Saturday was a momentous victory for the Colorado State football program. The Rams were already bowl eligible, but the blowout victory over San Diego State may have propelled the team into a more prestigious bowl game by catching the attention of the nation.
Saturday was also momentous for Nick Stevens, whose impressive play has now cemented his status as the leader of this team and the clear choice to remain starting quarterback, no matter what happens this bowl season.
It has not always been a smooth ride for the California native, who seemingly has been in a quarterback competition for his entire collegiate career, but nobody has handled the adversity better than Stevens.
After beating out Coleman Key for the starting gig in 2015, Stevens began to emerge into the quarterback that he is today, earning the trust of his teammates and coaches with smart play and strong decision making. Stevens would go on to finish the season with second team all-conference honors, leading the Mountain West in touchdown passes and leading the team to an Arizona Bowl appearance.
Fast forward to 2016 where Stevens gets benched after essentially one half of football against what we now know is one of the best football teams in the nation in Colorado. Now, Stevens could have pouted on the sideline, but instead he did the opposite. Stevens stayed poised and continued to work, and when Collin Hill went down with an ACL injury, he took complete advantage by playing the best football of his career.
Since returning to the starting role, Stevens has led the team to a 5-2 record and had a few plays gone differently, the team could legitimately be 7-0 in that span. Even more impressive, Stevens now owns a 7-1 career record in the month of November, so he plays his best football when it matters most.
Statistically, Stevens has been brilliant, completing 65 percent of his passes on the season and throwing 11 more touchdowns, 14, than interceptions. Where Stevens has really shown improvement is with his decision making and with his accuracy.
As good as Stevens was in 2015, there were moments where he struggled to make routine throws. That has not been the case in 2016. Stevens has been able to make the routine plays regularly, but also has also been able to complete some really tough passes, putting the ball in tight windows and distributing the ball to multiple receivers.
Stevens’ performance on the field this season has been impressive, but his leadership is what makes him invaluable to this team moving forward. The entire demeanor of the program has been different with Stevens at the helm. There has been no moment that has been too big for Stevens, and in the toughest moments, he has gotten the team to respond.
We saw it first when Stevens led the team to victory on the road at Utah State and again in an impressive comeback against Boise State. In the loss against Air Force, Stevens was practically perfect and he has not cooled down since.
There is no doubt that Hill is an incredible athlete and based on what we saw in those few games this season, it is clear he can play at this level. But considering what Stevens has been able to accomplish over the last two seasons and how he has carried himself throughout the entire process, Stevens is who should be leading the offense when the team first takes the field at the on-campus stadium.
Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at email@example.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.