.  If you are a true sports fan, regardless of whether you care about Pac-12 Networks or not, there's only one choice left.  Do yourself a favor, and follow me to the dump with your old dish.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday Grab Bag: Rick George hits Boulder

I'm a little less that two months away from releasing my Massive Basketball Preview, but the professionals are already starting to make their thoughts known.

Only the first I've seen of many to come, Miles Simon of ESPN released his initial Pac-12 power rankings, and slotted the Buffs 2nd behind a powerful Arizona squad.  He cited CU's depth, probably the best in Boyle's tenure, as a key reason why the team could challenge the Wildcats for the league title.

ESPN's Eamonn Brennan later doubled-down on the prediction, saying in his best-case/worst-case article that the backcourt duo of Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker could be strong enough to carry the Buffs deep into the tournament.

Positive previews are already rolling in, and it's only August.  With some 87 days to go before the season starts, it's going to be difficult to keep the hype train from leaving too soon.


Today in the bag, I'm talking Rick George in Boulder, Buffs in Green Bay, and the women's basketball trip to Italy.

Click below for the bag...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wishlist for the 2013 football season

It's August, which means that the Rocky Mountain Showdown is less than one month away.  While I mostly use football as a way to distract myself till November, I will admit to being... intrigued by the oncoming season.  The dumpster fire that is Colorado Football has been an unwatchable mess the last few years, but, with a new coach and new athletic director, it can't get any worse... can it?  (Wait, don't answer that.)

A few weekends back, while packing up boxes for my move into Boulder, a friend asked me what I would consider a 'successful' season.  After much consideration, I now present six achievable items that would signal a positive step forward for the program.  Knock off all six, and I'll call 2013 a success. Fail to get any, and... well... have I mentioned recently that we're a basketball school?

1) A win over CSU and Central Arkansas - 

Last season, close losses to CSU and FCS juggernaut Sacramento St set the stage for humiliating blowouts later in the year, and only an epic fail from Washington State kept those stumbles from ensuring a 0-12 campaign.  A reversal of fortunes to start 2013 is the easiest, and most personally calming path to getting the Mike MacIntyre era off to a positive start.
Christian Powell's opening TD scamper against Sacramento St in 2012
It's at least within reason that CU - which, the Pac-12 assures me, continues to be considered a 'BCS' program - can squeak by an exceedingly mediocre Mountain West squad before flexing a little muscle against a lower-division foe.  As bad as the Buffs were last year, they did almost win those two games in 2012...

Unfortunately, I wouldn't put it past the Buffs to drop either game (or, God forbid, both).  The RMS carries with it the game-cum-super-bowl caveat, and the program has made an unfortunate habit of struggling against 1-AA minnows over the past decade, let alone ones expected to compete for a FCS title.  Neither can be approached lightly, and the abused psyche of BuffNation would do well to remain cautious.

2) A third win from any of the other 10 games -

But, it's August, so I'll try to stay optimistic.  If, after beating the Rams and Bears, the Buffs find themselves off to a 2-0 start, the only other thing I can ask for from a scoreboard standpoint is any other win.

The problem is, after the opening pair of weeks, it's hard to see where another win would come from, with the most likely result a 10-loss slog to the finish.  Pac-12 competition, from top-to-bottom, is still miles ahead of CU, and the remaining non-conference game, against Fresno St, is only to be considered winnable if you took a 'Castaway' holiday during week three last year.
Could the Buffs sneak another win out of Salt Lake City?  From: the Post
However, wonders never cease, and even Coach Embree managed to find a 3rd check in the win column during his first year at the helm. If pressed, I'd call games like Cal and @Utah as theoretically winnable. Yeah, let's go with that.

3) A palatable sense of pride on defense  - 

An easy way to facilitate wishes one and two would be for the defense to get up off the mat.  As a unit, the 2012 defense was qualitatively the worst in the FBS, finishing in the bottom-five of every major statistical category, including giving up a worst-in-the-nation 46 points per game.  It didn't help that they were running up against some of the best collegiate offenses every Saturday, but the fact remains that they were helpless to stop anyone and anything.
The defense never recovered from what Fresno St did to them.
Even a flicker of life on 'D' in 2013 would buoy what could be a sneaky-decent offense.  A big key would be the development of the secondary, which looked lost throughout 2012.  Wounds licked, the young DB corps needs to start making positive contributions.  They have the talent to do so, now it's all about putting it onto the field.

4) A performance from Paul Richardson that gets him selected in the top three rounds of the NFL draft -

This is not meant to excuse Coach Embree, but the absence of Paul Richardson did him no favors last year.  The talismanic wideout is, far and away, CU's best athletic talent, and not having him on the field allowed opposing defenses to crowd the box against the downtrodden Colorado offense.  I don't think it's a stretch to say that a healthy P-Rich would've been worth an additional win or two (CSU and Sacramento State), which might have been enough to secure a third season for the former head coach.
A healthy Paul Ricahrdson needs to shine in 2013.
Whatever success CU has on offense this season, it will, presumably, be achieved through the speedy WR.  Hopefully, it'll be enough to get him noticed by NFL scouts, and keep CU in the opening few days of the NFL draft.

5) A series of donations that lead to breaking ground on the Folsom upgrades -

This, by all rights, could be number one on this list, but I'm too lazy to go back and change the order now. While games will be played in 2013, this year is all about the future, and any progress made on the stalled facilities project will be the deciding factor on how rosy that future will end up becoming.
Phase One needs to start.  Soon.
Former AD Mike Bohn was rumored to have been fired for trying to move the ball on fundraising in the face of continuing debt, leaving the leeway current AD Rick George will have in doing the same a complete mystery. What is known is that construction needs to be started sooner than later if CU will have a hope in hell of competing in the second half of this decade.

6) A lack of QB sneaks on 1st-and-10

I mean... what?  How does this happen?
This is pretty self explanatory.  The firing of Coach Embree was meant to, in part, erase silly, neophyte mistakes like FORGETTING WHAT FUCKING DOWN IT IS.  But my point goes more toward the overall preparedness and attentiveness of the coaching staff, and how good of a hire Mike MacIntyre ends up becoming.

At least the early reviews have been positive. Chris Dufresne of the LA Times called Mac2.0 the best hire of the offseason, and I have yet to hear a single person pan the move.  Most cite his success in turning the perpetually hapless San Jose State program from 1-12 to 11-2 in only three years, and quickly move to extrapolate that success in Boulder. If MacIntyre can live up to even half of the glowing praise, the raging fire in the dumpster that is the Colorado Buffaloes may finally be allowed to peter out. 

But, for now, I'll just take keeping down-and-distance straight in the heat of battle.  Baby steps.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Monday Grab Bag: Football is back

Finally, for the first time since my final year of college, I am a resident of Boulder, CO.  Not Boulder County, or unincorporated Boulder, but proper City of Boulder... and I couldn't be more excited.

My new house is a short walk from nearly everything, including the Coors Events Center, and within a few minutes drive of everything else.  Convenience, thy name is BoCO!

Of course, there are some drawbacks.  My tax bill will go up, traffic - with students moving back into town - is already a nightmare, and nanny state weirdness (like a 10 cent fee per grocery bag) is pinging my BS meter.  But, if that's the price I have to pay to live in the heart of the greatest town west of the Mississippi, then so be it. 

I'm just so damn glad to be back!


Today in the bag, I'm talking a new assistant for the basketball team, the start of football camp, and Clint Dempsey moving back to America.

Click below for the bag...