Expectations for Colorado State football could not be higher in 2017. With 14 returning starters, recently completed state of the art facilities and a third-year head coach leading the way, this is a team that feels they should absolutely be competing for a Mountain West championship.
“The guys are really excited about it,” junior wide receiver Olabisi Johnson said. “Coach Bobo talked about it, you know we have these new facilities but it means nothing. We have to go out there and win games in order to put on for the fans.”
CSU football is coming off of four straight postseason appearances, a feat that has not been accomplished since the heart of the Sonny Lubick era (1999-2003). However, the Rams have gone 1-3 in those four bowl games and have yet to reach the MW championship game.
“We all want to win a Mountain West championship and go a New Year’s Six Bowl,” Johnson said. “That’s what the coaches expect and that’s what the players expect… That is why we built this stadium, we’re trying to be a top program.”
Before the Rams ever get an opportunity to play MW foes, they will first have to escape a non-conference schedule that includes three opponents from Power Five conferences.
CSU will officially kickoff the 2017 college football season on Aug. 26 when they host Oregon State. Six days later the Rams head to Denver for the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown (Sept. 1) with Colorado. After hosting Abilene Christian on Sept. 9, CSU will conclude their OOC portion of the schedule with a trip to Tuscaloosa to face the University of Alabama.
With such a daunting schedule to open the season, how the Rams perform in that opening month will be indicative of where this program is at. In years past, there would be doubts on whether CSU would even be able to compete in those games. That is no longer the expectation and the players know it.
While a road victory over Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide would be a tall task, if CSU were to realistically compete for a New Year’s Six Bowl, the Rams would likely have to open the season 3-1.
CSU is currently listed as a 3.5-point favorite for their Week 1 matchup with Oregon State and a 7 point underdog to in-state rival CU by Bovada. If the Rams can find a way to win those two games before playing Abilene Christian at home, they could feasibly escape the opening month with a 3-1 record.
“They are big games for us,” Johnson said. “We have to step up to the podium and win those games.”
After the opening month, the Rams have a bye on Sept. 23, before opening the MW portion of the schedule with road games at Hawaii (Sept. 30) and Utah State (Oct. 7). CSU will then host Nevada on Oct. 14, before starting the most crucial portion of the conference schedule with games against New Mexico, Air Force, Wyoming and Boise State.
In recent years, CSU has had consistent success against UNM, but Air Force and Wyoming have been toss-ups. Since Boise State joined the conference in 2010, the Rams have gone 0-6 in games against the Broncos, who are once again slated to win the Mountain Division in 2017.
The Broncos were picked to win the division, but much of the local hype has surrounded the Pokes in Laramie, Wyo. With their star quarterback Josh Allen returning and much excitement from the 2016 season being carried over, the spotlight has been extra bright on the Cowboys this offseason.
“Wyoming is a good team,” Johnson said. “They have Josh Allen and I played against (DB) Andrew Wingard in high school. Those are two of their top guys and they expect a lot from them, but we expect a lot from us as the Rams.”
Having not won a conference championship since 2002, a Mountain West championship would be huge for a program that is on the rise. For five years there has been a lot of chatter about how the Rams can put themselves in the conversation for greener pastures in a new conference.
With proper facilities and a schedule that would allow for the Rams to make some noise, the time to succeed is now. Will the Rams step up to the podium?
Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @JustinTMichael.