CSU football prepares to take on a new challenge: “The Swamp”

Eddie Herz

Colorado State football is ready to embrace the challenge of “The Swamp,” also known as Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The University of Florida packs over 90,000 fans suited in Gator gear for each home game in the largest venue in Gainesville, Florida. 

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The stadium, which Florida has been playing its home games at since 1930, earned its nickname for a number of reasons including the swamp-like and humid conditions that Gainesville provides. Another is that, just like in a swamp, enemies who dare to enter get swallowed up by the Gators who reside there.

“When you see that size and speed, it always felt like when you played Florida that the field was almost 200 yards instead of 100 yards long,” Coach Mike Bobo said. “You are fighting for every yard when you play a defense like Florida.”

The name is fitting. Rarely do opponents escape the murky, unforgiving waters of “The Swamp” triumphant. Florida has gone 150-29 at home since 1990. Its home winning percentage of 83.8 over that span ranks third in the FBS behind only Ohio State and Florida State.

Defeating Arkansas last week improved CSU’s overall record against SEC opponents to 2-12 all-time. The Rams’ record on the road against SEC foes is 1-11 with the lone win coming against Louisiana State University in 1992.

The Rams are coming off of a monumental victory over an SEC opponent just as Florida is coming off of a loss as the Gators simply are not as good as they have been in years past. All of these factors bode in CSU’s favor. But, playing at “The Swamp,” which the Rams’ have never done, is difficult nonetheless.

Simply hearing play-calls will be a whole new complexity that CSU will be forced to overcome given the level of crowd noise.

“The crowd noise bars none,” senior running back Izzy Matthews said. “You literally can’t hear three inches in front of you. It’s the whole game too. It doesn’t matter what the score is. It’s loud the entire game.”

No Mountain West road environment comes close to matching the intensity that “The Swamp” provides. Fortunately, playing in Tuscaloosa against the Alabama Crimson Tide does, a challenge the Rams’ encountered last season and nearly succeeded in before losing 41-23.

Playing Alabama last season helped prepare many current CSU players for some of the challenges they will be faced with Saturday.

“Anyone that was there last year knows what it’s like to go out and play in front of 100,000 people,” Matthews said. “They know the feeling when you step on the field and see nothing but opposing fans and to not be intimidated but to be excited.”

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The Rams are aware of the significance that beating Florida would hold. Though some nerves will most likely be felt on game-day, the general feeling around the locker room is excitement. Excitement because of the opportunity to play on a big stage as well as the potential impact that could be made on the program.

“Two SEC teams in a row, two SEC teams in a season is huge for any non-Power 5,” senior wide receiver Olabisi Johnson said. “(Winning) would be awesome especially because last week was monumental. It would be very exciting.”

CSU could not be blamed for falling to Florida. After all, the Gators currently stand as 19.5-point favorites to win the game, the largest line against them this year. 

Bobo isn’t intrigued because of the $2 million cash prize for participating, but because of how his team will benefit, regardless of the final score. 

“Those (SEC teams) tend to get bigger bodies and faster bodies,” Bobo said. “It’s a challenge. It’s not an excuse. If we can stay healthy, I think that is going to help us on the backend of this schedule.”

With that being said, the ultimate goal for the Rams is to steal a victory in a hostile environment. Sophomore fullback and team captain Adam Prentice believes doing so begins with sticking to a simple idea.

“I really think we just need belief,” Prentice said. “Belief that we can do it and go out and execute and play to the best of our abilities. Just let go and play.”

The belief will be tested as the Rams take the field in their midday matchup with the Gators on Saturday, with kickoff shortly after 2 p.m. for fans who stay home, two hours later for those who make the trip. 

Eddie Herz can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.