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November will define 2023 season for Colorado State

Justin Michael Avatar
November 1, 2023

Colorado State (3-5) fell to Air Force (8-0) for a seventh year in a row on Saturday. 

The Rams kept it close for the first 30 minutes, but ultimately the Falcons showed why they are a top 20 team with the way they dominated down the stretch. And after being tied at 13 apiece at the break, Air Force pulled away for a 30-13 road win on a cold, snowy night. 

While the in-state rivalry loss is always a bitter pill to swallow — even more so after years and years of the matchup being one-sided — with one month remaining in the regular season and the Rams needing at least three wins to reach bowl eligibility, there is no time to fixate on what could have been. 

CSU was either tied or had the lead at halftime in four of five losses this season. If a small handful of plays went differently, the Rams could very well be 5-3 right now. 

The thing about “so close” is it only goes so far. So while there has been improvement by the Rams in 2023, if they cannot find a way to consistently execute on both sides of the ball down the final stretch here, they’re going to miss the postseason once again. 

Oct 28, 2023; Fort Collins, Colorado, USA; Colorado State Rams quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi (16) rolls out looking for an open receiver against the Air Force Falcons at Sonny Lubick Field at Canvas Stadium. Photo Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Starting with the Border War on Friday night, the Rams have a chance to truly define the 2023 season. 

A postseason bid accompanied with wins over Boise State and Wyoming would be a pretty fun run after what we’ve had to watch over the last half-decade. 

However, if the Rams stumble and fall, and they end up losing two or more of these final four, it’s definitely going to feel like a letdown considering the top talent on the roster. CSU very realistically has about four of the top 15 players in the Mountain West. Between that and the progress we’ve seen in pass protection, this is a team that should absolutely be bowl bound. It’s up to them to go out and make it happen though. 

Nov 12, 2022; Fort Collins, Colorado, USA; Wyoming Cowboys running back Dawaiian McNeely (30) is up-ended by Colorado State Rams defensive back Jack Howell (17) at Sonny Lubick Field at Canvas Stadium. Photo Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Fortunately for the Green & Gold, while the final stretch still certainly presents its own unique challenges, it does feel like the Rams have a more favorable slate of games than what they have played over the first two months. 

You never want to discount any league opponent, but CSU should be favored in three of its final four. So at least on paper, if the Rams win the games they are supposed to, a bowl bid is still very much in play. 

Again, the games are determined by the effort on the gridiron and not on spreadsheets, but CSU has the best offense of the bunch by a pretty significant margin. The Rams currently rank 57th nationally in total offense. Of CSU’s final four opponents, only Hawaii (No. 98) is even in the top 100. 

Of course, the great equalizer could certainly be defense, or a lack thereof. The top-ranked group in total defense is Wyoming at No. 81 nationally. CSU (121), SDSU (110), Nevada (125) and Hawaii (91) are all in the bottom third of the country. 

If there is a silver lining as far as the defense goes, the Rams have defended the run well of late, which could be a big factor in the Border War. Wyoming QB Andrew Peasley has stepped up in the big wins for the Cowboys but their goal is certainly always to lean on the rushing attack.

You could say the same about the Aztecs and Wolf Pack — both teams average 35+ carries per game and try to wear their opponents down physically. 

And outside of Hawaii which has the No. 21 passing offense in the FBS, the next-highest passing unit that the Rams will play is Nevada (109). For comparison, the Rams currently rank fifth in the FBS in passing offense (331.5 yards per game).

Oct 21, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; UNLV Rebels running back Vincent Davis Jr. (5) is knocked out of bounds by Colorado State Rams defensive back Jaylen Gardner (20) during the third quarter at Allegiant Stadium. Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Going back to his introductory press conference, Jay Norvell has been a big proponent of finishing the year better than they started. The Rams did that in 2022, albeit in a losing campaign. They can prove their growth again in 2023 by closing out November with a winning record. 

4-0 is the goal. That would mean the Bronze Boot would be back where it belongs and that the Rams took care of business against three other very beatable opponents. 

That said, from the beginning of the year, the expectation has always been 6-6.

Doubling your wins from a year ago is indisputable proof that CSU is making great strides under Norvell. And while we do hope to see this team competing for a Mountain West Championship sooner rather than later, a bowl bid was always the realistic marker for year two of a rebuild. 


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