Welcome to Underdog U

Aug 282008
Authors: Nick Hubel

Here’s something that you probably haven’t heard that much of this week: the Rams are going to win the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

That’s right. In case you didn’t believe me the first time, the CSU football team — young, inexperienced, and slow as they are — will walk away from Invesco field this Sunday hoisting a Centennial Cup filled with Cody Hawkins’ tears.

Eleven point underdogs in Vegas, the Rams have the opportunity to officially start the Steve Fairchild Era right. Cue the cliché machine, because this is the first of many “Nobody believed in us” moments for the CSU athletic department this year.

This season the Rams are the classic underdog. A year ago, the program was in turmoil (it just didn’t know it yet). Sonny Lubick hadn’t been himself since 2003, and the bad hoodoo was spilling onto the field.

Injuries and the pressure involved with the whole “win or the football messiah of northern Colorado gets canned” thing deflated the team to the breaking point, translating into uninventive play calling, uninspired play and an understandably frustrated fan base.

One year later, all of that is gone. Fairchild comes into his first game without the burden of expectations over his head. The money is spent, Sonny has moved on. No reasonable fan can expect a complete turnaround of the program in one year.

But coaches’ brains don’t work that way. Fairchild comes from a world where he was expected at all times to make J.P. Losman into an elite quarterback or he was going to get fired. Ex-NFL guys don’t take days off from intensity.

Just think about every picture you’ve ever seen of coach Fairchild. He always looks like he’s trying to stare a hole through the camera lens. It’s terrifying. Now don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t take much to put the fear of God into a sports reporter. We eat the buffet food that gets left out in the press box before games, but that’s about as tough as we get. So it may seem exaggerated when I say he’s a generally intense guy.

But, when football players who spend the majority of their time lifting heavy objects and slamming into each other nervously laugh when asked about Fairchild’s intensity, you’ve got to believe that he’s grooving a newer and meaner culture into the program.

We can’t lose; Fairchild will not let it happen.

Are the Buffs looking past us? Probably. They play the No. 8 team in the nation, West Virginia, at home two weeks after the Showdown. (On a side note, the Buffs are warming up for the WVU game with us and Eastern Washington, which is kind of like getting ready for hole 18 at Torrey Pines with 36 holes of Fort Fun putt-putt and a drunken round at City Park Nine. Only in Boulder… I hope Bill Stewart wipes the floor with Dan Hawkins’ mop top.)

Are there a lot of ifs involved with us winning? Of course. If . Gartrell Johnson and Kyle Bell can manage to be good in the same game (or the same season, for that matter). If . Billy Farris can remember whether Kory Sperry is going to run a hook or an out AND get the ball to him. If . in the next two days, we can keep our specialty players (long snapper, place kicker, punter) out of contact drills and out of a cast.

All of this is exceedingly possible. So when you make the journey to Denver, be prepared to throw a “scoreboard” chant around and say you saw it coming all along.

Sports editor Nick Hubel can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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