The long and winding road of CSU’s record 13-game schedule ends later this month when the No. 23-ranked Rams head back to Memphis for the AXA Liberty Bowl for the third time in four years.
Awaiting the Rams in Tennessee will be the Conference-USA co-champions, the Texas Christian Horned Frogs.
No doubt this will be a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
The Rams’ offense (unstoppable force), led by Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year Bradlee Van Pelt, is averaging 31.9 points per game and ranks No. 17 in the nation in rushing offense.
The Horned Frog’s defense (immovable object) is as stingy as they come. Ranked second overall in the nation, TCU’s defenders only give up a slim 62.6 rushing yards per game.
Both teams have begun gearing up for the 1:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve match-up that will be broadcast on ESPN, and the Rams begin full practices over the weekend.
While CSU won the MWC outright to earn a bid to Memphis, the Frogs tied for the conference championship with Cincinnati. Despite the fact that TCU lost to Cincinnati 36-29 in its first game of the season, the Frogs were still selected by Liberty Bowl officials to face CSU.
The Rams will have to earn a victory if they hope to stay ranked in the top 25, and a win would also mark only the second 11-win season in CSU history. The Rams’ Liberty Bowl berth marks the first time in school history that the Rams will play in four consecutive post-season bowls.
After a promising 6-5 season in 2001, second-year head coach Gary Patterson led the Frogs to eight straight wins this year after the opening loss to Cincinnati. At 9-2 overall, the Frogs have put together their best season since 2000, when TCU had the services of LaDainian Tomlinson, now the starting running back for the San Diego Chargers.
The Rams, meanwhile, are looking to lose the sour taste that was left in their mouths after losing the regular-season finale to UNLV in Hughes Stadium. Until that loss the Rams had been riding a six-game winning streak and were ranked as high as No. 13 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
With the Frogs’ tough run defense, the game could be decided by the performance of the Rams’ record-breaking running back Cecil Sapp. With 1,495 rushing yards on the season, Sapp surpassed Steve Bartalo for the single-season rushing record, and also ran for 17 touchdowns. But if the Frogs are able to contain “The Diesel,” and force Van Pelt to make plays through the air, the game could swing to TCU.
The game may be far from the sunny destinations of other bowls, but the Liberty Bowl did get the best teams from the MWC and Conference-USA, and it should make for a solid, competitive game.