As we approach kickoff the anticipation is building for bowl season and of course Washington State and Colorado State will be the first game up this upcoming Saturday.
We wanted to get an inside look at the Rams and Mile High Sports writer Rich Kurtzman was good enough to help us out in this Q&A. We also answered some questions of his, if you want to check that out click HERE.
ACU: The bowl invite is always a boost and coach McElwain was pretty clear he and the team are excited about it. But are CSU fans really satisfied with the 7-6 record? Looking at the schedule, there were more games out there to be won.
RK: Fans want their team to win every game, but coming from the place the Rams were at, I think Ram fans can accept the 7-6 record and are excited their team is in a bowl game once again. It’s been far too long, with three straight 3-9 seasons mixed in between their last New Mexico Bowl appearance in 2008. McElwain has righted the ship at Colorado State; from 3-9 the year before he started, to 4-8 last season and into a bowl at 7-6 this year. The sky is the limit for Coach Mac and CSU, now they must improve once again next season, with much more expectations placed on their play. But first, a bowl win would be the cherry on top of this turnaround season.
ACU: Has the team progressed up to expectations so far under McElwain and the new coaching staff? Is the future as bright as it looks there or is this going to be tough to maintain? What’s your prediction for 2014?
RK: For a Colorado State fan, the second half of this season has to be encouraging. The Rams went from losing close contests to their rival Colorado and then Tulsa in the beginning of the year to blowing out some opponents and putting up 50-plus points four times to finish strong. CSU won five of their final seven games, which is a sign the players are finally grasping the level of attention to detail McElwain expects in practice, film study and during games. 2014 should see yet another improvement from the team overall, and a second straight bowl appearance should certainly be within the Rams’ reach. Any slippage or backtracking and the fanbase will panic.
ACU: Obviously as CSU’s most recognizable player, we know Bibbs should return for 2014, but who else gives the Rams hope of stepping into the next echelon of the MWC?
RK: Garrett Grayson just completed his best – and arguably one of the greatest – passing seasons for a CSU quarterback. He’ll be back as a senior and should step into the starting role. Although, McElwain loves competition at every position, so even he should be pushed in spring and then fall camp. Two of his top receivers in freshman Rashard Higgins and tight end Kivon Cartwright, who will be a senior, will also be back and their experience in the offense should pay dividends. On defense, guys like safeties Trent Matthews and Kevin Pierre-Lewis, as well as linebacker Cory James are all redshirt sophomores and each have learned along the way this season. CSU will have the talent to improve next season, and these men listed must step up as leaders.
ACU: Shaquil Barrett won the MWC Defensive Player of the Year, but the stats say he might not even be the best defender on his team. What’s your take on this linebacking corps? How’s the secondary held up this season?
RK: The linebackers have been the core of the defense all year long, while the secondary has been its biggest weakness. Multiple communication issues have led to the Rams repeatedly being burnt like toast for huge passing touchdowns, something they’ve worked on but haven’t necessarily “fixed.” In front of them, Barrett is the pass-rushing master, going around offensive tackles as if they’re stuck in the mud. Cory James likes to rush opposite of Barrett at times and Max Morgan is certainly stout against the run; each are hard-hitting players that know how to fly to the ball.
ACU: Washington State practiced a few times (albeit with limited coaches and mostly working with the young guys) last week and are full bore this week in preparation. From what we have heard, the Ram coaching staff decided to recruit all last week instead of practice. Is that accurate and if so how does that effect the team in your opinion? Will they be a little rusty?
RK: Yes, Colorado State spent last week recruiting and the Rams got back to practice on Friday. When I attended (after the practice as media is not allowed to attend) both McElwain and the players admitted to being a little rusty. But what McElwain was happy with was the team’s effort and energy, saying he believed the rest was good for their legs. It will be very interesting to see how the Rams perform in the New Mexico Bowl, as none of them have ever gone through a down period this long after a season and then turn it back on for a bowl game.
ACU: What’s your Gildan New Mexico Bowl prediction?
RK: I see a barn-burner in the makings. WSU loves to pass the ball and CSU is suceptible to giving up the bomb for touchdowns. On the other side, Colorado State hit their stride down the stretch run and it was nearly impossible for anyone to stop Bibbs’ remarkable running. CSU 52 – WSU 49.
Thanks again to Rich and Mile High Sports for obliging us in this Q&A. We wish their Colorado State Rams the best of luck in the future as they continue to rebuild their program, just not Saturday.