After living in Fort Collins for 13 years, nothing compared to the expectations surrounding Colorado State Rams football as what we saw in the leadup to the 2017 season.
New, awe-inspiring stadium, on campus; check.
Head coach Mike Bobo, recruiting remarkably, in his third year with the Rams; check.
Experienced talent across the board; check.
For many following CSU football, it was “Mountain West Championship or Bust” back in August, and the same could be said in the locker room as well. Bobo has coined the term “never satisfied” as his catchphrase, and his outward goal since joining the green and gold in 2015 was to win that elusive championship — one which Colorado State has not captured since way back in 2002. And Nick Stevens told us during media day that his goal is to go “14-0 with a Mountain West Championship.”
Similarly, in the past 13 years — likely in the history of the school — nothing comes close to the amount of effort, attention to detail and work that’s gone into revamping the Rams brand.
Of course, to top the list has to be the sensational new stadium, bringing football back to campus for the first time in 50 years. And what a campus it is. When I arrived in 2003, it was a campus — and city, for that matter — stuck in the 1970s. The Eddy Building, where many of my classes were, was actually constructed in the 1950s. Now, Eddy, Clark, the Lory Student Center; everything’s been reworked and brought into the 21st century.
Which only helps Colorado State as a brand, as a top-notch learning institution, as well as a top-notch football program.
Tony Frank and former AD Jack Graham wanted the stadium to be the “front porch” of the university, and now fans can sit on the New Belgium Porch, enjoy a beer as well as a football game — and all while walking across campus to get there.
— Joe Parker (@JoeParkerCSU) August 18, 2017
Graham said when he visited other schools in the SEC and Big Ten, he’d say he was from Colorado State, and they’d answer, “Oh, the Buffs!”.
There was very little in terms of national branding for Colorado State, and the last time anyone had heard of the Rams, it was when Sonny Lubick was still running the show two decades ago.
With the stadium came a giant bump in branding; national journalists as well as publications like Sports Illustrated and even ones like Forbes all highlighted the on-campus stadium in Fort Collins. Which, too, has grown up over the last 13 years, with a population explosion from 120,000 to 160,000 and growing.
And within the stadium itself, current AD Joe Parker — as well as everyone involved — knew branding was of the utmost importance. So, they put a giant Rams logo on the outside of the video board, which is the size of a basketball court. They branded the ceiling in the OCR Field Club, an amazing space which is the first of its kind for a college stadium, where fans can watch the players take and leave the field through a glass wall.
The OCR Field Club gets you into the game! pic.twitter.com/Hl7oJAMDgE
— Joe Parker (@JoeParkerCSU) August 26, 2017
The school also added a Centennial State touch, paying homage to all the 14ers around the concourse, and with the walls containing pictures of a ton of, you guessed it, Rams branding.
Nice summation in graphics. pic.twitter.com/Y2uqL24UFC
— Joe Parker (@JoeParkerCSU) August 26, 2017
With the opening of the new stadium came a chance to open the entire college football season, which Colorado State was smart to jump on, and they showed off the superb structure with a dominant 58-27 win over Oregon State of the Pac-12.
Then, Colorado State got more in terms of a bump in the national market, as their Rocky Mountain Showdown loss was overshadowed (on the Rams’ side, at least) by a controversial offensive pass interference call made in favor of the University of Colorado during that game. Even though they lost, people noticed the Rams.
Sometimes you get more exposure on purpose, sometimes it’s dumb luck. But even the good teams have to get lucky sometimes.
Last week, Bobo’s Rams played No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa in the game that reached a national audience on ESPN2. And even after CSU found themselves in an early 14-point hole, the green and gold fought back to come within seven points of the best team in the nation at one point, and then scored the most points on the Crimson Tide (23) of this young season. Even in a loss, a national audience again saw the Rams, and a team playing to their potential for a portion of the contest.
Yesterday, though, was the biggest branding bump Colorado State’s seen all season long. The school, along with their partner Under Armour, released their new “State Pride” jerseys, which have the Colorado flag stuck to both sides of the helmet as well as on each shoulder pad on the jersey top. Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com, Sportscenter and journalists like Bret McMurphy and Yahoo’s ‘Dr. Saturday’ all shared the new jerseys — which CSU will don on Nov. 11 in arguably their biggest game remaining on the schedule, a tilt against Boise State on CBS Sports Network.
11.11.17 vs. Boise State. pic.twitter.com/XetYpnd6XI
— CSU Rams Football (@CSUFootball) September 21, 2017
To connect the Colorado State brand to the Colorado brand was a remarkable idea. People are flocking to our beautiful Centennial State, and they’re buying up anything and everything with that flag logo on it. CSU was also incredibly smart to align themselves with New Belgium Brewing, the fourth-largest micro-brewery in the world and a national brand that’s also a hometown hero. New Belgium has given back to the city; their employees are also owners of the company, and the brewery works on as much renewable energy as possible.
Over the last decade, Colorado State athletics has gone from the minors to the big leagues in terms of their product, holding onto hope one of those “Power 5” conferences come calling.
The Rams have improved their brand in three key ways: They’ve switched from Russell Athletic to Under Armour jerseys and equipment, they’ve moved from Hughes Stadium to the on-campus stadium, and they’ve won consistently.
Colorado State football has played in four straight bowl games, and if they meet those lofty expectations this year, the Rams will be playing in a fifth straight this December. Jim McElwain laid the foundation of winning and Bobo has built upon it, with even better recruiting than ‘Mac’ had. Now, with the brand getting a makeover, the Rams must continue to win on the field. Wearing the new “State Pride” jerseys against Boise State is great, but can CSU beat the Broncos for the first time ever this year? Can the Rams meet their goal of playing in, and winning, the Mountain West Championship?
CSU went through the sixth-toughest out-of-conference schedule of any ‘Group of 5’ team in the nation this year, and they’ll have a chance to improve their brand in the future by playing Florida, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Arizona, Texas Tech and CU, thanks in part to Parker, McElwain and even Bobo.
So, now that the Rams have completely revamped their brand and are are getting national recognition, they must strike while the iron is hot and win football games. CSU’s (2-2) conference schedule kicks off next Saturday as they face (2-1) Hawai’i with an unbelievably late 10 p.m. MT kickoff.