Welcome to the 74th edition of Tuesdays With Mitch, where I’m gearing up for one of the biggest days of the year to kick off a four-day weekend. You best be calling in sick on Friday because we have much more important things to take care of. Get out your grill and cornhole boards and coolers and the pigskin. I’ll bring the beer and whiskey. Football is back. And it brings my absolute favorite party of the year. Let’s get into it…
Is this the year the Rams take the next step?
Most would agree that Colorado State is a program headed in the right direction as we enter Jim McElwain’s third season as head coach. In both football and basketball, CSU has removed itself from the lower tiers of the Mountain West Conference, but hasn’t been able to make the jump to the top-level. This year just may be the one that sees the Rams start beating the big boys and solidify themselves as a Mountain West contender. That said, a lot of last year’s talent is gone, so is a step back inevitable?
Any way you slice it, this is an important year for Colorado State football to determine just what they are as a program.
Before allowing me to discuss the Colorado Buffaloes and the Rocky Mountain Showdown, let’s (quickly) break down the Rams on the whole. Here’s how their 2013 went, with some very professional comments added by yours truly.
So in the first two weeks CSU had WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot losses to bad teams that they should have beaten. Then everything pretty much played out as you would expect, except for another bad loss to San Jose State on Homecoming weekend. That was followed by a blowout win as heavy underdogs in Laramie that completely changed the feel of the season. (Even if Wyo turned out to be pretty bad, most of us didn’t realize it at that point.)
But again, CSU couldn’t beat the top two teams in their division, not really coming close to taking down Boise State or Utah State.
Those two teams represent the two biggest (non-rivalry) games on the Rams’ schedule again this year.
So quickly looking at the 2014 slate I see a pretty damn easy schedule. I have one “maybe” (Colorado, because that game is always flukey), three “probably nots” (at Boise State, at Boston College, home to Utah State), and eight wins.
The “Next Step” I mentioned earlier would look like this for CSU:
- Beat Colorado. More on that in a bit.
- Beat the eight other bad teams on the schedule. The bottom of the Mountain West is crap. Wyoming is down (for now; I wouldn’t be surprised if Craig Bohl rights that ship quickly). San Jose State isn’t the formidable program it was under Mike MacIntyre. Chris Ault is gone at Nevada. And Hawaii, New Mexico and Air Force all figure to be absolutely terrible again. CSU should not lose to any of those teams. Good teams that contend for conference championships don’t have bad losses on their resume. Last year CSU was pretty good and they had three.
- Find a way to take down Boise State or Utah State. These two teams are the heavy favorites to win the Mountain Division of the MWC. Beating a good Boise team on the road seems unlikely. Utah State, though, comes to Hughes on Homecoming Weekend. I think this is the biggest game on CSU’s schedule. This is exactly the kind of game the Rams have to start winning to change the way we all think about Colorado State football.
So I’m looking for this team to finish the regular season 9-3. I’m tempted to say 10-2 because I think they are capable of beating Colorado and winning just one of the “probably nots” I mentioned above.
Nine wins would be an improvement over last year, but that 10th win would assuredly take the program to that elusive next level, especially if that leads to an 11th win after a bowl game. That would put Colorado State at 11-2. Did I just type that? I should probably stop now, because I’m starting to sound crazy as hell.
Until they prove they can avoid bad losses or beat good teams on the road, my official prediction is a 9-3 regular season, which would still be a hell of a good year.
On the field the Rams have some pieces they should feel very good about, but a few question marks too.
Quarterback Garrett Grayson is entering his senior year after a record-breaking junior year. He’s good. If he stays healthy, the CSU offense should run efficiently all year. I have a lot of faith in this kid. Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton should be the best in the conference. Grayson is right behind him.
Grayson will have plenty of weapons to choose from, as his whole receiving corps is returning. Rashard Higgins was the Rams’ leading receiver last year as a true freshman. I think he’s poised for an enormous season. Remember his name.
Crockett Gillmore is gone to the NFL, but Kivon Cartwright should step in at tight end and replace him on the All-Conference team.
So about those question marks… Obviously the Rams lose just about all of their production at running back with the departure of Kapri Bibbs, Donnell Alexander, and Chris Nwoke. Yesterday McElwain said he expects the Rams to go four or even five deep at running back. For me, Alabama transfer Dee Hart is the biggest wild card on the roster. I wrote about that a couple weeks ago. He could be a season-changer.
The offensive line lost four of five starters, including one of the best Rams ever in Weston Richburg. Ty Sambrailo is the only returning starter, and he should be an all-conference selection and appears to be another future-NFLer. That said, I’m not sure what to expect from this unit. It’s hard to imagine they’ll be as good as last year’s.
Defensively, the Rams struggled quite a bit in 2013. They were actually really good against the run but had a nasty little habit of giving up huge touchdown passes. Like… All the time. They lose the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in Shaq Barrett, but I still think they should be improved overall defensively.
The linebacking corps will be a major strength for the Rams. The trio of Aaron Davis, Max Morgan and Cory James could be the best in the Mountain West and one of the better units in the nation. The secondary brings just about everybody back and should be better at not giving up 60-yard touchdowns seemingly every half. I don’t think the defensive line will be a strength.
So I think we’ll see more balance than last year’s team that scored a ton of points and gave up a lot of points. The offense will be high-powered again, but won’t be on the record-breaking level of last year. The defense should be improved.
Okay that’s enough of that. Let’s make fun of CU! (You should know I’m usually pretty objective on here, but with the Showdown three days away… screw it.)
CU football sucks. Boulder sucks. CU students and fans suck.
People think Colorado football was much improved last year. That’s because they were! Way to go, guys! They went 4-8. Two of those wins came against Charleston Southern and Central Arkansas. That means they only beat two FBS teams. They went 1-8 in the Pac-12.
Seriously. All of that represented a dramatic improvement over their 2012 season when they went 1-11. Going 2-8 against actual, real-life Division One teams means that you probably can’t rank them 128th out of 128 teams like many did after their 2012 campaign. I miss you, Jon Embree.
Obviously, part of the reason for Colorado’s awful records and innumerable blowout losses is because they usually play a really tough schedule. This is all funny to me because one of the bragging points among Colorado fans is their conference. They’re in the Pac-12! That’s one of the best conferences in the nation! It’s prestigious! They play really good teams like Stanford and USC and Oregon! Good for them!
One interesting sidenote many CU fans seem to forget: Colorado is 4-23 against the Pac-12 in their three years in the conference. Wait guys, 4-23? That’s really bad. That’s a .148 winning percentage. But hey it’s a really prestigious conference! Who cares if they get blown out and embarrassed by all the good teams every week?
I know, I know… CSU was one of the 2 FBS wins CU had last year. Colorado was the better team that day, no doubt. But as I mentioned earlier, the flukey nature of Rocky Mountain Showdown can be the most frustrating thing about the game. By every advanced metric and the good, ol’ fashioned eyeball test, Colorado State had a much better team than Colorado when the 2014 season was all said and done.
So yes, Colorado State dropped a game to a bad team, but let’s not get that confused with CU having a better overall program.
And can CU fans quit pretending you don’t care about this game? This is the biggest game on Colorado’s schedule. That’s what happens when you have zero chance of going .500 in your conference every year. The move to the Pac-12 means you don’t have the opportunity to get blown out by Nebraska in that “rivalry” every year unless each team makes the Rose Bowl. (No, I couldn’t type that with a straight face.) Don’t act like you’re circling that Utah game on your calendar every year either. Nobody cares about that game.
Yes, a lot of great programs come to Boulder every year, but… Haven’t we already covered this? The CSU game is really the only one for the CU fan base to get excited about.
So let’s discuss this year’s Rocky Mountain Showdown…
In a shocking development, I think Colorado State will win. Making predictions for this game is kind of pointless because so much random, flukey crap seems to happen, but what the hell. I think CU will have trouble running the ball. Paul Richardson is in the NFL now so I don’t think he will twice be standing all alone casually strolling into the end zone like last year. Even with CSU’s question-mark of an offensive line I think Grayson will have enough time to throw to open receivers for two or three touchdowns. And I don’t know what to expect from Dee Hart.
But quarterback play decides this one and Grayson outplays Liufau.
My official pointless prediction that we will only revisit if it is correct: Rams 33, Buffs 27.
Off to a couple of the weekly departments…
Douche of the week:
You’d think anything and everything associated with CU would get the honors this week, but I need to scream at shake my fist at whoever made the decision to put this game on a Friday night. Who plays college football on a Friday night? Playing on a Friday night is not a good look for college football programs that want to be taken seriously. This Friday night is the opening weekend for high school football in the state, meaning thousands of football fans will be preoccupied and can’t even consider attending the game. So the attendance, which has already been struggling greatly, will be hindered further. Also, more people have to work on Fridays than on Saturdays or Sundays. That creates an obvious inconvenience for everybody.
The reason for this game being on a Friday was finding a desirable slot for national TV. But then, even after the move to Friday, the game still didn’t land on ESPN. I like Fox Sports One a lot (usually check in at least once a day), but I understand it’s watched by an audience like one-tenth the size of ESPN’s. So we move the game to a time slot that nobody associates with college football nationally and is a pain in the ass for everyone locally, because of a better TV deal even though nobody will be watching on TV because it’s not on ESPN? Got it.
(In addition, all Dish customers might have the RMS and other games blacked out due to a dispute between Dish and FS1.)
Also, the parking lots don’t even open until 3 p.m. THREE IN THE AFTERNOON! What the hell is that? I was planning on setting up our tailgate at 10 a.m.
Stud(s) of the week:
Jim McElwain and whoever is producing these online “episodes.” They’re surprisingly well done and serve as some pump-up fuel for Friday.
Hey here’s another very important video:
And finally, let’s all sing along with Fum:
Happy Tuesday everybody. Thanks for reading. See y’all in the parking lots on Friday. And then in this space next week.
PLEASE NOTE: With the holiday weekend, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to churn one of these out by next Tuesday. I may take the route of my neighborhood trash guys and push it out a day. If you don’t see a post on Tuesday, there will be one Wednesday.
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