For the second year in a row, the Colorado State Rams finished the regular season 7-5 after starting the year 3-4. The Rams may have certainly looked like an inexperienced team dealing with a plenty of growing pains in the early part of the season, especially in the 44-7 beatdown in the Rocky Mountain Showdown, but the team that finished this season was nothing like the one that started it. Much of that has to do with the impactful play of this seasons standouts.
Team MVP: Quarterback Nick Stevens
In the last few weeks of the season, coach Mike Bobo said that this team improved over the course of the season more than any team he has ever coached. A lot of that has to do with the return and emergence of quarterback Nick Stevens.
Largely put by the wayside after his ineffective performance in the week one game against the Buffaloes, Stevens was relegated to a backup role after freshman Collin Hill grabbed the reins and took off. But when Hill went down week six against Utah State, the maligned quarterback stepped in and stepped up for the Rams.
In his first start since week one, Stevens almost led the Rams to a miraculous comeback on a rainy night in Boise. After that game, Bobo said he thought Stevens had gained some confidence out of that performance. Five weeks later, Bobo said that Stevens had gained all of his trust.
Just last season, Bobo said that the team was willing to take the ball out of Stevens’ hands to win games, and that he did not fully trust Stevens. This season, Bobo put the ball in the junior quarterback’s hands and told him to go win games.
Steven’s stellar play over the last half of the season opened the door for the CSU offense to flourish and become the explosive, balanced attack that Bobo envisioned.
Over the last five games in which CSU went 4-1, the Rams averaged 47.4 points per game while picking up 520.6 total yards and 274.4 rushing yards per game.
Stevens finished the year as the most accurate passer in the Mountain West Conference, completing over 65 percent of his passes. In just seven starts, he threw for almost 1,500 yards with 14 touchdowns, and greatly reduced his turnover numbers, as two of the three interceptions Stevens threw this season came in the week one Colorado game.
But Stevens is not the 2016 team MVP just for his play on the field. Stevens was praised by players and coaches alike for the way he handled himself in a backup role, as he turned his attention to fostering Hill’s growth and building himself into a better leader when the team needed it the most.
For the way Stevens managed his demotion, and the way he grew on the field and in the huddle after he returned to the starting lineup, Stevens is the 2016 CSU Rams MVP.
Offensive MVP: Wide receiver Michael Gallup
The CSU offensive line deserves a nod for the most valuable part of the team’s offense this season, but this is an individual award, and no individual had the kind of explosive impact on the CSU offense than that of juco transfer Michael Gallup.
From the early days of fall camp, Gallup stood out for his size and athleticism, but the young receiver needed some time to put together every aspect of his game. Once he did that, Gallup took the Mountain West conference by storm. Gallup finished second in the conference in total receiving yards with 1164, but a huge nod must go to Gallup for the team’s 5-3 record in conference play. In eight conference games, Gallup caught 56 passes for 991 yards and nine touchdowns.
Gallup emerged as an explosive receiving threat when the Rams needed it the most, and when Stevens returned as the starting quarterback, the two players connected immediately.
Look no further than the team’s 49-46 loss to Air Force when Stevens and Gallup almost single-handedly willed the team to victory with career best numbers. In that game, Gallup caught 13 passes for 213 yards, while Stevens threw for a career high 374 yards including a touchdown to Gallup.
The scariest part about Gallup? He has yet to reach his full potential.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Kevin Davis
The clear choice for the team’s 2016 defensive MVP is the senior do-everything linebacker who captained and led the young CSU defense the entire season.
Davis might not be the natural vocal leader that Bobo spent much of the early season looking for, but no player was praised as much as Davis in the way he led by example. After all, the senior spent five years in the CSU program being modeled into one of the most impactful defensive players in recent memory.
This season, Davis was one of only two players in the entire country with over 100 tackles, an interception, multiple sacks and multiple forced fumbles. Davis finished the year with 101 total tackles, three sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and finished second in the conference with four forced fumbles.
In CSU’s 44-7 loss against the University of Colorado, Davis recorded a career best 19 total tackles, setting the tone for the season that he would go on to have. And Davis’ fourth quarter interception against Utah State sealed a victory the Rams were in desperate need of.
The fact that Davis was selected as a second team All-Mountain West selection at linebacker leads to plenty of head scratching, but on this defense, no player made more of an impact or mattered more to the team than Davis.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5