Sam’s Rams: why Utah’s 62-20 win over Oregon matters to CSU football

Sam Lounsberry

A well-deserved first-place vote in the AP Top 25 college football poll went to the University of Utah for the first time in the program’s history Monday.

The Utes’ 62-20 dismantling of Oregon dropped the previously No. 13 Ducks — who reached the College Football National Championship last year — completely out of the AP poll. This easily warrants the vote from Knoxville News Sentinel writer John Adams.
 
Once all ballots were cast, Utah ended up with the No. 10 overall ranking. Not bad considering the only other teams to receive first-place votes this week are the top three in the country: No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Michigan State and No. 3 Mississippi. All three teams have yet to win games that truly back up the high preseason ranks they’ve ridden to this point.
 
All of this news should boost Colorado State’s confidence. Just last year, the Rams met the Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl. Granted, CSU fell 45-10 in a dominating performance by the Utes, but some of the same players on CSU’s current roster tackled Utah’s current offensive leaders, quarterback Travis Wilson and running back Devontae Booker.
 
No, the Rams obviously didn’t tackle them enough, as the Utes ran for 332 yards, which included three touchdowns on the ground for Wilson and a 60-yard breakout for Booker en route to his 162 total rushing yards. But they did tackle them some.
 
And CSU’s offense did run a trick play for a TD to bring them within one score of the Utes in the opening quarter, 14-7. For just a little bit, it looked like the Las Vegas Bowl was about to be a back-and-forth offensive battle in CSU and Utah’s first meeting since 2010, when the Utes beat CSU 59-6 in the last time the teams would meet as Mountain West members.
 
 
But just because they won’t be favored to win doesn’t mean the Rams can’t play with teams of such caliber.
 
In the Las Vegas Bowl, CSU was just a stop or two away at some crucial points that could have kept the game closer. And it still presented some matchup problems for this year’s new Pac-12 front-runner that not a lot of teams could have dealt with more effectively. Rashard Higgins ended up with over 100 receiving yards, despite the fact that Garrett Grayson was rushed on nearly every drop back.
 
Plus, this all happened without a true head coach on the sideline for the Rams, as Jim McElwain had already departed for Florida, leaving Dave Baldwin as an interim coach. I’m not saying McElwain’s presence would have made a 35-point difference, but perhaps the Rams were closer than we realized to looking respectable against Power-5 juggernauts.
 
There are two takeaways from all this. First, CSU should have all the confidence in the world that it can dominate the Mountain West with its current talent level, much the way Utah did in the several years before it left the conference for the Pac-12. Second, CSU’s athletic department should feel free to schedule some non-conference games against teams in the upper echelon of a Power-5.
 
Such a task might be a tall one, but I think it is reasonable for fans to expect. These types of teams don’t even have to come to Fort Collins — the Rams should travel for opportunities to prove their worth.
 
Heck, maybe even Utah itself would be perfect.
 
With the Rocky Mountain Showdown likely coming to a close after 2020 (though I wish it wasn’t), the Rams might as well find another Power-5 school to fill a Saturday in the early season. A steady relationship already exists between CSU and Utah as the Utes are a former MW affiliate. Plus, Salt Lake City isn’t exactly far from Fort Collins, making for easy travel logistics.
 
While CSU might find it difficult to win games against true college football powers, there is plenty of truth in the statement that the only way to get better is to play better opponents.
 
Utah became nationally prominent as a MW member, switched to the Pac-12 and has continued thriving. There’s no reason CSU shouldn’t be able to make a similar rise.
 
Collegian Assistant Sports Editor Sam Lounsberry can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @samlounz.