In a turbulent year that could’ve quickly turned into a transitional season, Colorado State was resilient and fought to finish 7-5 in the regular season.
With that 63-31 trouncing of San Diego State in California two weeks ago, Mike Bobo became the first head coach in school history to enjoy back-to-back seven-win seasons to start his career. Without a doubt, Bobo must be commended for his ability to rally his Rams and to keep the locker room together, even when defensive coordinator Tyson Summers left in the offseason, and even when there was no clear-cut starting quarterback and he had to play his top three.
When the Rams were nearly shutout by CU to kick off the season, losing 44-7, it looked like a long year was in store for Colorado State. To see the Rams on the other side of a blowout to finish the year – they also handed UNLV and Fresno State beat-downs – was telling of how much this group was able to grow up and grow together.
Most improved player on the team? That would have to be Nick Stevens, who’s evolution was evident both on and off the field. Stevens started the season terribly, with two interceptions in the Rocky Mountain Showdown, and fell to third on the Rams’ depth chart. But, as Bobo explained many times down the stretch of the season, Stevens responded incredibly well to his benching, becoming a better leader in practice as well as during games, even if he wasn’t the starter.
When freshman Collin Hill went down in Week 6 against Utah State, the fear from fans was that CSU’s offense would regress once again. Instead, it flourished under Stevens, a redshirt junior who seemed to finally grasp the offense in concrete ways. He not only gained confidence in understanding the offense, but Stevens found confidence in himself as a superb passer.
Over those final six regular season games, Nick Stevens completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 1,451 yards and 14 touchdowns with one interception. His 374-yard, two-touchdown performance against Air Force was his best of the season according to Bobo, and the offense did everything in their power to win despite the defense’s inconsistencies. Including that loss, Colorado State went 4-2 with Stevens at the helm to end their 2016 regular season and the offense showed signs of incredible improvement in multiple areas.
Over their last five games, the Rams offense scored an amazing 47.1 points per game. Much credit has to go to CSU’s dominating offensive line, who allowed a mere 1.08 sacks per game this season, which was 13th-best in the nation. That offensive line regularly blew opponents off the line of scrimmage, helping the team’s top-three running backs scamper for 2,052 yards and 22 touchdowns. In the win over New Mexico, Colorado State taught the nation-leading Lobos how to run the ball: The Rams rushed for a combined 412 yards, with three backs went over 100 yards, a first in program history.
Two more stats which show CSU’s offensive improvements: Their 12th-best in the nation turnover average (1.0 per game) and sixth-best red-zone scoring percentage (94.0).
Of course, offense is the name of the game with Bobo as the head coach, so Ram fans can rest easy knowing that side of the ball has come together over the course of this season. Bobo – along with receivers’ coach Alvis Whitted – developed Michael Gallup quickly, taking him from a rough rock to a polished diamond over the course of one season.
Astonishing gains were made on the defensive side of the ball, too, for Colorado State, especially in the second half of the season, save the show Air Force put on. UNLV was limited in their offensive attack, getting shut out for the first half of that game, while CSU followed it up with a shutout of Fresno State one week later. It was the Rams’ first shutout since 1997.
When the Falcons went wild on offense, CSU bounced back to limit the best rushing team in the nation (New Mexico) to a sub-par day, and they basically shut down San Diego State – the Mountain West champs – in the first half of the regular season finale.
Kevin Davis is the hero and leader of Colorado State’s defense, a senior who’s versatile and finds his way to the action no matter which way the ball goes. Davis led the team with 101 total tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss, while he was a co-leader in sacks (3.0). And with so much turnover on that side of the ball, a ton of youngsters were able to step up and play well: Arjay Jean, Toby McBride, Jamal Hicks and Robert Awuganyi — all true freshmen on the defensive side alone.
Offensively, Hill, Marvin Kinsey Jr. and Anthony Hawkins were more first-year college football players to make big-time impacts and plays.
It points to the fact that Bobo and Co. are doing well in the recruiting department, that Colorado State has a chance of progressively improving in the next few years.
Now, with the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the Idaho Vandals awaiting, CSU has one more game to win, one more time to take care of business.
“I think you look at it as another challenge,” Bobo said in a teleconference Monday afternoon about playing Idaho in Boise. “I’m excited about playing Idaho in their home state. I’m sure our fanbase is going to bring a number of fans.”
No matter the outcome, the Rams 2016 season will be defined by grit, grinding out wins and the glory of making a fourth straight bowl game at the end because they’re never satisfied. Just like their leader, Mike Bobo.