OSU just part of challenges facing Colorado State in 2017
Colorado State is not exactly easing its way into the conference portion of its Mountain West season.
Before the Rams open MWC play against Hawaii on Sept. 30, they will take on a pair of Pac-12 opponents — Oregon State and Colorado — followed by a home date against FCS Abilene Christian. Then comes a Sept. 16 visit to Alabama to face the team ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls.
That's just fine with Mike Bobo.
"I'm excited about it," says Bobo, Colorado State's third-year head coach. "You want to be at a place that accepts challenges and has high expectations.
"I told (athletic director) Joe Parker, we want to schedule some of the best teams in the country. If you want to be the best, you have to play the best. We recruit that way. We recruit all across the country. You want to sell them and who you are and who you have on your schedule."
Colorado State's Aug. 26 matchup with Oregon State is not just the season opener for both schools. It's the inaugural game of $220-million Colorado State Stadium. Tickets are gone for the game in the 36,500-seat stadium, plus standing room.
"It's first class — as nice as any stadium in the country," says Bobo, who came to Colorado State from Georgia, where he served as Mark Richt's offensive coordinator for the final eight years of his 14-year run in Athens. "We had an open house for our first scrimmage, and 21,000 fans showed up.
"Everyone is excited for the first game. It's a big responsibility for our team. Our guys are working hard to represent Colorado State the right way."
Colorado State went 7-6 in each of Bobo's first two seasons at the helm, making bowl appearances each time. Bobo replaced Jim McElwain, who went 10-3 in 2014 before leaving for Florida, where he became Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year in 2015.
Last year, the Rams went 5-3 in conference play and lost to Idaho 61-50 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Game. They averaged 52 points in their final four games — but gave up an average of 43.
The Rams showed a balanced offense last season, with 217.8 yards rushing and 244.7 yards passing per game. They finished second in the Mountain West in pass offense and total offense, both behind Boise State.
The media picks Colorado State to finish second behind the Broncos in the MWC's Mountain Division this season. The Rams return 14 starters, including quarterback Nick Stevens and receiver Michael Gallup. Gallup and center Jake Bennett were named to the preseason all-MWC team.
Stevens, a 6-3, 215-pound senior who regained his starting job midway through last season, passed for 1,936 yards and 19 touchdowns with five interceptions. He threw for 445 yards and five TDs in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
"Nick's confidence is extremely high going into the season," Bobo says. "He's on the same page with his receivers. Nick has great command of our offense and understands what we're trying to do, which made him really efficient the last half of last season."
Gallup, a 6-1, 200-pound senior, is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list as one of the nation's premier receivers. He was named first-team all-MWC a year ago after hauling in 76 passes for 1,272 yards and 14 scores.
"Michael was one of the better players in our league last year," says Bobo, who coached the likes of Aaron Murray, Matthew Stafford, A.J. Green, Knowshon Moreno and Todd Gurley while at Georgia. "He still has to improve as a route runner, but he's strong and hard to bring down. His yards-after-contact are probably as good as I've ever had from a receiver."
Colorado State returns its top three tailbacks from the 2016 campaign. Third-year starter Dalyn Dawkins, a 5-9, 185-pound senior, rushed for 919 yards (5.7 average) and four touchdowns. Izzy Matthews, a 6-foot, 210-pound junior, ran for 734 yards (4.8) and 13 TDs.
Marvin Kinsey, a 6-1,190-pound sophomore, carried for 546 yards (5.7) and seven scores.
The Rams' base offense is pro style.
"But we have elements of all offenses," Bobo says. "We'll get in two-back and I-formation, or we'll spread you out and go four open without a tight end. It depends on which personnel groups are best for our team."
Bobo's first two Colorado State teams have been offensive-oriented, and it will probably be that way again this season. But the defense looked strong in both preseason scrimmages, "especially on third down and in the Red Zone," he says.
"We just hope we get better as a team in all three phases this season," Bobo says. "At the end of last year, we were playing at a high level offensively. We played at a high level at times defensively. We're looking to become more consistent all around. We have consistency in our coaches — the same offensive staff for three years, the same defensive staff for two — so hopefully that will carry over."
Bobo says he has plenty of concerns about his 2017 team. Like Oregon State, Colorado State loses three starting offensive linemen and two members of its starting secondary from a year ago. Also gone is all-conference punter Hayden Hunt.
"You never know until you get out there and play," Bobo says. "We have to replace some guys offensively. We have some young guys defensively who are trying to find their identity."
Asked about Oregon State, Bobo first mentions 6-3, 235-pound tailback Ryan Nall.
"Look like he's about 245, and he has good vision, runs with power and speed," Bobo says. "We've seen him run away from defenses in the Pac-12.
"They have good variety in their defenses. They run a lot of blitzes from different places, and they're very active to the ball and athletic. Their front is bigger than we'll face in most of our conference games.
"It's going to be a tough challenge for our team because of the quality of players Oregon State has. And coach (Gary) Andersen has done a nice job of doing it the right way. They improved through last year and have confidence going into this year."