Sure, Sunday night’s 38-17 loss to CU was a disappointing start to the Steve Fairchild era.
Thankfully for Fairchild, though, he won’t soon be judged by that single defeat. CU was a better, faster, more complete team.
What is more disappointing about this weekend’s game is its future, or lack thereof. And I’m not talking about CU’s talented freshmen and sophomores.
Because far before the tailgating and trash talking began in the parking lots on Sunday, CU athletic director Mike Bohn effectively ended the Rocky Mountain Showdown as we know it from his office in Boulder on Friday.
Citing the desire to play more true home games, like his big brothers in the Big 12, Bohn moved next year’s CSU-CU game to Folsom Field in Boulder. In reaction to Bohn’s bone-headedness, CSU Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk opted to move the game to Fort Collins in 2010.
After that, nothing is certain.
So forget about proximity and intensity. The state’s biggest rivalry is now dictated by “the standards of the Big 12,” according to Bohn.
But why is it so important the game be played in Denver?
Beyond a bigger venue and greater payouts, playing at a neutral site has given the game any rivalry’s best asset: competitiveness.
Even with Sunday’s blowout, the Buffs have won just once more than the Rams when the game is played in Denver, 4-5.
When the game is played at Folsom or even Hughes, it truly becomes a David-v.-Goliath affair, with CU holding a 54-15-1 advantage.
I’m sure that had nothing to do with Mr. Bohn’s decision making.
Whatever the real reason, the Showdown as a true bragging-rights-up-for-grabs rivalry may have ended Sunday night while most CSU fans were stuck waiting in traffic.
As for the future of the Rams this year, Sunday was just the beginning. Unless it shows dramatic improvement, CSU will likely struggle to keep up with the likes of Cal, TCU, Utah and BYU.
Throw out John Mosure’s kickoff return and an interception deep inside CU territory by Jeff Horinek, and the Rams looked an awful lot like they have the past four years when fans complained at length about the predictability of play calling.
It will be interesting to see if Fairchild can expand the passing playbook beyond bubble screens and button hooks, because the offense will need more than just five-yard gains from Gartrell Johnson to be effective.
Perhaps finding the real Kory Sperry, the one who for the past four years dominated the Buffs and is considered the team’s best pro prospect, will help. Sperry was mostly M.I.A. on Sunday, catching just two passes for 11 yards.
Defensively, things didn’t look much different, either. It’s never a good sign you’re led in tackles by a safety, as the Rams were by Klint Kubiak.
Linebacker Ricky Brewer showed continued signs of improvement, but the Rams proved they are still without a dominant defender, say like CU safety Ryan Walters. Just ask Rashaun Greer, who was leveled by Walters after catching a pass in the third quarter.
But not everything about this Ram football team deserves a bitter take.
It’s a wonder what one win will cure, as next week Sacramento State comes to town. Yes indeed, cupcakes most always taste sweet.
Sports columnist Sean Star can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.