The Colorado State Rams' biggest game of the year is this Saturday against No. 1 Alabama.
And yet, the question I keep getting asked is, “Why?”
More specifically, “Why would the Rams subject themselves to a beating?”
Sure, the odds are heavily in favor of the reigning National Champion Crimson Tide beating the Rams until they're bloodied, but this is no exhibition game.
Four weeks into their season's slate, Colorado State hopes to seriously give Alabama a run for their money, which head coach Jim McElwain said they can do by matching 'Bama's intensity.
“Look, they won't play against a team that is this big, this fast, it's just the way it is,”McElwain said Monday of his team versus Alabama. “Any team can beat a team on any given day. That's the age-old deal, right?
“Now, what you take from it in understanding how hard they play the game, and did you match the intensity?” he continued. “Or are you willing to match the intensity? Is going to say a lot about your character and your will to win.”
Starting quarterback Garrett Grayson said, “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).”
So, first and foremost, the Rams are playing to try and win the game.
They may be 39.5 point underdogs, but that doesn't mean they're not going to try their hardest to actually walk away victorious.
“I expect our guys to be excited, and they should – I mean, 102,000 people, that's season's worth in one game – and that's cool,” Coach Mac said. “And you should enjoy that. And they deserve that. They deserve that for what they've put into this team, this town and this university. The speed of the game is going to hit them (CSU) now. And the size of the game is going to hit them, OK? At the same time, it isn't about them, it's about us.”
Even if Colorado State can't win, though, there's much to come from this contest.
The $1.5 million will certainly be a much-needed boost to the bottom line, certainly, but it's not all about the Benjamins either.
If CSU does indeed play their hardest, even if they're beaten handily, they can use this game as a measuring stick by which to evaluate where exactly they are compared to the very best.
“We're not going to go down and throw a bunch of tricks and that kind of stuff,” Coach Mac explained. “We're going to go down and measure our program right now, and we'll get an opportunity in a couple years to go back. So, really to me, it's a little bit like finding a baseline. And then, let's see where we're at.”
By traveling to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, these Rams are getting an opportunity to battle against the best, see how they handle business, and then hopefully emulate the Crimson Tide in the near future.
McElwain has already tried to do that in so many ways at CSU.
From the team's RamU offseason strength and conditioning program, to the mental health training and even things like closed practices; McElwain wants his players prepared the same ways Bama's boys are.
And on top of it all, this game is nationally televised on ESPN2, a chance for Colorado State to show off their ever evolving and beautiful campus to the nation, just as AD Jack Graham envisioned. A wonderful way to bring in extra money – now that state funding for higher education is hurting – is by bringing in out-of-state students. Having a successful football program and therefore getting spots on national TV is a great way to advertise to those prospective students that may be tuning into the game.
Just imagine if Colorado State somehow found a way to win.
The game kicks off at 5 p.m. MT on ESPN2.
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Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. Follow Rich on twitter (@RichKurtzman).