It’s amazing the difference a season can make. A year ago today, the CSU Rams were 2-9 with no hope of a bowl game. Three hundred and sixty five days later, the Rams are 5-6, one win away from bowl eligibility and have a possible road to the post season in their sights.
Linebacker Ricky Brewer, who was a redshirt freshman with the Rams in 2007, said that this season is completely different than last year.
“It’s a totally different team,” the sophomore said. “Last year we were just trying to round the season out and get it over with. This time around we are trying to get a bowl and that means a lot. We get to go play our rivals next week and we couldn’t have it any better.”
CSU moved one game closer to their season-long goal of a bowl berth, defeating the New Mexico Lobos (4-8, 2-6 MWC) 20-6 in front of a crowd of 17,000 populating Hughes Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Gartrell Johnson led the Rams offensive attack, rolling for 127 yards and a touchdown while surpassing the 1,000-yard season rushing mark for the first time in his college career.
CSU combined the steady offensive effort with one of their strongest defensive performances of the season. The Rams gave up only two field goals to the Lobos and held UNM running back Rodney Ferguson to only 85 yards on the ground. Ferguson averaged 102 yards per game coming into Saturday’s conference showdown.
Brewer said that during the game, CSU took major strides to finally reach the potential he had seen since the start of training camp.
“Today we returned to the type of team we wanted to be at the beginning of the season,” he said. “That’s just the way it goes.”
Safety Jake Galusha explained that CSU’s transformation has gone past the field and into the surrounding community.
“If you would’ve asked anyone last year if we would be in the position we are now, they would have laughed at us,” the senior said. “I think it’s just great for the city of Fort Collins to have a team like us again, someone they can root for and be proud for.”
Head coach Steve Fairchild accepted CSU’s head coaching position expecting a very slow process in turning the Rams around. Now, a game away from the post season, the San Diego native is still taking it slow and not thinking about what would happen with a victory next week.
“The reason is because it’s the next game,” he said. “The thing we have done all year is to look at the next practice. We don’t want to look at anything beyond having a good week of practice.”
Running back Kyle Bell is one of the few Rams who have played in a bowl game (2005’s Poinsettia Bowl) and explained it’s a good feeling to know that the team has taken big enough strides to possibly return.
“That’s one of the big things we have taken so much pride in is getting this program back,” the senior said. “We know what going to the bowl game and extending our season would mean to the program. As a senior class we want to do that and as a team we want to do that and we still have one more game before we can but it would be huge.”
The Rams have one final obstacle in the quest for a postseason berth and it comes in the form of the University of Wyoming. The Cowboys were eliminated from bowl contention due to a 14-22 loss to UNLV Thursday night and would like nothing more than return the favor against CSU.
Bell is expecting a fight from the Cowboys and said CSU has to continue their development to come out with a victory.
“It’s going to take everything we’ve got,” the Weld county native said. “I think the main thing is going up there and getting ready to play the best football game we’ve got.”
Football beat reporter Adam Bohlmeyer can be reached at email@example.com.