The hype during the first week of school at Colorado State is centered around the brand new on-campus stadium that the Rams will play in for the first time on Saturday.
But, for true fans of the Rams, the focus is on how well the team does the whole year, not just in the opener. So, while the new stadium is a great rallying point, the Rams’ early season road games are going to be the ones that will tell us what kind of team we will see this year.
The first test will be down in Denver for the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown against the rival Colorado Buffaloes. Rams fans need no reminder that CSU lost this game last year 44-7.
CU went on to be a top 10 team in the national polls during the season and was one win away from taking the Pac-12 championship. The Buffs lost plenty of talent, but are still receiving votes in the national polls and have all the makings of an explosive offense. They have quarterback Steven Montez who, at times, looked even better than graduated senior Sefo Liufau last year. They also have running back Phillip Lindsay and wide receiver Shay Fields who can help keep them in Pac-12 contention.
One of the weaker points for the Rams all preseason has been in the defensive secondary. An early test against a top-tier wide receiver core and a pass-catching running back can call the Rams into action. If the CSU secondary can put up a fight and hold their own, they could have the confidence for the rest of the season to trust their defense can withstand an upper echelon offense.
Assuming that the Rams’ offense performs better than it did in the showdown last year, they will be able to allow 20 or 30 points and still compete. Quarterback Nick Stevens had one of the worst games of his career last year and lost his starting job because of it. Stevens will more than likely be looking for some revenge and to continue the offensive fire he finished last season with.
CSU could take this game if the defense can show what it is made of. The offensive potential is there to light up the scoreboard and it is up to the defense to make sure this does not turn into a shootout.
The Rams will play Abilene Christian University at home before taking on the most daunting task that any college football team could be asked to do: travel to Alabama.
The Crimson Tide will host the Rams in their fourth contest of the year and this could be the coming out game for CSU, even if they get blown out of the water.
Four years ago, CSU actually had Alabama within their reach as they were down 17-6 in the fourth quarter with the ball. As most fans know, the wheels fell off and CSU ultimately lost the game 31-6, but the fact of just being in the game with Bama late was a testament to how good the 2013 team really was.
Alabama had a stiff defense then, and this year will be no different for the current No. 1 team in the nation. The fierce defense starts with the men on the defensive line and linebacking corps, as multiple players from both units have found a place in the NFL.
The other shaky point for the Rams is the offensive line with quite a few inexperienced guys looking to get some playing time throughout the season. A matchup with Alabama could be the toughest test some of these guys will ever have in their college career. How they play and respond to the challenge will be telling of what type of guys the 2017 Rams are made of.
The offensive line will just be one part of the offense that will be tested. CSU was ranked as the eighth-best offense by Bleacher Report earlier in the year, and there would be no better way to prove that then putting up some points in Tuscaloosa.
Stevens has a group of running backs that goes three deep and a wide receiver core that features Michael Gallup, a member of the Biletnikoff Award watch list. The cliché goes that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best and squaring off against the Alabama defense will be as good as it gets.
After these two games, the team gets a bye week before beginning Mountain West play. If the Rams can hold their own and show that they are ready to make a statement, then the new stadium just might be joined by a new Mountain West trophy.
Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ajwrules44.