Two games into their program’s rebirth under head coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders, the Colorado Buffaloes are not only ranked 18th in the country, they’ve become the biggest story in American sports — and the most-watched team in college football.

   On Saturday night, the 2-0 Buffaloes will host the 0-1 Colorado State Rams, playing their in-state rivals under the lights at Folsom Field, and once again, with a national television audience looking on.

   While the two programs haven’t played since 2019, in a statistical oddity, the last six times (and six years in a row) in which only one of the teams has been ranked… the ranked team lost.

  • Aug. 30, 2003: Buffaloes 42, #23 Rams 35
  • Aug. 31, 2002: Rams 19, #7 Buffaloes 7
  • Sept. 1, 2001: Buffaloes 41, #24 Rams 14
  • Sept. 2, 2000: Rams 28, #23 Buffaloes 24
  • Sept. 4, 1999: Rams 41, #14 Buffaloes 14
  • Sept. 5, 1998: Buffaloes 42, #15 Rams 14

   The Buffaloes have won the last five meetings, eight of the last 10, and hold the all-time edge in the series by a whopping 67-22-2 margin. On Friday, new Denver mayor Mike Johnston expressed interest in renewing the Rocky Mountain Showdown as a yearly affair in the state’s capital once more. The attention paid to the game won’t hurt those chances… but the end result just might.

When the Buffaloes have the ball

   Shedeur Sanders’ hot start — 903 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions with a 77.5% completion rate — has rightly captured the nation’s attention, but his top trio of receivers have played no small part in things. Jimmy Horn Jr. (19 receptions for 181 yards and a touchdown), Xavier Weaver (16-288-1) and two-way sensation Travis Hunter (14-192-0) all have more than 14 catches in only two games.

   Despite playing out of the backfield, running back Dylan Edwards (8-143-3) leads the team in touchdown receptions.

   The Buffs’ receivers are all speedy, skilled and relentless — and the Rams’ defensive backfield is woefully outmatched.

   CSU surrendered 466 passing yards in their season-opening loss to Washington State, and after Rams coach Jay Norvell took a shot at Deion Sanders’ longtime sartorial decisions on his coach’s show Thursday — “I don’t care if they hear it in Boulder: I told them, I took my hat off and I took my glasses off and I said, ‘When I talk to grownups, I take my hat and my glasses off. That’s what my mother taught me.” — don’t expect any mercy from Coach Prime and the Buffaloes. Do expect a bevy of baseball caps and more than a few pairs of sunglasses at night.

   Starting center Van Wells, who left last week’s win over Nebraska with an injury, is not expected to play; he would be replaced again by freshman Hank Zilinskas on an offensive line that’s surrendered 12 sacks in two games. That’s a concern, as is the fact that Colorado’s running game is still a work in progress… but on Saturday night, neither of those issues are likely to matter. Realistically, the Buffs’ offense will be able to do whatever they want, for as long as they want to.

When the Rams have the ball

   Redshirt freshman Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi will start at quarterback in place of returning started Clay Millen, who has battled injuries and, like many Rams, struggled against Washington State in their 50-24 loss. Fowler-Nicolosi played well in what amounted to garbage time, throwing a pair of touchdown passes. “The bottom line is we have to score touchdowns, and we have to score points offensively,” Norvell said. “When you play against good football teams, you have to sustain drives and you have to make plays. We’re going to give Brayden an opportunity.”

   Receiver Justus Ross-Simmons caught one of those touchdowns on his way to a five-catch, 123-yard performance. He’s been their most explosive player, but the problem is that he’ll often be shadowed by Colorado’s Travis Hunter, who might be the best athlete in all of college football. Hunter, who rarely comes off the field, has a pair of passes defensed, and an interception. Opponents have already tried to avoid his side of the field, but fellow cornerback Omarion Cooper has more than been up to the task.

   Senior wide receiver Tory Horton provides Fowler-Nicolosi with a reliable target, presuming he can get open against an effective and well-coached defensive backfield. Safety Shilo Sanders (Deion’s son, Shedeur’s brother) leads the team with 15 tackles.

   Against the Cougars, the game went into a negative game script quickly, but the Rams only gained 45 yards on 18 carries for a paltry 2.5 yards per carry. Against the Buffs, if the Rams can’t chew up a little clock by being effective on the ground, it’ll be a long night. Colorado’s shown weakness against the ground game, allowing 262 yards to TCU and 222 to Nebraska. The Rams will have to get much more out of backs Avery Morrow and Kobe Johnson if they’re to even have a puncher’s chance on Saturday night.

What if?

   Despite the lopsided matchup, it’s hard to overstate how big a game this has become. ESPN’s Get Up, First Take, The Pat McAfee Show, CFB Live, and SportsCenter were all in Boulder on Friday, with College Gameday broadcasting live on Saturday before the network airs the game that night. Fox has their Big Noon Kickoff team remaining in Boulder for a second straight week, and it’s only the seventh time ever that both networks will have their showcase program broadcasting live from the same game. If that wasn’t enough to illustrate how big the Buffs have become, CBS’ 60 Minutes will be present, as well, putting the finishing touches on a feature on Deion Sanders set to air Sunday night.

   Boulder has become the Hollywood of the college football scene, and the “Coach Prime”-led Buffs their biggest stars. All they have to do is keep winning, and with all due respect to the rebuilding Rams, expect this week’s game to stick to the script.