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Colorado vs. CSU: Buffs need win to show improvement

Mike MacIntyre can make a statement in his opening game as head coach.

Doug Pensinger

Colorado State vs. Colorado - Sunday, September 1 - 3 p.m. p.t./4 p.m. m.t. - CBS Sports Network

What's the story? Has Colorado improved enough under new coach Mike MacIntyre during the off-season to take down their in-state rivals?

The Buffs hit rock bottom last year under Jon Embree, going 1-11 and essentially getting demolished in almost every game that they played. Optimism has been high around the program since MacIntyre took over, but you never know whether or not all the positive talk around a program is for real until they take the field.

What's at stake for Colorado? All of the talk about a new regime and a new direction will be just that, talk, if the Buffs can't get the win here. If the Buffs can't get a win here, there aren't any other games against FBS teams on their schedule that they should be expected to win.

What's at stake for the Pac-12? The Buffs have kind of been a black eye for the conference the last couple of years, and it won't look good for the Pac-12 if one of their teams gets beat by a team that is expected to finish near the bottom of the Mountain West again.

Enemies (Colorado State players to watch)

LB Shaquil Barrett

The Leader of the Ram's defense, Barrett has great size at 6'2 250 and just moved back to linebacker from defensive end, showing his versatility. The Buffs have been horrible at protecting the quarterback in recent years, so watch out if Barrett can get into their backfield.

RB Chris Nwoke

The Buffs were one of the nation's worst run defense teams in the entire nation in 2012, giving up some historic performance, so it's likely that the 6'0 215 Nwoke is licking his chops for the opening game. Nwoke battled injuries in 2012, but can be very effective when healthy, as he ran for more than 1,100 in 2011.

Colorado players on the spot

QB Connor Wood

Wood only recently officially own the starting job and he will have higher expectations than he did in 2012 in 2013, starting with this game. The Buffs actually have a surprising amount of talent at receiver who should be able to get open against the Rams, and Wood will need to be able to handle pressure and get his receivers the ball.

DT Josh Tupou

The Buffs need to improve their run defense if they hope to win this game and that starts up front with the 310-pound Tupou who needs to make his presence felt. If Tupou and fellow starting defensive tackle Nate Bonsu can't hold up, Nwoke will be able to pound the Colorado linebackers all day.

Why watch? To see if Colorado is truly headed in the right direction and to see a rivalry that is almost always very entertaining.