Last week, both Colorado State (5-4, 2-2) and New Mexico (5-4,
2-2) were in the driver’s seat to win the Mountain West Conference
title. Both teams were tied for the conference lead with one
conference loss. Both were playing teams struggling for wins. And
both were on a collision course toward today’s game, which would
have played a large part in deciding the conference title.
But both forgot to do one thing last weekend: win.
The Rams lost to border rival Wyoming on the road 35-28, and the
Lobos got more then they wanted when UNLV went into Albuquerque and
squeaked out a 37-35 victory.
“I am a little surprised that both of us lost last week,” said
New Mexico head coach Rocky Long. “I thought that CSU would win,
and I thought we would win as well.”
Because both teams came up lame last week, only one of the two
is likely to be invited to a bowl game, and the winner of this game
is likely to be that team.
“If we lose a game,” Long said, “we are not getting into a bowl
The Mountain West has contractual ties to three bowl games. The
winner of the league will most likely go to the Liberty Bowl and
face the champion from Conference-USA.
The two remaining bowls then choose among the remaining
bowl-eligible teams in the league.
The Las Vegas Bowl pits its MWC choice against the fifth
selection from the Pacific-10.
The Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl pits its MWC choice
against the Big East Conference number three, four or five, or
The way things are shaping up in the MWC the winner of this game
could be headed to the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl.
“We are in for such a tough battle,” said CSU head coach Sonny
Lubick. “Both of us are fighting for our lives. A win will help the
mentality of both teams.”
With both teams coming off of a tough defeat, the shortened work
week is a blessing to everyone because it gives both the Rams and
Lobos a chance to right the ship sooner then usual.
“This game is going to be a real head-banger,” said senior Lobo
linebacker Billy Strother. “It’s going to be a game where I think a
lot of people will come out bruised and may not be able to play the
following week. I think it’s going to be a really emotional and
physical game because both teams know what’s on the line and what’s
For either team to come out ahead in this game, turnovers must
be limited and big plays contained.
In last week’s loss, the Lobos turned the ball over six times
and UNLV converted most of New Mexico’s mistakes – three fumbles
and three interceptions – into points. The Rams committed only two
turnovers last weekend, but they were both big fumbles. One cost
the Rams seven points when they failed to score, and the Cowboys
turned the other one into seven points.
To be successful, the Rams must tighten up a secondary that was
exposed once again by a team able to throw the ball effectively.
The Cowboys threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns last week, and
with New Mexico the Rams can expect much of the same.
“They are well-coached,” Lubick said. “They have good talent on
offense, and they are not afraid to go downfield throwing the
New Mexico ranks third in the conference averaging 231 yards per
game through the air, and come tonight, the Lobos will look to add
to that number behind the arm of senior quarterback Casey Kelly and
the hands of his favorite receiver, senior Dwight Counter.
“I think we’re getting there, but we’re not quite there yet,”
Kelly said of the relationship he has with Counter. “I think Dwight
is a great receiver and if we can put it all together I think we
can be really dangerous.”
The same can be said when the Rams have the ball. Bradlee Van
Pelt has thrown the ball well all year and, thanks to the receiving
duo of Chris Pittman and David Anderson, he has totaled nearly
2,200 passing yards. That number should jump today thanks in part
to a horrid Lobo pass defense that ranks last in the league and a
healthier Joel Dreessen, who saw limited action last week but will
be a bigger part of the offense this week as H-back.
“I was really pleased with that young man last week,” Lubick
said. “He only practiced twice last week, and I was surprised he
played as much as he did. He sure is a special player.”
The game kicks off at 7 p.m. in Albuquerque, N.M. It will be
televised on ESPN2. CSU has won eight of the last nine games
against UNM, including each of the last five.