The Weekly Blitz

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Dec 162009
 
Authors: Matt L. Stephens

One of the only regrets I’ve had while working for the Collegian is that I never got to cover CSU volleyball.

After transferring from the University of Arkansas my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to cover football, golf, swimming, softball and both basketball teams, but not volleyball.

But, as sports editor this year, and through sharing classes with members of the CSU volleyball team over the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know some of these young ladies.

As a student here at Colorado State, I can tell you right now that no group of individuals deserves the success that the Rams are having more than this year’s volleyball team, and I am proud to have them represent my university heading into the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Whether it’s on the court, in the classroom or around the community, their overall commitment to excellence and doing it with class is why they are the best team on campus.

For all intents and purposes, this is the “big year.”

In case you missed it, the CSU volleyball team earned, arguably, the biggest win in program history on Friday when the Rams defeated No. 6 Washington 3-1 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, advancing to regional play for the first time since 2003.

For the Huskies, CSU’s spoiler prohibited Washington from reaching the Elite Eight for only the second time in six years.

If that doesn’t impress you, let me break it down into basketball terms.

Both the volleyball and basketball NCAA Tournaments have 64 teams in their fields, but while basketball seeds every team, in all four regions, one through 16, volleyball only seeds the top 16 schools (for you diamond junkies, it’s similar to the NCAA Baseball Tournament’s process).

This translates to CSU being the No. 7 seed in the Minneapolis region, upsetting the No. 2 seed (Washington), allowing the Rams to take over that ranking.

Now comes the tough part. This will be the fifth time the Rams have made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, but never have they advanced on to the Elite Eight. In fact, CSU has never won more than one set during their Regional Semifinal berths.

With their next match being against 11th seeded Minnesota, the Minneapolis Regional’s host school, the Rams have their work cut out for them.

But, CSU shouldn’t be without support from those in the gold and green on Friday in the Twin Cities.

Senior middle blocker Tessa Nelson reigns from Balaton, Minn., and says that at least 50 of her family members who live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes will be in attendance.

Standout redshirt freshman Meghan Plourde is from Somerset, Wisc. and Lisa Parlich and Michelle Smith are fellow Wisconsinites.

Kate Steffan is a native of North Dakota and the Mountain West Conference’s Libero of the Year, Katelin Batten, was born in Iowa before moving to Colorado at age 12. Both of their families will be in attendance.

It goes without saying that there will be strong CSU support at Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion (yes, that’s what it’s actually called) Friday.

We have all been witness to what a strong crowd at Moby Arena can do for this volleyball team. Think about the impact a crowd of Ram fans could make in a facility smaller and more prone to noise than what’s here in Fort Collins.

I understand that this is asking a lot from the student body, especially the weekend prior to finals, but we’re in college and have the desire to be adventurous!

Is it too much to ask for CSU students to make the 14-hour drive to Minneapolis on for Friday’s 6 p.m. match (7 p.m. CST)? Most of us upperclassmen don’t have tough finals anyway, just projects we’ve had all semester to turn in.

Don’t you want to be a part of this university’s history? Pile four of your friends in a car, split gas costs and driving time so you can at least get some studying in, deck out in green and scream it from the top of your lungs:

I’m proud to be a CSU Ram!

Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:46 pm

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The Weekly Blitz

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Dec 162009
 
Authors: Matt Stephens

Something I never understood in football was why an assistant coach was called an “offensive coordinator” when the head coach called all of the plays. Granted, the head honcho should have final word, but if he’s the one with all of the say, then why call someone else an “offensive coordinator?”

As most of you know by now, last Thursday CSU offensive coordinator Greg Peterson was reassigned from his duties at that position, as well as from wide receivers coach, to focus all of his time on recruiting, an area he has served as coordinator for the Rams since he was hired on Jan. 14, 2008.

There is no doubt that Peterson is an excellent recruiter with his silver tongue and farm boy accent that makes him so easy to talk to. He has found quite a few sleepers for the Rams including: Lou Greenwood and CJ James, as well as potential stars like Chris Nwoke, Joe Brown and Nico Ranieri.

He’s a great recruiter and an excellent coach who comes from the tree of Bill Snyder, the man responsible for building what was possibly the worst program in college football history – Kansas State – into a national powerhouse in the 1990s. In his first year back here in 2009, the Wildcats are in a position to win the Big Twelve North.

Peterson has learned from the best, but in my eyes, he is about to leave the green and gold for good thanks to his reassignment due to one main reason.

By my count with the current recruiting class, the CSU football team has three scholarships remaining with their 14 current commitments from the 2010 class. On top of that, one has to assume that wide receiver Tyson Liggett will finally be on scholarship next year, cutting that number to two.

Now I understand that players transfer or burn out, or some commitments greyshirt — don’t decide to sign or choose to play professional baseball instead (i.e. Tyler Shreve) — but right now, there are three scholarships left. Why demote Peterson for just those three?

And it’s not as if he hasn’t coached some great wide receivers.

Dion Morton might be the most clutch wideout in the Mountain West Conference — Ryan Gardner had the best summer camp — but since his 43-yard catch against Colorado, he wasn’t really used again until this past Saturday at UNLV. And Jyrone Hickman could be the most talented receiver on this squad if he’d just get in a game, but most of you have probably never heard of him.

On top of that, the announcement came at such an odd time. With the Rams needing a win this past Saturday to keep their post-season hopes alive, why bring this distraction to the program, especially when there is a bye week coming up?

Now with Peterson’s reassignment, demotion or what have you, it raises the question of what other assistants are on hot seat?

So the “offensive coordinator” title gets dropped when the Rams’ offense ranks 97th in the country in scoring offense, what happens to defensive coordinator Larry Kerr and his staff when in total defense, pass defense and points allowed, CSU ranks 90th, 99th and 101th, respectively?

This season was a step backward when it comes to what happened on the field.

I still think this football program here in Fort Collins has a lot of promise for the future and a step back, as I called it, isn’t a red flag when rebuilding a program. But one of the main reasons I have so much hope for the Rams, in years to come, is because of Peterson and what he has done on the recruiting front.

Right now CSU has six three-star commitments (according to the Rivals.com database) and after speaking to three-star wide receiver Chris McAlister from Del City, Okla., last week, he appears to be favoring the Rams. This current class is looking strong with multiple guys who will most likely play as true freshmen next year.

While I know all coaches have their own recruiting area, to me, the overall success comes down to the coordinator – Peterson.

Someone will snatch up this Nebraska farm boy, and if he’s no longer on staff, are other additions or changes going to be made this off-season or are we looking at a house cleaning?

_
Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens can be reached at sports@collegian.com._

 Posted by at 4:19 pm

The Weekly Blitz

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Dec 162009
 
Authors: Matt L. Stephens

The CSU football team has just completed the worst season in the 11-year history of the Mountain West Conference. After starting 3-0, the Rams lost their final nine games of the season, which included eight against league foes, making them only the second school to go winless against MWC opponents in a single season as Wyoming suffered the same fate in 2000 and 2001.

What makes CSU’s performance (or would it be lack thereof?) worse than their Border War rival’s? During the first six years of the MWC there were only eight universities as TCU didn’t join until the 2005 season; therefore, the Pokes were only 0-7 in conference play compared to the 0-8 by the Rams.

Depressing, eh?

Even though I surely turned away about half of my hard working student audience here at Colorado State known as the football team with my negative lead to this column, I feel like making some way too early projections and analysis for the 2010 season.

Note to the ignorant: My remark about the football team being hard working was not sarcastic. Even with the 3-9 record, those young men are the hardest working people on campus. The chips just didn’t fall favorably.

So without further adieu, I give you my four premature keys to CSU football making it back to a bowl game in 2010:

Running backs galore

I don’t think there’s any question that heading into next season, Colorado State has the best and deepest running back corps in the Mountain West Conference. John Mosure seems to be the hardest working player on this team — no player carries the football with more force than Mosure. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in pure will.

Mosure and Leonard Mason will both be seniors next season. Combined, they had 1,406 yards nine touchdowns rushing in 2009 (766, 2 and 650, 7, respectively).

Lou Greenwood, who will be a sophomore in 2010, is guaranteed to be a star in this league. This season, he had 147 yards rushing and two touchdowns to go along with 221 yards and two scores on the receiving end of things.

Add these three with the bruiser, who is Chris Nwoke and my pick to be number one on the depth chart next year, UCLA transfer Raymond Carter, things are looking strong.

A consistent quarterback

During the first five games of the season Grant Stucker was shaping up to be a great MWC quarterback. It wasn’t until the Utah game when things started to go downhill. After that we never saw good quarterback play from anyone until Jon Eastman’s game against Wyoming in the Border War.

A successful offense needs a consistent quarterback. He doesn’t have to be the greatest, but as a coach, you need to have an idea what you’re going to get on a regular basis from under center.

I know a lot of people want redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri to start next year, mainly because of the promise a four-year starting quarterback can bring to a program. But the truth is, that might not be the best option for next season.

Jon Eastman made a great case from himself against Wyoming and assuming T.J. Borcky makes the transition back to quarterback in the spring, it’s going to be a tight battle between the two of them. If Ranieri wins the starting job, power to him, but picks are between Eastman and Borcky for the time being.

Offensive line

Colorado State was blessed with a strong and experienced offensive line during the 2010 season. The issue now: four of the five starters up front will be graduating either in December or May.

That means it’s up to guys like Mark Starr, Paul Madsen, Connor Smith, Jake Gdowski and others to pave the way. The Rams need production from their front five next year.

Welcome back, Mr. Brewer

The CSU defense had its fair share of struggles this season, especially in conference play. It didn’t help matters when Ricky Brewer, ranked second on the team in tackles in 2008, was suspended last off-season. In his place Michael Kawulok was called to step up and did so, but suffered a season-ending injury during the loss against San Diego State.

I really feel like Kawulok proved himself worthy of a starting job for this CSU team, and Klint Kubiak’s graduation opens up things for a new starter at strong safety in 2010. At 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, a hard hitter and a smart ball player, I think Brewer could be a prime candidate for the job and could really complement Elijah-Blu Smith in the secondary.

So, there you have it. My four keys to success next season. Too bad we’ll have to wait until spring to see whether or not they start to go into effect.

Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:00 pm