The talent level is higher; the depth is better. To a man, this is a better team.
But for the third straight season, the CSU football team finished 3-9.
The Rams looked like they would win the Border War Saturday against the University of Wyoming.
Down 14-6 at halftime, CSU dominated the third quarter behind the powerful rushing attack carried by senior Raymond Carter.
Carter, who played most of the day in place of a banged-up Chris Nwoke, carried 18 times in the quarter for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
By the start of the fourth, the Rams led 19-14 and had all of the momentum.
But big plays and self-inflicted errors cost CSU.
Wyomingâ€™s three touchdowns all came on huge plays. The first was a 36-yard touchdown run by running back Alvester Alexander. And quarterback Brett Smith connected with receiver Josh Doctson twice for long touchdowns of 80 and 35 yards.
Those big plays could have easily been overcome if CSU had converted its chances.
Freshman Lee Clubb returned the opening kickoff 65 yards to the Wyoming 27. The Rams then moved the ball to the two-yard line. But a fumbled snap between quarterback Garrett Grayson and center Weston Richburg, who was snapping left-handed due to a broken right hand, forced CSU into a field goal.
Twice more the Rams were unable to convert when they got deep into Wyoming territory.
Late in the first half, CSU had the ball inside the one and scored on a quarterback sneak. But a false start canceled out the play, forcing the Rams back to the five.
And two plays later, Grayson threw an interception on a fade pass intended for tight end Crockett Gillmore.
And just before Doctsonâ€™s second touchdown that gave Wyoming a lead, kicker Chad VanderMolen hit the right upright on a 32-yard field goal attempt.
â€œObviously, when weâ€”even in the opening driveâ€”when we got our chances in the red zone, we came away with a couple field goals,â€ CSU coach Steve Faichild said. â€œOne time a missed field goal, and to come away at the end of the first half without anything, those will end up getting you.â€
Itâ€™s not hard to see how the season could have been much different.
CSU lost four games by seven points or lessâ€”three of those by a mere three points.
â€œI donâ€™t know if I can pinpoint why,â€ Richburg said on all the close losses. â€œIf youâ€™re going to be that close, youâ€™ve got to compete, and youâ€™ve got to finish it. Thatâ€™s one thing we talked about this week was finishing. I thought we were going to finish here today, and we just couldnâ€™t do it.â€
The loss now sends the senior class out with a record of 9-27 in its last three seasons.
â€œEverybody felt bad. We couldnâ€™t get the Boot back, and guys felt bad for all the seniors,â€ Carter said. â€œWe didnâ€™t get the win. I just told themâ€”the guys I talked toâ€”to keep their heads up.â€
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Final: University of Wyoming: 22 CSU: 19
Season record: 3-9
Leading rusher (on season): Chris Nwoke-200 carries, 1,176 yards, 9 TDs
Leading passer: Pete Thomas-1,607 yards, 7 TDs, 8 INTs
Leading tackler: Shaquil Barret-99 tackles