Though already having started voluntary training, the Colorado State football team began truly preparing with a purpose for the first time since a prematurely ceased spring camp when the Mountain West established its once-eliminated fall season on Sept. 24.
Simultaneously, as players work to find a groove and adjust to first-year coach Steve Addazio’s playbook on the field, they remain diligent in their decision-making off the gridiron–– knowing another COVID-19 outbreak could reduce their schedule at any juncture from now through December.
“You have to also take responsibility off the field to be accountable for the whole team,” senior Marshaun Cameron described to CSU athletics representatives following Oct. 3’s scrimmage. “You could come back without knowing you have it and spread it to others. You can get it just by going to get some food. We have to be careful about everything.”
Indeed, the Rams must proceed with caution. Nevertheless, CSU can’t entirely control its destiny as an accrual of positive cases inside a fellow conference opponent’s locker room could very well impact the squad’s current calendar.
All Ram fans can do is cross the fingers while hoping the Mountain West maintains health. And for now, disregarding kickoff times, CSU has a settled slate in place. Here’s a glimpse at CSU’s upcoming schedule as the program’s new staff looks to furnish introductory dominance in 2020.
Week 1 – Oct 24. vs. New Mexico, at Canvas Stadium: According to recent history, Addazio couldn’t ask for a more inviting contest to commence his career at the helm for CSU. Upon convincingly besting New Mexico, the Rams secured their 10th consecutive victory over the basement-dwelling Lobos last season as UNM eventually cut ties with Bob Davies after the team hopelessly stumbled to its 10th sub-.500 finish in 12 years.
Defensive-oriented head coach Danny Gonzales certainly has his work cut out for him, considering the Lobos allowed the most points per game in the Mountain West (37.2) and struggled to move the ball through the air en route to a 2-10 (0-8) record in 2019.
Week 2 – Oct. 31, vs. Fresno State, at Bulldog Stadium: Fresno State’s triumphant, conference-winning 2018 campaign appeared to solidify the Bulldogs as a perennial contender atop the league. Now, FSU’s trophy-hoisting conclusion feels like a distant memory in light of the team dropping its final four outings last season.
Prior offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer takes over as head coach following Jeff Tedford’s decision to step down from his post in December. Maybe an enhanced emphasis on scoring will steer the ship in the right direction. However, offense wasn’t the issue in Tedford’s final stint. A suspect secondary surrendering 250-plus passing yards per game represented FSU’s leading cause for panic. And it doesn’t help that the Bulldogs’ weakest facet may suffer further regression after losing starting defensive backs Juju Hughes and Jaron Bryant.
Week 3 – Nov. 7, vs. Wyoming, at Canvas Stadium: CSU’s early November date against Wyoming serves as Addazio’s first legitimate opportunity to win fans over wholeheartedly. Although, even if the Rams manage to break their four-game skid against the Cowboys, there will surely be a group of pessimistic observers quick to point out how Bobo won his first-ever Border War in 2015 before failing to recapture the Bronze Boot. Still, bragging rights aside, knocking off Craig Bohl’s formidable bunch would almost undoubtedly constitute a signature victory for the first-year staff.
Wyoming retains the conference’s top running back in 1,265-yard rusher Xazavian Valladay alongside the entirety of its brick-wall offensive front. The Cowboys also boast an experienced defense, which yielded only 17.8 points per game during the previous campaign.
Week 4 – Nov. 14, vs. Boise State, at Albertsons Stadium: Speaking of marquee wins, toppling Boise State for the first time in nine tries as a program would surely do the trick. Per usual, the Rams will likely have their odds stacked against them when traveling to Boise as the Broncos return a plethora of offensive weapons following a season in which the squad’s 34.7 points per game led the Mountain West. To name a few, two of emerging quarterback Hank Bachmeier’s most-targeted receivers in Khalil Shakir and CT Thomas remain in the mix as tailback George Holani settles into Boise’s backfield with a breakout freshman campaign in his back pocket.
BSU’s primary concern pertains to rebuilding a defensive line that must progress without conference-leading sack specialist Curtis Weaver and two other crucial departures up front. Subsequently, former reserve Demitri Washington is in position to obtain enhanced duties off the edge while BSU’s staff feels encouraged about junior Scale Igiehon’s capabilities of gluing the unit together at nose tackle. The Broncos are after their third conference crown in four years.
Week 5 – Nov. 21, vs. UNLV, at Canvas Stadium: As Marcus Arroyo begins his tenure at UNLV, the first-year head coach conveniently returns senior running back Charles Williams, who scampered his way to 1,257 yards on the ground last year. Nevertheless, boasting one of the Mountain West’s top running games wasn’t nearly enough to manufacture success in Sin City as the Rebels limped to a 4-8 record. Even before starting quarterback Armani Rogers’ injury, lackluster production through the air made UNLV’s typically one-dimensional offense easy to solve.
Meanwhile, the Rebels defense –– which ranked bottom-three in the league in both yards and points allowed –– faces another uphill climb after waving goodbye to four veteran players (Rayshad Jackson, Javin White, Evan Austrie, Jericho Flowers). Each component of that quartet quartet finished within the team’s top-five individual tacklers.
Week 6 – Nov. 28, vs. Air Force, at Falcon Stadium: Air Force’s strategy throughout its current four-game winning streak over the Rams contains no secrets. Utilizing its signature triple-option attack, the Falcons have embarrassingly carved through CSU defenders for an average of 380 rushing yards per contest since 2015. Virtually no Mountain West program figured out how to impede AFA’s league-leading ground game last season either, and expect more of the same this year as prolific running backs Kadin Remsberg return with veteran offensive linemen Nolan Laufenberg and Parker Ferguson creating space in the trenches.
The Falcons always boast potency on the ground, though. An elite defense allowing less than 20 points on average constituted as the difference-maker in an 11-2 campaign. To construct similar success, AFA must find a way to compensate for graduated defensive backs Kyle Johnson, Jeremy Fejedelem and Grant Theil as well as nose guard Mosese Fifita –– the former anchor of the Falcons’ defensive front.
So far, so good for AFA. After obtaining approval to play its annually scheduled armed forces rivalries, Air Force bested Army 40-7 on Oct. 3. It’s also worth noting how the Falcons proved victorious in the absence of 2019 starting quarterback Donald Hammond III –– whose status as a cadet no longer in good standing persists.
Week 7 – Dec. 5, vs. San Diego State, at SDCCU Stadium: In the finale of now-retired coach Rocky Long’s tenure, SDSU manufactured its 10th consecutive winning season while hitting the double-digit victory mark via thumping Central Michigan in the New Mexico Bowl. Like most common challengers, the Aztecs have blown right past the Rams amid their steady affluence. CSU proceeds to the Aztecs’ new stadium as losers in six of the last seven meetings between the programs.
In 2019, Long’s squad knocked off the Rams in textbook SDSU manner –– by achieving just enough on offense to let its nationally prominent defense tell the tale. Brady Hoke, the man in charge when the Aztecs began trending positively in 2010, grasps head-coaching duties after reuniting with SDSU last season to instruct the defensive line. Given Hoke’s resume and the roster’s composition, the Aztecs are seemingly in line for another defensive-heavy campaign. And, after allowing the second-fewest points per game in the FBS (12.7), SDSU’s top-notch defense still somehow owns room for improvement. Excluding Luq Barcoo, the Aztecs retain virtually every component of their unwavering secondary.
Week 8 – Dec. 12, vs. Utah State, at Canvas Stadium: Following a laughable decade in Logan, Gary Andersen set the table for former coach Matt Wells at Utah State –– who maintained the program’s upward trajectory by sending the Aggies to five bowls in six seasons from 2013-2018. Hoping to pick up where Wells left off, Andersen and USU reunited to commence the coach’s second stint on the sidelines in 2019. However, rather than building on an 11-2 campaign, Andersen’s Aggies were plain old solid last year. Not great, not terrible, but USU performed decently while failing to turn many heads during a 7-6 season.
Decent could quite possibly become below-average as the Aggies middle-of-the-pack offense loses the conference’s third-leading passer in Jordan Love. Junior Henri Columbi initially arose as the prime candidate to fill Love’s 3,402-yard-wide shoes moving forward. Instead, USU will presumably bestow starting duties on incoming, immediately eligible Utah transfer Jason Shelley following Columbi’s decision to transfer to Texas Tech in July. Whoever assumes responsibilities under center won’t have nearly as deep an arsenal of playmakers as last season in light of graduations from primary running back Gerold Bright and top wideout Siaosi Mariner.