Monday, August 26, 2019

You Play To Win The Game (Part II)

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Mikey's Prediction Table

Preseason Predictions

The warm temperatures that are permeating through Colorado late into August are causing my brain to have issues accepting that fall is on its way. Despite the unbearable heat, autumn is coming and is bringing our favorite things with it: pumpkin flavoring, hoodie weather (PLEASE!), changing colors, and college football!!

Last season was a year of program changes from top to bottom. The two coordinator positions were new, the Rams had the least amount of starting experience in college football, and projected stud quarterback Collin Hill was sidelined for a chunk of the season recovering from surgery on his left knee. Add in a week-long hospital stay for Mike Bobo during fall camp and his lingering health issues throughout the year, and you get a program with some obstacles to overcome. Despite this systemic upheaval and regression indicators, I predicted the Rams to go 8-4. My predictions went 5-7. The Rams went 3-9. My heart was 0-12.

The Coaching Staff

Courtesy of Mile High Sports
This year provides my favorite football team with some stability - whether that is a blessing or a curse is yet to be determined. The coaching staff remains mostly intact with just three coaches moving onto different opportunities - strength and conditioning coach Ryan Davis was lured away by Maryland, safeties coach Eric Lewis was hired on by Boston College, and wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted took the same role for the Green Bay Packers. The biggest and most worrisome of these departures is that of Whitted, arguably the best wide receiver coach in NCAA football. Whitted is a gifted recruiter and a wide receiver whisperer, having recruited and coached the likes of Rashard Higgins, Michael Gallup, Preston Williams, and Bisi Johnson. A former NFL receiver, Whitted was able to deftly craft his receiving corps into NFL-quality players. With freakishly talented Warren Jackson set to make a statement and a glut of incoming talent (including Auburn transfer Nate Craig-Myers and several highly regarded true freshmen), recently promoted Joe Cox hopes to continue the run of wide receiver success in Fort Collins.

The Offense

Courtesy of CSURams.com
The program stability extends to the roster, as well. Collin Hill returns this season with the one thing that has avoided him most of his career - his health. Hill has been the hope for this program for a few years now, but has been unable to string together a full season of starts. His rehabilitation from his last injury is complete and he has been taking the #1 snaps all through the summer. Hill attended the Manning Passing Academy over the summer and the reports were encouraging. Chris Mortensen confirmed that Hill was a standout among the attendees and is a player to watch going forward. If Hill plays as well as his lettuce looks, he will be a top 10 quarterback in college football. The potential has always been there, the man has shown flashes, and 2019 would be a great time to showcase his capabilities for a full season. Should something befall Hill, the Rams have a solid backup in Patrick O'Brien, a Nebraska transfer who was originally recruited by CSU. Still, the offensive success of this unit will follow the trajectory of QB1. The trajectory of QB1 will follow the successes of the offensive line - a unit that struggled to control the line of scrimmage in 2018. The Rams need to be better at the point of attack if they want to put points on the board. They hope that new giant left tackle TJ Storment (6'-7", 320 lbs) will clear running lanes and hold a pocket for their quarterback. This team definitely has the firepower to score points. Marcus McElroy and Marvin Kinsey will be the thunder/lightning combo in the backfield. The aforementioned receiving corps is deep and skilled. Cameron Butler, Trey McBride, and Griffin Hammer are a formidable trio of pass catchers at the tight end position. Will there be enough improvement along the line to let the skill positions run?

The Defense

Courtesy of Rashad Ajayi
Despite the return of a healthy Collin Hill, the success of this program will be dictated by how well the defense can improve over the previous seasons. Two years ago, the late game defensive breakdowns inhibited the Ram's ability to move from good to great. Last year, the defense was nothing short of awful -- unable to put any pressure on the quarterback while getting gashed for big play after big play. A bright spot from the deep darkness of 2018 was Rashad Ajayi. A sophomore cornerback, Ajayi might be the best player on the defensive side of the ball. As a true freshman, Ajayi started all 12 games and was the best and most consistent part of the Rams secondary. Ajayi was so much better than his cohorts that opposing teams basically ignored his side of the field, picking apart whoever was playing the opposite side. A more experienced pair of starting safeties (Jamal Hicks and local kid Logan Stewart) and better athleticism at the cornerback position are defensive coordinator John Jancek's solution to limit the big plays that plagued this squad last year. The secondary could be the best in the Mountain West Conference, but it would not matter if the front seven does not take a positive step this year. Copying a sentence from the paragraph on the offense: the Rams need to be better at the point of attack. I could point to any of those 2018 losses and show you play after play where the opposing offensive lines moved the Ram defensive front wherever they wished. This backwards leaning defense must disappear if the Rams hope to turn the corner.

The Schedule

The Ram's schedule does not do them any favors. They start the non-conference slate with the new Mel Tucker version of CU that still includes Heisman hopeful in Laviska Shenault and third year starting quarterback in Steven Montez.

The non-conference schedule continues with a winnable game at home against Western Illinois.

Arkansas was horrible last year and suffered a loss in Canvas Stadium to the eventual 3-9 Rams. The Razorbacks will be amped up for their revenge game in their house.

The final non-conference game brings high-flying Rockets from Toledo to Fort Collins.

Conference play begins with arguably the best Mountain West team in Utah State.

San Diego State heads to Colorado, where it will inevitably blizzard but yet the perfect weather patrons of San Diego will still rush for 300 yards and throw for another 300.

New Mexico was the only team behind the Rams in the Mountain Division last season. Rams should be good enough to win this game on the road.

Fresno State won the West Division of the Mountain West Conference, then proceeded to beat Boise State (what's that like?) in the Mountain West Conference Championship game. In Boise. On the Smurf Turf. It will be tough to beat the Bulldogs on the road.

UNLV continues their poor run in football.

Air Force and Wyoming are rivalry games that NEED to result in trophies coming back to CSU's campus.

CSU has never beaten Boise State in football. Ever.

The Predictions

After last years flop, any bowl game will be a great goal for this squad. More importantly, Mike Bobo is 2-10 versus CU/Wyoming/Air Force. He is 0-4 against CU and 1-3 against both Wyoming and Air Force. His only victories in these rivalry games came in year one with the leftovers of McElwain's recruits. If this team ends up below .500 without a victory against one of those three schools, Mike Bobo might be looking for a new gig. I sure hope that is not the case. Prove me wrong, Rams!! 

WeekOpponentPredictionResultFlick's Picks
1Colorado (Denver)LCU 52 - CSU 311 - 0
2Western IllinoisWCSU 38 - WIU 132 - 0
3at ArkansasLUA 55 - CSU 343 - 0
4ToledoWUT 41 - CSU 353 - 1
5at Utah StateLUSU 34 - CSU 244 - 1
6San Diego StateLSDSU 24 - CSU 105 - 1
7at New MexicoWCSU 35 - UNM 216 - 1
8BYE------
9at Fresno StateLCSU 41 - FSU 316 - 2
10UNLVWCSU 37 - UNLV 177 - 2
11BYE------
12Air ForceW
13at WyomingW
14Boise StateL


Final regular season record: 6-6