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Michael: Colorado State can’t afford to start conference play with loss

After an up and down start through the first month of the season, Colorado State has an opportunity to start conference-play on a positive note with a win over Wyoming Saturday.

CSU may not have gotten off to the fast start Ram fans were hoping for in Mike Bobo’s second season, but sitting at .500 through the non-conference portion of the schedule is not a bad place to be. Beating Colorado and/or Minnesota certainly would have been impressive feats for a Ram team that returned just two defensive starters and lost the two leading receivers from the year before, but inexperience and instability cost CSU in both games.

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CSU competed well on the road against an extremely experienced Minnesota team and the Rams had every chance in the world to upset the Gophers. The loss was disappointing because the Rams hurt themselves with missed tackles and two turnovers, but there were a lot of positives to build off in the one-score loss.

Now 2-2, the Rams have established their starting quarterback, the offensive line has produced at an elite level in back-to-back weeks and the success in the running game against the Gophers allowed the offense to move up-tempo. After scoring just seven points against CU in week one, Bobo’s offense is in a much better place as the team heads into this matchup with Wyoming.

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Colorado State beat Wyoming 26-7 in the 2015 Border War Photo credit: Abbie Parr

Along with the added tension of a rivalry game, winning this Saturday would be huge for the Rams’ Mountain West Championship hopes. More important than the Rocky Mountain Showdown, going undefeated, or shocking a power-five opponent, the end goal for this program is to win a Mountain West Championship for the first time in 14 years. That goal remains achievable and the path to attaining it begins Saturday with the 107th Border War.

I am not trying to over hype Wyoming, especially after they found a way to lose to Eastern Michigan last Saturday. However, a win over the Pokes would be the first CSU victory in a conference opener since 2011, a 17-14 victory over New Mexico.

The margin for error is extremely slim for the Rams, whom reside in the Mountain Division with Air Force, Boise State, New Mexico, Utah State and Wyoming. Typically any more than one conference loss eliminates any opportunity for reaching the Mountain West Championship game, so losing the first conference game over the past four seasons has all but put the Rams out of contention right out of the gate. If the Rams want the opportunity to consistently compete for a MW title, this will have to be the first trend to change.

In all fairness, the Rams have drawn a fairly tough conference opener the past two seasons with road games at Utah State (2015) and Boise State (2014). Losing to the train wreck that is Wyoming would be an embarrassment though, especially for a program that has dreams of reaching the power-five.

CSU needs to focus one week at a time, but the reality is the outlook of the entire 2016 season would change with a loss. Aspirations of conference championships would shift to finding a way to finish the season .500. Excitement from the fans would diminish and in all honesty, most would just set their sites to 2017 and the on-campus stadium.

On the other hand, a win would set the tone for the rest of the season and would put enormous pressure on Utah State to come away with a road victory in Fort Collins in week six, after the Aggies lost to Air Force last Saturday. I am a firm believer in momentum and the role it has on a team. Sometimes all it takes for a team to come together is the initial win and the rest falls into place as the team gains confidence.

Wyoming is an opportunity for a young Colorado State team to start conference play on their home turf, under the lights and in front of what will probably be one of the larger crowds of the season. It still feels like this team is searching for for it’s identity, but a rivalry win would be a perfect way to kick off the Mountain West campaign.

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Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.

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  • U

    UWrulesSep 27, 2016 at 10:05 am

    If Wyoming plays as well as it did through the first 3+ quarters at Nebraska, the only “train wreck” will be the sheep on Saturday. Minnesota is an average Big 10 team who struggled mightily against a bad Oregon State team. Go Pokes.

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