Less than a month separates today and the start of fall practices for the CSU football team. Today is the first of a three part series that breaks down each game for the upcoming season, and what to expect from each opponent.
Week 1 - at New Mexico
This year's schedule starts out with an in-conference tilt, something that the Rams haven't done since opening up at Air Force in 1994. New Mexico is coming off back-to-back 1-11 seasons, yet coach Mike Locksley has been retained despite his two wins in two seasons. That being said, the Lobos find themselves in a comparable situation to CSU, as they return many starters on both sides of the ball.
Playmaker Tarean Austin is expected to start at quarterback, and he is surrounded with a group of skill players the Lobos haven't seen the likes of in several years. Ohio State transfer Lamarr Thomas is an explosive pass-catcher that will also be utilized in the return game, and West Virginia transfer Deon Long could also start at wideout. Returning All-MWC tight end Lucas Reed is on the pre-season Mackey Award watch list, and Carmen Messina provides senior leadership at MLB. That being said, the Rams are expected to go into Albuquerque and steal a victory on September 3. Don't expect a blowout with a more experienced UNM squad, but the Rams will prevail 34-23 as they begin to solve their offensive woes from a year ago.
Week 2 - Northern Colorado
The Rams return home in game 2 to face in-state FCS opponent Northern Colorado. UNC isn't exactly the team it used to be in their glory years when it won several Division II championships under Joe Glenn. They won only three games in 2010, but former Wheat Ridge star Dylan Orms returns for his senior year. His experience will be sorely needed for first year coach Earnest Collins.
Fans along the Front Range, however, are excited about the potential rivalry of the two schools. They have played each other close in basketball, and the proximity of the two schools should make this an interesting matchup. That being said, year one for Earnest Collins won't be easy, and look for the Rams to continue their winning ways in their home opener. Pete Thomas throws for 325 yards and three scores in a 28-10 win.
Week 3 - at Colorado (Invesco Field at Mile High - Denver)
This bitter in-state rivalry will continue once again in Denver as first year coach Jon Embree looks to right the ship at CU. Tyler Hansen returns for his senior year at quarterback and Speedy Stewart is an electric running back. Paul Richardson is an explosive player out wide that should help provide for a balanced attack in Embree's new pro style offense. On defense, Jon Major is turning into the player that Buff fans had hoped for since his arrival from Ponderosa High School.
This contest should be a lot different from 2010's, when CSU failed to get any type of offensive game going. Thomas should get the green light to air it out more, and the offensive line is expected to provide a better push for CSU's stable of backs. That said, until the Rams can prove to become more efficient on both sides of the ball (especially third down defense), Colorado will wear down CSU's defense. Stewart has a big day as scoring is finally relevant in the Rocky Mountain Showdown again. Buffs win, 38-28.
Week 4 - at Utah State
CSU will head to Logan, UT for their week 4 matchup against the Aggies. Utah State upset BYU on a nationally televised broadcast a year ago, so the Rams would be foolish to come into this game complacent. The Aggies return five starters that were out in 2010 with season-ending injuries, and Coach Gary Anderson has promised that their team will be better this upcoming season.
RB Robert Turbin (almost 1,300 yards rushing in 2009) and LB Bobby Wagner (led WAC in tackles each of the past 2 seasons) are playmakers to watch out for, however USU will be breaking in a new starting quarterback - a similar situation to CSU last year - as three players are vying for the job. This will certainly not be a gimme, as the Rams have a lot to prove before they can be a considered a shoe-in for a win at any point in the season. But, Lou Greenwood breaks out with a two TD performance on a suspect secondary and Chris Nwoke rushes for 150 yards and a score. CSU wins, 24-16.
Stay tuned in the next few days for a preview of the rest of the schedule in parts 2 and 3.