A super-soft schedule may bail out Steve “In-Way-Over-My-Head” Fairchild this season for the CSU Rams. It may even force him to somehow crack a smile, which, to the best of my knowledge, would be a first.
I won’t lie, I thought Fairchild was a good hire when it went down. After he took Sonny Lubick’s players to a bowl win in 2008, I thought it looked even better. Things have kind of fallen apart since.
The Rams went 3-9 (again) last year. Going 3-9 is unacceptable, but the way last season ended makes things even more concerning.
The last home game was Senior Day (naturally) against a good BYU team. The Rams didn’t bother to show up, losing 49-10. That was embarrassing.
If the BYU game was embarrassing, the next week was humiliating. The Rams rode into Laramie for the annual Border War against arguably their biggest rival with a chance to end the season on a positive note. Wyoming was winless in the Mountain West coming into the game at 0-7.
Then the ‘Pokes beat CSU 44-0.
That game was a disgrace and hinted that Fairchild’s players may have quit on him, which has to be red flag for the program.
This year should be more kind to the Rams, thanks in large part to an easy out-of-conference schedule and a diminished Mountain West. Playing Boise State doesn’t make things any easier, but the departure of Utah and BYU make the overall conference less legit (as we used to say in Parmelee Hall).
This year’s offense will go as far as Pete Thomas carries it. Thomas took his lumps as a freshman QB but still showed plenty of promise. Fairchild runs a fairly complex, pro-style offense and this is his first opportunity to coach a returning starter under center. If Thomas can find someone to throw the ball to, the ballyhooed recruit should be in position to take significant steps forward. On a related note, ballyhooed is a greatly underutilized term.
Defensively, there are certainly some holes but Mychal Sisson should have a monster season at linebacker. The senior used his speed to lead the nation in forced fumbles last year. He also led the Rams in tackles for a loss.
This Saturday starts an interesting season for the future of the Colorado State program. Progress is necessary. The status quo cannot be accepted.
Here’s my week-by-week breakdown:
Game 1: Sept. 3: @New Mexico W (1-0)
This game is huge. New Mexico is picked to finish last in the MWC. They are awful. The Rams should beat this team. But winning on the road in college football isn’t an easy task, and when you’re CSU that includes playing in Albuquerque. If the Rams choke this one up, Fort Collins is in for yet another very long season and Fairchild should start looking through a few “Help Wanted” ads.
Game 2: Sept. 10 Northern Colorado W (2-0)
Northern Colorado has gone 3-8 the past two seasons– sounds kinda familiar– but UNC is a FCS (aka D-1AA) team with a first-year coach. They should be completely overmatched playing in Fort Collins. This could be a trap-game for the Rams with Colorado on deck and Bears’ coach Earnest Collins Jr. looking for a signature win, but let’s be real: CSU won’t lose this one.
Game 3: Sept. 17 Colorado* L (2-1)
Invesco Sports Authority Field at Mile High
I really can’t stand CU, so I don’t want to pick them here, but I think their team is a little bit better than CSU again this year. Colorado’s schedule is brutal. They play 13 straight weeks without a bye. They will be huge underdogs in almost every Pac-12 Conference game. I think new coach Jon Embree realizes that The Showdown is one of the only opportunities for his program to come up with a big win. The senior duo of Tyler Hansen at quarterback and Rodney Stewart at running back should put up some big numbers against the Rams’ defense. Losing to the Buffs makes me sick, so I hope to God I’m wrong on this one.
Game 4: Sept. 24 @Utah St. W (3-1)
Utah State went 2-6 in the WAC last year and their only road win came against San Jose State. They are breaking in new starters at quarterback and running back. The Aggies will be coming off a bye week, which doesn’t help, but if the Rams are at all improved they should win this game.
Game 5: Oct. 1 San Jose St. W (4-1)
This game might be even more of a cupcake than the UNC game. Rammies win big on Homecoming Weekend.
Game 6: Oct. 15 Boise St. (4 pm) L (4-2)
Boise State is one of the best teams in the nation. BSU is better than CSU. Need I say more?
Sidenote: If CSU does beat CU, this could be a matchup of two 5-0 teams and a potential sellout of Hughes stadium for the first time in recent memory. A 4 pm start would make things even more fun/rowdy/dangerous/riot-provoking.
Game 7: Oct. 22 @UTEP W (5-2)
UTEP went to a bowl game last year but lost six of their last seven games, including getting hammered by BYU in the New Mexico Bowl. Four-year starting quarterback Trevor Vittatoe is long gone and the Miners are in a rebuilding year. Sports Illustrated is picking them to go 0-8 in Conference-USA. Rams finish out-of-conference play at 4-1.
Game 8: Oct. 29 @ UNLV W (6-2)
The Rams crushed UNLV at home last year 43-10. Things are different on the road, so this is no chippy. UNLV only has three conference home games, so this is probably their best shot at putting a tally in the left-hand column in conference play. Still, the Lobos are a bad team and are also breaking in a new quarterback. If CSU loses this one, it would be a big disappointment. They’ll pull it off and remarkably become bowl eligible before Halloween.
Game 9: Nov. 12 San Diego St. (4 pm) L (6-3)
This is an intriguing game. Things are lined up for CSU to pull off an upset of one of the nation’s upstart programs. The Rams are coming off a bye week. The Aztecs might have one eye on hosting Boise State the following week. However, I don’t see the Rams defense stopping SDSU’s prolific offense. Senior quaterback Ryan Lindley– one of the better signal callers in the country and the best in the Mountain West not named Kellen– threw for 26 touchdowns and over 3500 yards last year. Sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman ran for 1500 yards and scored 17 touchdowns in his freshman campaign. I think the Rams keep it close, but don’t come up with enough key stops to pull it off.
Game 10: Nov. 19 @ TCU L (6-4)
See explanation of game 6.
Game 11: Nov. 26 Air Force (4 pm) L (6-5)
If you like college football and live in Colorado, you love Troy Calhoun. The Falcon’s coach is getting done at a service academy and is turning down major offers to stay at his alma matter. I see another big year from the Falcons and I think they might even be ranked when they roll into Fort Collins. Air Force has beaten CSU five straight years, twice in FoCo. This year the home-field advantage (can you even call it that at Hughes?) will be diminished by Thanksgiving Break. Senior quarterback Tim Jefferson is primed for a huge year running the triple option that I can’t ever remember the Rams shutting down.
Game 12: Dec. 3 Wyoming W (7-5)
Will the Rams find revenge? They better. Wyoming saw a couple good, young quarterbacks transfer after living in Laramie for a while, but are not necessarily in a rebuilding year. The Cowboy’s return a handful of returning starters on both sides of the ball. After last year, things like that shouldn’t matter. This one is for pride and a winning season. This one may be for Fairchild’s career. Excuses coming from the head coach will ring hollow if the Rams let the Cowboys keep our Bronze Boot for another year.
So there ya go. I have the Rammies going 7-5 this year, finishing 3-4 in the Mountain West and going bowling, which should allow Fairchild to keep his job for another year. Not making any promises on the whole smiling thing though.