SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION – Colorado State

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2018 Game One – CU v. CSU – August 31, 2018 – Denver (7:30 p.m., MT, CBS Sports Network)

Last game between the two schools … September 1, 2017 … Colorado 17, Colorado State 3

Colorado State out-gained Colorado in total yards, 397 to 345, but the Buff defense made plays when it counted, keeping the Rams out of the end zone in a 17-3 victory before a crowd of 73,932 at Sports Authority Field in Denver.

The Buffs raced out to a 17-0 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter, but were held scoreless the remaining 43 minutes of the game. Colorado State had two touchdowns (and two other long passes) called back by penalties, finishing the game 55 points shy of the 58 put up against Oregon State the week before.

“Calls can go either way,” said Mike MacIntyre, who improved to 4-1 v. CSU at Colorado. “You’ve just got to keep playing … I was proud of the way our guys played. Offensively, we bogged down a few times, and that kept them in the game”.

Phillip Lindsay led the CU rushing attack, with 19 carries for 140 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Quarterback Steven Montez went 21-for-29 for 202 yards, with his best play a 31-yard touchdown pass to Shay Fields early in the second stanza. Otherwise, Montez had an inconsistent night, including an interception thrown in the CSU end zone in the fourth quarter. “He was hot and cold”, said MacIntyre of Montez. “But he can make plays, and he’ll start making more plays”.

The win was the third straight for the Buffs against the Rams, giving Colorado its first three-game winning streak in the series since 2003-05.

Essays for the game, “We’ll Correct It. We’ll Move On” and “No Apologies”, can be found here

 

2017 Colorado State results – 7-6 (5-3 in Mountain West play – lost 31-28 to Marshall in the New Mexico Bowl)

– Returning starters, Offense: 4 … Returning starters, Defense: 5

 

– 2017 Colorado State National Rankings (Offense)

— Scoring – 31st … 33.4 points per game  (Colorado scoring defense – 74th … 28.2 points per game)

— Rushing – 31st … 200.2 yards per game   (Colorado rushing defense – 108th … 208.0 yards per game)

— Passing – 20th … 292.2 yards per game   (Colorado passing defense – 94th … 242.6 yards per game)

— Total – 11th … 492.5 yards per game  (Colorado total defense – 110th … 450.6 yards per game)

– 2017 Colorado State National Rankings (Defense)

— Scoring – 72nd … 27.8 points per game  (Colorado scoring offense – 81st … 26.4 points per game)

— Rushing – 90th … 187.1 yards per game (Colorado rushing offense – 74th … 157.2 yards per game)

— Passing – 97th … 244.5 yards per game (Colorado passing offense – 39th … 260.4 yards per game)

— Total – 98th … 431.6 yards per game  (Colorado total offense – 48th … 417.6 yards per game)

 

Colorado State storylines … 

– Steady as she goes …

Under Mike Bobo the past three seasons, Colorado State has gone 7-6, 7-6, and 7-6. A fourth straight seven-win season would result in what would be a school-record sixth straight bowl appearance.

So, all is well in Fort Fun?

Not really.

Despite the Rams’ posting winning seasons year after year, the reality is that Colorado State is not as successful as its record may suggest.

College Football News has posted what it called its “Bad Wins Rankings” for the past five seasons. The opening:

They’re the empty calorie wins.

They’re the ones that don’t really do much for college football as a whole, but they’re also the ones you have to use as the tune-ups and help the overall record. They’re on the schedule, you might as well win them.

What does this generally mean? The more Bad Wins means easier schedules and easier paths.

They’re the bad wins. They’re the ones over the FCS teams, along with the teams that finished with three wins or fewer.

Out of the 130 FBS teams, any guesses which team ranked No. 1 in the country in “Bad Wins” over the past five seasons?

Yup – Colorado State.

The Rams have posted 23 “Bad Wins” in the past five years. That number includes 14 such wins in the past three seasons under Mike Bobo.

Or, put another way … Mike Bobo is 21-18 at Colorado State, with 14 of those wins coming either against FCS teams or teams which finished the season with three wins or fewer (Colorado, by the way, was tied for 60th place, along with the likes of Oregon, Alabama, Arizona, Michigan State and Florida State).

It’s not CSU’s fault that the Mountain West in recent years has produced so many terrible teams, and the Rams certainly don’t have to apologize for winning the games they are supposed to win against inferior opponents.

At the same time, you can feel free to ignore most of the plaudits given to the Rams by the homers at the Coloradoan and the Denver Post.

They are simply not as good as their record suggests.

And, oh yes … Mike Bobo is 0-3 against Colorado.

New coaching staff … new schemes … 

Mike Bobo is entering his fourth season in Fort Collins, and is doing so with two new coordinators.

Dave Johnson takes over as the offensive coordinator, with John Jancek taking over the defense.

The defense, ranked 97th in total defense last season, is being completely rebuilt. Jancek, who held the same position at Tennessee (2013-15), has four new position coaches working with him as the Rams transition to a 4-3 base alignment from a 3-4 base. The goal is to run more of an attacking defense, with more blitzes and stunts than were run under former coordinator Marty English.

With three of CSU’s first four games coming against Power Five Conference opponents – v. Colorado; Arkansas; at Florida – Fall Camp will be a very busy time for the Rams.

 

Players make plays

If Colorado State is going to be productive on offense in 2018, transfers will play a significant role.

Gone is quarterback Nick Stevens, who threw for 8,550 yards and a school-record 70 touchdowns for Mike Bobo the past three seasons. The replacement is likely to be graduate transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels, who was heading for UCLA before switching to CSU late. The former four-star recruit completed 27 of 47 passes for 310 yards in spot duty the past three years for the Huskies.

Also gone is Biletnikoff finalist Michael Gallup, who had 1,413 receiving yards in 2017. His shoes may be filled by Preston Williams, a transfer from Tennessee, though Olabasi Johnson (69 receptions for 1,208 yards and six touchdowns) returns for his senior season.

Rushing star Dalyn Dawkins – a 1,399-yard rusher in 2017 – has also moved on. In his stead, senior Izzy Matthews, who had 613 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, will take over as the feature back.

The Rams must also replace three of five starters along the offensive line, as well as their top tight end. Louisville transfer T.J. Roundtree has been brought in to try and fill the all important left tackle position.

In 2017, Colorado State set a school record, averaging 492.5 yards per game.

With so many holes to fill, it’s hard to see the Rams matching those numbers in 2018.

Had the CSU defense kept pace with the CSU offense, the Rams would have had a special season last fall. As it was, the defense struggled mightily … and has only five returning starters.

New defensive coordinator John Jancek does has a solid foundation upon which to build, however.

Last year’s top two tacklers, senior linebacker Josh Watson (109 tackles) and senior safety Jordan Fogal (71 tackles) return. Three other top performers – linebackers Try Thomas and Max McDonald, and safety Jamel Hicks – return.

Notably absent from that list of returning starters are any defensive linemen. The only Ram lineman back with any starting experience is junior defensive end Arjay Jean, who had 18 tackles (two sacks) last season.

 

How the Buffs fit into the Rams’ 2018 schedule

For the second year in a row, Colorado State has chosen to play a “Week Zero” game, moving up a game from elsewhere in the schedule into late August, the week before the Rocky Mountain Showdown. Starting the season a week early gives the Rams two bye weeks, with the Rams this fall taking off the last weekend of September and the first weekend in November.

The strategy seemed to work well for Colorado State last fall, with the Rams moving up their game against Oregon State to “Week Zero”. The move not only gave Oregon State two bye weeks, it also allowed the Rams to open their new stadium against a Power Five Conference foe … instead of against Abilene Christian.

The Rams manhandled the Beavers, 58-27, giving CSU momentum heading into their contest against the Buffs. Instead of dominating another Pac-12 opponent, however, the Rams managed only three points against the Buffs’ defenders, a unit which would go on to finish 109th in the nation in total defense.

This fall, Colorado State moved up its home game against Hawai’i to August 25th. The Rainbow Warriors finished the 2017 season with a 3-9 overall record, which included a 51-21 home loss to the Rams. It should be an easy opening week for Colorado State, once again giving the Rams momentum before taking on Colorado State.

As last year proved, however, having an early game doesn’t necessarily benefit the team playing it. The Buffs will have the advantage of seeing a game tape on CSU’s new defense, as well as a full game tape on K.J. Carta-Samuels, who last played a full game at quarterback … in 2013.

 

Bottom Line

Scary as it is to say, this is about the most confident Buff fans should feel about a Rocky Mountain Showdown in some time.

Even last year, with the Buffs coming off of a ten-win season, there was some reason for trepidation. After all, the Buffs were playing their first game after losing a huge senior class, whereas Colorado State was coming off of a 58-27 domination of Oregon State (a team CU would later need a last minute touchdown to beat, 36-33).

Prior to last season … well, you know CU’s record over the past decade, where no game was a guaranteed victory.

This fall, however, Colorado State has more question marks than does Colorado. The Rams were prolific on offense last season, but lose their quarterback, top wide receiver and running back, and three-fifths of their offensive line. The defense – which was terrible – only has about half of its lineup from last season returning.

Even more important to me, as you know if you are a long-time reader, is CSU’s mistake of playing a game before facing the Buffs. Instead of having a month to prepare for their Super Bowl, the Rams must at least give due respect for their first opponent, Hawai’i. Instead of presenting the Buffs with new offensive and defensive alignments, it will be the Buffs who will bring to Mile High Stadium new players and new formations.

Oh, and the Rocky Mountain Showdown will be on a Friday night. CSU plays Hawai’i the Saturday before, giving the Rams one less day than they would normally have to prepare.

If Steven Montez is going to live up to the hype his coaches are giving him … and if the new game plan under offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini lives up to expectations … and if graduate transfer running back Travon McMillian lives up to expectaions … and if the offensive and defensive lines show any recognizable signs of improvement …

Colorado should win the 2018 Rocky Mountain Showdown handily.

But … this is CSU, which always gives its best effort against Colorado.

But … this is also Colorado, which has disappointed its fans more often than it has surprised them over the past decade.

So … we’ll see …

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