Colorado State is riding high off their first win of the season and spirits are soaring.
And now they face the National Champion Crimson Tide in Alabama this Saturday; the Rams' excitement is boiling over.
“I'm excited. I can't wait,” Rams starting quarterback Garrett Grayson said of playing Alabama this week. “Everybody in the country, in the world, obviously is doubting us. Hopefully we're going to go down there and shock the world. That's the mindset we have. We have nothing to lose. They have everything to lose. That's the kind of the mentality we're going in (with).”
That's not a bad way to look at it.
If Colorado State can somehow find a way to win, it would really shock the college football world. Not only is Alabama the reigning National Champion – and winner of three of the last four titles – they're also the No. 1 team in the country. Plus, CSU is only 1-2 currently, winning last week over the Cal Poly Mustangs of the FCS.
“I always look forward to competition like that,” senior linebacker Shaq Barrett said of Alabama. “It's just an opportunity to go out there and show what we can do as a team. I'm pretty sure a lot of the other guys on the team feel as though we can go out there and give them a game.”
Barrett is fresh off winning the MW Special Teams Player of the Week for his two blocked field goals against Cal Poly, and he'll have to be spectacular both on special teams and in his usual linebacker role this week to help make it a game against 'Bama.
This is the first time CSU has faced the No. 1 team in the country since 2004, when they lost to USC 49-0.
Clint Oldenburg was on that Rams team, and when I talked to him earlier this summer, he told me about how playing the top team can be beneficial, win or lose.
“I think about my experience playing USC,” Oldenburg explained. “There's basically two things notice in a game like this; No. 1 early on, you're kind of hanging on and you start to believe 'Alright, I can play with these guys,' and you get that confidence and you a like, 'Alright, this is just another football game,' which is good and what happened to us is USC turned it on. Matt Linehart, Reggie Bush – they had all these first round picks getting ready for the league – and they turned it on and we got our butts kicked. It becomes a humbling experience. If we can raise the level of everyone playing on the team just a little bit, you can go from playing Alabama or USC back to the Mountain West and be much better for it. It's just a matter of what the mindset is, the maturity level of the team and what they can take from it.”
“I think this game has the potential to be a very critical turning point for the program based on what it can do to guys,” he continued. “The team is going to be a very mature team and regardless of the outcome of the game, they have to take some certain things from it.”
But some don't just want to learn from the experience.
“We've got to look forward to it,” senior running back Chris Nwoke said. “We've got to have a winning attitude. We're going down there to win, not just a good experience.
“We've got to go down there and be us. Let's be us. We showed a little bit of it today but there's still more to come,” Nwoke finished Saturday evening.
Can the Rams win?
Colorado State of the Mountain West Conference is 1-2, an absolute underdog against 2-0 Alabama of the superior South Eastern Conference.
The likelihood isn't high that CSU wins, but it's not impossible either.
That's why they play the games, after all.
It would take a near perfect contest from Colorado State to walk away with a win, though, in all three phases.
Grayson would have to play lights-out again. While he enjoyed the career-high tying 297-yard and two touchdown performance last Saturday, Grayson needs to follow it up with another similar game. He has to be accurate, hang in the pocket to complete passes under pressure and, most importantly, not turn the ball over.
Nwoke, who had 133 yards rushing last week, needs to play with that same physicality and determination, while Donnell Alexander and Kapri Bibbs will have to turn on the speed and create big plays on the ground, too.
Defensively, the Rams must create turnovers to maximize their chances, while playing sound with their techniques against Alabama's amazing rushing attack. A.J. McCarron is a top-tier quarterback, as well; he lit up Texas A&M for 334 yards and four touchdowns in their 49-42 win last Saturday. CSU's defensive backs – who have been very good besides a couple huge blown assignments – must communicate coverages and fly to the ball.
And if Colorado State could get the injured Joe Hansley back to return a punt for a touchdown, or have Barrett block a few kicks, it will only bode well for the Rams' chances.
The game kicks off at 5 p.m. MT on Saturday and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
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