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History of rivalry between Colorado and Colorado State

The sports media world has descended upon Boulder this weekend for the Rocky Mountain Showdown. Let’s dive into the history of this rivalry.

Colorado vs Colorado State Football Photo by Jeremy Papasso/Digital First Media Group/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

The Rocky Mountain Showdown will be renewed on Saturday as the No. 18 Colorado Buffaloes will host the Colorado State Rams at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN. CU’s quick 2-0 start under new head coach Deion Sanders has brought tons of media attention to this contest, with ESPN’s College Gameday, Fox’s Big Noon Saturday, and even CBS’ 60 Minutes all in Boulder, CO, this weekend to showcase Coach Prime’s program. CSU head coach Jay Norvell even upped the ante of this rivalry game with some trash talk of his own and Sanders has responded in kind.

But what is the history of the Colorado-Colorado State rivalry and how long have these two in-state rivals played each other? Below, we’ll dive into the history of the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

History of Colorado vs. Colorado State

Total games played: 92
Record: Colorado leads 68-22-2
First game: February 11, 1893: Colorado wins 70-6
Last game: September 16, 2023: Colorado wins 43-35 in Boulder

The Rocky Mountain Showdown began in 1893 when Colorado State began its football program. CU dominated the first two decades of the rivalry with a 13-0-1 record before CSU finally got on the board with a 21-0 victory in Fort Collins in 1912. The Buffaloes would continue to hold control of the series throughout the first half of the 20th century with a few pockets of Rams success. CSU ripped off three straight victories from 1925-27 and again from 1931-33.

The two schools were tied at the hip conference wise during this early period of the rivalry. They were both founding members of the Colorado Football Association before forming the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in 1909. They’d both leave to form the Mountain States Conference (or ‘Skyline Conference’) in 1938, but a major split between the schools happened a decade later in 1948 when Colorado joined the Big 7 Conference (the future Big 12). The two teams continued the rivalry as non-conference opponents until 1958, where they opted to go their separate ways.

It would take a quarter century for the rivalry to reconvene in 1983, where Colorado and then second-year head coach Bill McCartney smashed Colorado State 31-3 in Boulder. The Rams would sneak a 23-7 victory in 1986, but the Buffs would resume their dominance in the series as McCartney turned CU into a national power in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

It should be noted that they didn’t play in 1994, which happened to be two of the best seasons for both programs in their respective histories. McCartney’s CU team went 11-1 and finished the season ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll after defeating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Meanwhile, legendary CSU head coach Sonny Lubick led the Rams to a 10-2 record, where they won the WAC championship and finished the season ranked No. 16 in the AP poll. Huge missed opportunity to not play the rivalry game that year.

In 1998, the Rocky Mountain Showdown became a neutral site rivalry with the games taking place in Denver at the home of the Denver Broncos. The series finally became more evenly split from 1999-2014, with CSU winning seven of the 16 matchups during this stretch. However, Colorado re-took control by rattling off five straight victories as both programs waned in the mid-late 2010’s. By then, Colorado lost interest in playing the series in Denver, or even playing the game annually. 2020 was supposed to be the last scheduled matchup between the two programs in the state capital, but that game was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Pac-12 requiring its schools to only play a conference schedule that year.

In 2021, however, the two schools agreed to bring back the series back as a home-and-home rivalry that will take place every few years. This year’s game is in Boulder while the 2024 game will be in Fort Collins, the first time the game will be held on CSU’s campus since 1996. The Rocky Mountain Showdown will then take another hiatus before returning for the 2029 and 2030 seasons.