In the lead-up to the upcoming college football season, Sports Unbiassed is taking a look at the top 20 teams with a chance to win the Access Bowl bid in 2015. You can find the full list of the Top 20, links to other team previews, and read more about the methodology behind the rankings here.
Colorado State Rams
2014 Record: 10-3 (6-2 in MWC)
Head Coach: Mike Bobo (.000)
Returning Starters: 14/24 (6 OFF/7 DEF/1 SP)
5-Year Recruiting Ranking Composite: 87th
FIVE POSSIBLE STATEMENT GAMES
- Sept. 12 v. Minnesota
- Sept. 19 v. Colorado (in Denver)
- Oct. 3 @ Utah State
- Oct. 10 v. Boise State
- Oct. 31 v. San Diego State
WHAT YOU REMEMBER/SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT THE RAMS
The Sonny Lubick days are far in the rearview mirror at this point, as Colorado State moves on to its third head coach since the iconic leader whose name adorns the field at Hughes Stadium coached his last game for the Rams. CSU fans will be hoping for a continuation of the Jim McElwain days instead of a regression back to the Steve Fairchild era which immediately followed Lubick’s retirement. They’ll hope this season ends like 2013, essentially (instead of the blowout loss to Utah in last year’s bowl):
And yet, though the postseason exhibition ended differently in 2014 against Utah, it was still the first 10-win season in Fort Collins since 2002. The last time that Colorado State went fishing around the SEC for an offensive coordinator to promote to head coach, they struck gold with McElwain. Can they do it again with Mike Bobo?
THE KEY REASON FOR HOPE FOR THE RAMS IN 2015
There are several winnable games on Colorado State’s schedule this season against Power Five competition, and that always bolsters a mid-major’s case for the selection committee. Minnesota comes to Fort Collins, offering friendly confines for what could be one of the biggest upsets of the young season, and the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado at Mile High Stadium has gone the Rams’ way twice in the past three years. With the Gophers in the hunt for the Big Ten West this year and the Buffaloes on a gradual upswing in the deep Pac-12 South, wins in either or both will open the door wide for CSU.
In a challenging MWC Mountain Division, the Rams have travel to Logan to play Utah State but have the benefit of taking on Boise State in Fort Collins. Mike Bobo will have a fair amount of talent to work with as Colorado State takes on its schedule, including seven starters from a defense that held opponents to 25.1 points per game (44th nationally) and generated 19 turnovers. 83 percent of lettermen return from last year’s 10-3 squad, and the possibility for greatness is open for the Rams to compete in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games for the first time in school history.
WHAT COULD COST THE RAMS THE ACCESS BOWL SLOT
Of course, that’s all dependent on Mike Bobo being able to seamlessly slide into McElwain’s post and take over as head coach without any bumps along the way. Just as CSU could start the season 3-0, so too could it be in a 1-2 hole after losing to the Gophers and Buffaloes. With Utah State and Boise State on the schedule immediately in conference play, there is no opportunity to really recover from those Power Five tests. Another losing season is just as likely as another double-digit win total at this point, and the final result will depend on a new coaching staff installing its systems without disrupting the chemistry that has been developed.
Colorado State also has to replace both quarterback Garrett Grayson and tailback Dee Hart, along with two of their five starting offensive linemen. In all the team returns six starters, but only 42.4 percent of the total yards gained last season. While a lot of talent returns overall, the offense is due to take a significant step back after a year where it overachieved; it is highly unlikely that the Rams will be able to keep up that pace with a more raw group of offensive talent this season. If scoring drops off too much, it could derail the Access Bowl dream before it really gets off the ground. At the very least, though, receiver Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins should ease new quarterback Nick Stevens’ transition with his big-play ability.
OFFERING A POTENTIAL OUTCOME FOR 2015
Colorado State will have absolutely no problem with FCS Savannah State in its opener, as the Tigers serve as a warm-up patsy before the tough games on the schedule. Minnesota comes to Fort Collins the following weekend, and the Gophers will see this game as their own referendum. Playing at altitude, the game will be close, but Minnesota will likely prevail. That, however, is not the case with Colorado when the in-state rivalry begins anew in Denver on September 19, and this should be the first time since 1999 and 2000 that CSU defeats the Buffaloes in two straight years. A trip to the Alamodome and UTSA should close out the month of September with Colorado State sitting at 3-1, the only blemish a close defeat to the Gophers.
October might not be so lucky. Utah State and Boise State are two tough opponents, and the Rams will have to defeat both to stay alive in the MWC Mountain. Can the defense contain both Chuckie Keeton and company on the road and then turn around and do it again against a stacked Broncos team? Unfortunately for Rams fans this might be the point where CSU’s Access Bowl dream fades away. The road game at Air Force keeps the pressure on the following week, and San Diego State visits Sonny Lubick Field on Halloween. By that point the best-case scenario for Colorado State might be a 2-2 month of October, putting them at 5-3 and 2-2 in conference.
November should yield little trouble, keeping another 10-win season within reach. The road trip to Laramie to face rival Wyoming for the Border War game is always tricky, but Colorado State should return home with the Bronze Boot. UNLV closes out the home schedule, and the regular season will end with road games at New Mexico and Fresno State. CSU should be favored in all four, and should come through on that promise. Once again pitted against a strong Power Five opponent in a bowl game, 10 wins might prove elusive, but it will still be a successful first season for Mike Bobo and his crew.
PREDICTED RECORD: 9-4 (6-2 in MWC)