Through the first four games of the 2017 college football season, the Colorado State Rams have proven they are the team to beat in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference.
Disregard the .500 winning percentage. Pay little attention to the offensive struggles against Colorado and the defensive letdowns in the first quarter against Alabama.
Instead, focus on the fact that a team from Fort Collins competed with the reigning Pac-12 South champions for four quarters. Realize that the Rams gave the No. 1 team in the country a serious gut check late in the second quarter in front of thousands of Crimson Tide faithful. Yes, the Rams lost both of these games and that cannot be undone. But what the win-loss column fails to display is the resiliency that Colorado State has shown to this point in the season.
In the early portion of 2016, that mental toughness to continue battling in the face of adversity was nonexistent. The 44-7 battering from Colorado to open the season proved so, and the disappointing loss to Wyoming to kick off conference play furthered the notion.
That mindset is long gone. In 2017, there has already been two instances where the Rams have demonstrated a certain resolve necessary of championship football teams.
Regardless of the accuracy of the officiating against Colorado, the Rams consistently absorbed what ended up being too many punches in a 17-3 loss to their in-state rivals. Nearly every time the Rams converted a momentum-changing play on offense, the play was brought back due to penalties. Plays of 17, 27, 33 and 40 yards, two of which went for touchdowns, were negated due to offensive penalties.
In that scenario, it would have been easy for a morally battered Rams team to fold. That was far from the case, as the team continued to put itself in position to convert until the final whistle blew.
Two weeks and 1,300 miles later, the Rams found themselves in just as disheartening of a position against No. 1 Alabama. The Tide scored a touchdown in less than three minutes on the opening drive of the game, forced a three-and-out on defense and proceeded to connect on a 78-yard touchdown pass the ensuing possession. Less than half way through the first quarter, the Rams trailed by 14 points. The worst thing that could happen for Colorado State happened, and the game appeared to be over before fans could even settle.
Again, this is where the 2016 Rams would have surrendered. But in the second quarter, Bobo and company responded. CSU opened the second quarter with a 55-yard drive resulting in a field goal. After the defense forced a three-and-out, quarterback Nick Stevens led an 85-yard drive that ended in a touchdown.
With just over two minutes remaining in the half, the Rams trailed the nation’s best by only seven points. An inkling of hope crept into CSU fans nationwide as momentum shifted out of the hands of the Tide. Realistically, it’s difficult for CSU to expect more than that when competing against the juggernaut that is Alabama football. Though the Rams lost by three possessions, the ability to battle back from such an adverse situation is invaluable heading into conference play.
That said, it’s difficult to fault CSU’s presumed biggest competitor in the Mountain Division, Boise State. After all, the Broncos are 2-1 with their sole loss coming in a triple-overtime thriller against the No. 21 team in the country. But in the loss, the Broncos held a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter. That complacency is alarming for a team picked to win its division.
Meanwhile, the Rams have proven they are battle-tested in 2017. No longer will you see a team that cowards under pressure or gives in to the bright lights.
Instead, expect to see a group of fighters who have put themselves in position to win a MW championship.
Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.