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Rocky Mountain Showdown: A must-win for CU

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The Buffs were upended by the Rams in last year's Rocky Mountain Showdown. First-year Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre can't let that happen again if he wants to start his rebuilding project the right way. Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images.
The Buffs were upended by the Rams in last year's Rocky Mountain Showdown. First-year Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre can't let that happen again if he wants to start his rebuilding project the right way. Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images.

One date and one date only should be circled, starred and highlighted in Mike MacIntyre's 2013 calendar: Sept. 1.

On that day, at about 3:45 p.m. deep inside the bowels of Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado's first-year head coach will probably be delivering a pregame speech to roughly 95 young men that goes something like this: "Remember what they did to you last year. Remember that feeling. It's up to you to not let it happen again."

If it does happen again — that is, if Colorado's little brother from up North, Colorado State, outplays the Buffs like it did a year ago to win the Rocky Mountain Showdown — CU coaches, players and fans could be in for another long, not-so-fun season.

MacIntyre wasn't in Denver on the first day of last September to see the Buffs bumble and fumble and stumble to a 23-17 defeat in the 83rd installment of this rivalry. No, the former San Jose State coach was on California's central coast, having just watched his Spartans play their hearts out in a 20-17 loss to Pac-12 power Stanford. 

Coincidentally, MacIntyre's Spartans toppled Colorado State, 40-20, two weeks later in Fort Collins.

Such was the story of the 2012 season for MacIntyre and his predecessor in Boulder, Jon Embree: While one was busy winning and engineering an impressive renaissance out West, the other was busy losing — badly — and plunging his beloved university's team into further despair.

The Spartans finished 11-2, beat Bowling Green in the Military Bowl and earned a final ranking of No. 21 in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls for the first time in school history. The Buffs, meanwhile, finished 1-11 (their lone win came against a weak Washington State team) and earned the title of "program's worst," making athletic director Mike Bohn's decision to lay off Embree, who graduated from CU in 1987, a little easier.

Now, the question is, can MacIntyre do with CU what he did with San Jose State? In other words, can the 48-year-old pull another program from the rubble — the Spartans finished 2-10 in 2009 before MacIntyre arrived from Duke to assume control the following year — and turn it into a winner once again?

In order for MacIntyre to reverse the Buffs' nasty skid, he'll have to guide them to victory Sept. 1 in the Mile High City — no question about it.

Despite what some fans say, the Rocky Mountain Showdown is an important game for the Buffs. Not only is it a rivalry game, it sets the tone for the rest of the season. A win seems to always build team confidence while a loss seems to invariably crush team spirit.

Consider: In the past 10 years, since 2003, CU owns a 7-3 record against its in-state rival. Combining their records from the seven seasons in which they beat CSU, the Buffs are 39-48 (.448 winning percentage). Conversely, the Buffs' combined record from the three seasons in which they lost to CSU is 6-30 (.167). Clearly, CU enjoys much more success when it defeats the Rams.

Again, the question is, can MacIntyre pull off at CU what he did at San Jose State?

The question will take a few years to answer, but a win Sept. 1 against an inferior rival would be a good start.

A loss, however, would be a major blow to a program that has experienced more than its fair share of them in recent years.