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Top Rivalries Series: Part 5 Of 5, CSU

Jun 30, 2020

Rivalries Part 1 | Rivalries Part 2 | Rivalries Part 3 | Rivalries Part 4

BOULDER — When it comes to rivalries, there is something to be said for longevity.

In the case of the Colorado Buffaloes, their long-standing football series with Colorado State is unmatched in CU annals. The two teams have met 91 times — the most games against any opponent in Buffs history — with the first matchup dating back to 1893. Colorado took a 70-6 victory over the (then) Aggies in a February "challenge game" that year, and has since dominated the series, owning a 67-22-2 record all time.

But perhaps the biggest story in this rivalry is an event that happened off the field.

We'll get to that in a moment.

After that first game in 1893, the two programs played in the same conference for most of the ensuing 53 years. They were original members of the Colorado Football Association in 1894 (along with Colorado Mines and Denver), and also played together in the Colorado Faculty Conference (one season), the Rocky Mountain Conference (28 years) and the Mountain States Conference (also known as the Skyline League) for 10 seasons.

Those conferences had a variety of members over the years, but the constants for most seasons were CU, Colorado A&M, Wyoming, Utah, Utah State, DU and oftentimes, Brigham Young. Other members at different junctures included Northern Colorado and Colorado College, with Western State and Montana State also making brief appearances.

Those seasons produced maybe the most intense years of the rivalry. Not only were the two schools in the same conference, their geographic proximity — barely 40 miles apart — only served to bump the temperature up a notch. The annual Buffs-Aggies matchup was always one of the biggest sporting events in the state, and the media gave the game its full attention every year.

But the landscape changed in 1948 — and so did the rivalry.

In December 1947, CU announced that the Buffaloes would be joining the Big Six (technically the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association), making it the Big Seven. It was a boon for the Buffaloes, as it moved them into the same league as football power Oklahoma and basketball power Kansas, immediately elevating CU's national status in the process. 

But it also meant CU was leaving the Aggies and DU behind, a decision that didn't sit well with much of the rest of the state. The Buffs were aiming for the big time, but their departure left the Mountain States Conference without one of its marquee names and the state's other schools were not happy. They could only watch as CU gained national stature while the Mountain States Conference finally disbanded in 1962.

The two schools did continue their annual football series for 11 more seasons after CU moved to the Big Seven. But after the 1958 game, the rivalry went dormant as Colorado chose to fill its non-conference schedule with more national foes.

After the 1958 game, a 15-14 CSU win, the Buffs and Rams did not meet again for 25 years, meaning five CU head coaches — Sonny Grandelius, Bud Davis, Eddie Crowder, Bill Mallory and Chuck Fairbanks — never faced Colorado State.

Finally, in 1983, the series resumed in the second year of the Bill McCartney era, with Colorado collecting a 31-3 win.

But even then, the game didn't become an annual affair. While McCartney never publicly voiced his opinion, it was not a game he enjoyed. When he arrived in Boulder, he declared Nebraska would be the Buffs' main rival, and he did not enjoy the prospect of an in-state rivalry game. The Buffs were members of the Big Eight, one of the nation's powerhouse conferences, while Colorado State played in the Western Athletic Conference. In McCartney's eyes, there was little upside for Colorado and no downside for the Rams.

Still, McCartney produced a 6-1 record against CSU. His last matchup against the Rams produced a 37-17 win in 1992 in the starting debut of quarterback Kordell Stewart, who threw for 409 yards and four touchdowns in the win.

Starting in 1995, the football series again became an annual affair and CU's Rick Neuheisel won all four of his matchups against the Rams. That stretch included the first game ever between the two teams in Denver, a 42-14 victory in 1998.

But it was the Gary Barnett era at Colorado — which matched up with the Sonny Lubick era in Fort Collins — that produced some of the series' biggest moments after the 25-year hiatus.

Lubick won the first two matchups against Barnett in 1999 and 2000 before Barnett's Buffs answered with a 41-14 win in 2001. CSU tallied another win in 2002 before Colorado "restored the order" with a 42-35 win in Denver in 2003 that still ranks as one of the most exciting games in series history.

The game featured the starting debut of CU quarterback Joel Klatt, who completed 21 of 34 attempts for 402 yards and four touchdowns. Klatt led a last-minute touchdown drive for the win in a game that sent CSU quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt off the field as the loser in his last game against the Buffs. Van Pelt had drawn the ire of CU fans the year prior with some showboating, and Klatt later said, "I don't know if there was a more gratifying win than that one, to see him (Van Pelt) in his senior year jog off the field as a loser."

Klatt ended up with a 3-0 record against the Rams, adding victories in 2004 and '05,  with each game coming down to the wire.

Since 1998, most of the games have been played in Denver, with the 2004 and '05 games in Boulder the only exception. But the series as an annual affair will come to an end this year with the Sept. 5 season opener scheduled to be played in Fort Collins — the first game on the Rams' home field since 1996.

CU and CSU will not play in 2021 or 2022, with the series tentatively set to resume for two years in 2023.

— As far as men's basketball goes, the rivalry has never been particularly intense, especially for an in-state matchup. The two schools did meet once in the NCAA Tournament, with CSU ending CU's season in 1969 with an upset win over the Cliff Meely-led Buffaloes, but for the large part, the games between the two schools have usually consisted of early season non-conference affairs.

There have been some rather heated moments. Former Buffs star Spencer Dinwiddie once referred to the Rams as "little brother," then had to back it up by leading CU to a 67-62 come-from-behind win on CSU's home floor in 2013.

CU has also dominated the all-time series, holding a 91-38 edge in a series that began in 1906. But unlike football, the Rams are down the list when it comes to all-time meetings, as many of CU's old Big Eight rivals hold that distinction, with Colorado and Kansas having met 163 times.

— One sport in which the rivalry has been intense is volleyball. CU head coach Jesse Mahoney served as an assistant under CSU head coach Tom Hilbert and Mahoney led the Buffs to a win on the Rams' home floor in 2017, Colorado's first win in Fort Collins since 1991. 

Perhaps the most-memorable match in the series was a five-set thriller, won by CSU, in the 2014 NCAA Tournament before a sold-out crowd in Fort Collins.

Overall, CSU owns a 25-14 all-time series edge.

— In women's basketball, CU has dominated the rivalry with a 39-12 all-time edge, including a 26-2 record in Boulder. 

— The two teams have played just five times in soccer. CU has never lost to the Rams, with two wins and three ties in the series.

— There is also an interesting connection in track and field. Two former Rams standout athletes, Casey Malone and Lindsey Malone, are now assistant coaches with the Buffs.

— The tennis series is hardly competitive with CU winning all 35 matches in history.

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu