With less than 24 hours left until the Border War in Laramie, Wyo., we meet with our panel of experts to talk Colorado State football. Today, we are joined by Kelly Lyell of the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Rams play-by-play voice Brian Roth, as well as our own Matt Stephens to talk about Saturday's Colorado State contest against the Wyoming Cowboys.
Goldandgreenews.com:It's Border War week once again. One of the strengths of the CSU coaching staff seems to be the fact they get up for this game due, in part, to the fact there are so many Colorado State alumni coaching for the Rams. How easy is it to explain that experience players who aren't as familiar with the rivalry and what do the players seem to think of Wyoming? What are some of your favorite memories of this rivalry?
Lyell: The fact that so many of CSU's coaches played in the game is a huge benefit, especially in a season like this when there's really not much motivation for either team, given the seasons each is having. CSU's players, even true freshmen like quarterback Pete Thomas, have been talking this week as if they understand the significance of it, so somebody's getting the message across. The most vivid memories I have are all from the past four games, and the ironic parallels involved. It began with Joe Glenn telling me on the way off the field in 2007 that Sonny Lubick had just coached his final game for the Rams, an announcement CSU didn't make for several more days. Of course, Glenn's last game was the following year in Laramie, when the Rams rallied for a win that earned them a spot in the New Mexico Bowl in Steve Fairchild's first season as coach, much as Wyoming did last year in Fort Collins to earn its trip to the same bowl game, where it beat the same opponent (Fresno State) a year later to cap its 7-6 season -- the same record CSU had the previous year -- under first-year coach Dave Christiansen.
Stephens: To the players, this game is the biggest of the year. I don't care if the Rams were heading to a bowl this season, the Border War would be what it's all about. Sure, the fans usually see the Rocky Mountain Showdown as the big rivalry, but not the players.
Roth: I think it is pretty easy for players to learn about the rivalry fairly quickly. I was talking to Adam Seymorethis week and he was talking about the Stratton's (Ben and Dane) really teaching him about the importance of this Border War. Of course, it might have meant a little more to Ben and Dane Stratton because they were Wyoming natives, but there is no doubt these younger players understand what this game is about. As far as memories go, I would say both 2007 and 2008. In 2007, it was all about winning the Bronze Boot back from the Cowboys and in 2008, Dion Morton's huge game led the Rams to bowl eligibility. Man, CSU winning games … what memories.
Goldandgreenews.com:Colorado State is now 3-8 coming into this game, while Wyoming is just 2-9 coming off a trip to the New Mexico Bowl. Are you surprised at the way the season has shaped up for these two teams and who has seen the more disappointment this season?
Lyell: Wyoming's season has gone precisely the way I expected it to, mirroring that of the Rams the previous year in Fairchild's second season as coach. CSU's woes have been a little bit more surprising. Although the Rams are young this year, they appear to have more talent than the team that went 3-9 last season. Two conference wins vs. none, I guess, can be seen as improvement, but beating two of the worst teams in the country -- UNLV and New Mexico -- doesn't generate much optimism.
Stephens: Yes and no. I did expect Wyoming to have a let down season and I though CSU would fall short of a bowl game, but I didn't expect either team to play so poorly. Of course, Wyoming has had a pretty brutal schedule. I thought each school would end up at either four or five wins … looks like we could see two three win schools in the area if the Pokes win on Saturday.
Roth: Yes and no. I thought the Rams would get to five wins this season and without the collapse last week versus BYU they looked as if they had a chance to do that. As for Wyoming, they are a lot like the 2009 Rams. The Pokes were a little overrated entering 2010 after a New Mexico Bowl win the previous season. Like the 7-6 Rams of 2008, Wyoming won so many close games in 2009 and seemed to get a ton of breaks. It has been a different story for Wyoming this season where the ball just doesn't seem to bounce your way. The Pokes are 1-4 in games decided by six points or less in 2010. To me, it looks like a carbon copy of the 2009 CSU season.
Goldandgreenews.com: Austyn Carta-Samuels had a strong freshman season, but has been limited this year to just 143 yards passing per game, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Rams' pass defense has looked just as pedestrian, allowing a nearly 70 percent completion percentage. Is there any advantage in this match-up? Wyoming running game has put up some nice yardage the last two weeks with Alvester Alexander leading the way with 645 yards this season. What does the Ram defense need to do to stop the Cowboy offense this week?
Lyell: Austyn Carta-Samuels will probably wish he faced CSU's defense every week after this game. The Rams' pass defense has been horrible, as evidenced by a pass-efficiency defense that ranks No. 118 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Although the Rams are only allowing 222.2 passing yards a game, they've given up 24 passing touchdowns in 11 games, an average of more than two per game. CSU's defense will focus its efforts on stopping the run, as it usually does, which means the Cowboys will need to move the ball through the air to win.
Stephens: Honestly, after what we saw from the CSU defense last week, I don't think we can say the Rams have any advantage, no matter how stale the Wyoming offense has been. But if there is one thing Carta-Samuels is, it's scrappy. I don't think I'll ever forget the stiff arm he put on Nick Oppenneer last year at Hughes on his way to the end zone. He's a tough kid who can really hurt teams if they forget about him.
Roth: With 11 games to form opinions on both of these teams, I think it is clear that neither team is very good. The Rams defense has been inconsistent all season long, but if you want to look at this game in a positive light, consider this: The Ram defense has played exceptional in 2010 versus bad offenses (Miami (OH), UNLV, & New Mexico). Wyoming ranks 119th in total offense (268ypg), 114th in scoring (17ppg), and 103rd in rush offense (111ypg). That constitutes a bad offense. Maybe the Ram defense will continue their trend and play well on Saturday.
Goldandgreenews.com: A little good news for Colorado State coming out of Wyoming's game with UNLV last week was the fact the Rebels were able to move the ball at will on the ground (197). We understand how important the running game is to Colorado State. Is this a chance for the Rams' running game to "get well," this week? What did BYU do so effectively against Colorado State's run game and is that something the Cowboys can replicate?
Lyell: The best thing BYU did to shut down the CSU run game last week was put a lot of points on the board early, forcing the Rams to play from behind the whole game. CSU averaged a respectable 3.5 yards a carry but only ran the ball 22 times after the two sacks are deducted from the official total of 24.
Stephens: It has to be. No run game for the Rams means no success offensively. But if UNLV can run the ball against the Pokes, then CSU should have no problem. Keyword there: should. Truth be told, I'm really not sure what Brigham Young that was so special other than have an adequate game plan - something CSU may achieve one day. Could Wyoming have the same success? I wouldn't put it past the Cowboys.
Roth: If you look at the BYU game, the Cougars offense had more of an impact on the Rams running game than did the Cougars defense. CSU had 73 rushing yards in the first half, but had to abandon the ground game because of the score. Meanwhile, you can put the Cowboys rush defense in the same boat with Air Force, New Mexico and UNLV. All teams near the bottom of the national rankings and all teams the Rams ran roughshod over. Since I am trying to be positive here (CSU men's basketball has me in a good mood this morning), I think the Rams rushing attack will "get well" versus a bad Wyoming defense.
Goldandgreenews.com:Finally, what are your keys to the game and a prediction on the final score?
Lyell: Whichever team starts fast likely will win, since there's nothing other than pride at stake in the final game of two teams that have had disappointing seasons. The Bronze Boot and bragging rights should provide decent motivation early for both teams, but if either team can build some early momentum it will be difficult for the other to overcome. I'm guessing CSU is a bit more motivated, only because it's Senior Day game against BYU last week was so bad. CSU 24, Wyoming 20.
Stephens: I just think the key here is to be consistent. I don't think the Rams are as bad as they've shown all this season, there's some real talent on this team, but come on. What is it going to take to push CSU over the edge on into mediocrity? I do think the fact CSU was beaten so badly on senior day will help give the Rams a little extra boost of emotion in this game to not end on such a sour note, but I don't think it's enough to win.
Cowboys keep the Boot and win it 23-17.
Roth: This CSU team needs to show up mentally ready to play on Saturday, unlike last week against BYU. A chance to play college football, versus your rival? Ram fans deserve a better effort that the one put forth last week by CSU. I think the Rams do show up and I think they beat a bad Wyoming football team. Colorado State 27, Wyoming 17.