The Colorado Buffaloes open the 2019 season Friday, August 30 to a national audience and it’s the fifth time the Rocky Mountain Showdown will air on ESPN (8 p.m. MT) will also be the final Showdown played at neutral Broncos Stadium at Mile High. The in-state rivals will play at Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins next season before taking a few years off from the rivalry game. Beating the Rams to begin the Mel Tucker era would mean a fifth straight victory over Colorado State for the Buffaloes.

Both teams had lackluster seasons in 2018; the Buffaloes finished with a 5-7 record and the Rams went 3-9, with each team losing their final five games, as well. FanDuel’s projected win totals for 2019 have each program finishing with a similar record, with CU at 4.5 and CSU at 3.5 wins. ESPN’s football power index ranks Colorado No. 65 and Colorado State No. 102 for the 2019 season.

Regardless of each team’s success following this game, the Rocky Mountain Showdown is a contest of massive importance, circled on the calendar every year. From the players native to the state of Colorado, to the upperclassmen that have fought in the Showdown before, to newcomers in each program experiencing it for the first time; the intensity of the rivalry permeates the whole state.

This match up is no cakewalk for the Buffs despite recent success for Colorado, winning the last four meetings and outscoring the Rams 106 to 23 over the last three years. As of now, ESPN has Colorado as the favorite at -13. Colorado State, though, will be itching to get payback for the past four years of losses at the hands of the Buffaloes. A new head coach, youth and inexperience will all play their role for Colorado as well.

A key to the game for the Buffaloes is to get playmakers going early. Expect a huge start to the season for Laviska Shenault if he and Steven Montez connect often. Shenault had 11 catches for 211 yards and a touchdown in last year’s Rocky Mountain Showdown, and he is undoubtedly one of the most exciting players in the Pac-12 if not all of college football.

Big time plays on offense will only be possible if the offensive line, led by fifth-year senior center Tim Lynott, protects Montez and blocks well to establish the run game. One big unknown for the season is the production the Buffs will get from young backs Jaren Mangham (freshman) and Alex Fontenot (sophomore). The committee of running backs Colorado uses will set the tone for the rushing attack this season with their performance against the rival Rams.

This Mel Tucker defense will be on full display for the first time, as well. Defensive leaders Nate Landman and Mustafa Johnson will be eager to impact the game with sacks and takeaways. They will have a chance to establish momentum and confidence to carry them forward to their difficult conference schedule. A well-rounded defense will be paramount to winning games against Pac-12 teams with explosive offensive potential later in the season and the foundation can be built Game One between the front seven and the secondary.

Colorado has plenty of players with quality NCAA experience. Significant youth at positions like running back, the right side of the offensive line, and backups on defense and at wide receiver spell a big time prove-it game to begin the season in Denver.

While there may not be much national attention outside of Shenault and, to a degree, Montez, Mel Tucker has brought a new attitude to Boulder. The Buffaloes put that attitude on display Friday night and the Mel Tucker era will officially be under way.