The season started just the way the CSU football team would have wanted it.
A 3-1 record a quarter of the way into the year and two straight home games coming up. But an upset on homecoming to San Jose State started a tailspin that has seen the Rams lose six straight.
CSU (3-7, 1-4 MW) has now been officially eliminated from bowl eligibility and its final two games the Rams have been put in the role of spoiler.
Those two games will determine the fate of their opponentâ€™s season, starting Saturday when CSU hosts an Air Force team that needs to win to be bowl eligible.
AFA is 6-5 (2-4 MW) on the season, but the Falcons canâ€™t make a bowl if they finish at 6-6 because two of its wins have come against Football Championship Subdivision teams (South Dakota and Tennessee State).
In addition to having the chance to derail AFAâ€™s season, CSU is also playing amidst the rumblings that changes could be imminent if the Rams finish the season the way they did last year with two losses by a combined score of 93-10.
But coach Steve Fairchild insists that nothing changed this week in advance of the game.
â€œOur approach and so forth is not going to change just because they have something riding on the line,â€ Fairchild said. â€œWe’ve got to prepare well this week and we plan on playing a very good game Saturdayâ€¦It’s all about us and getting better this week. We’ll try to do the things we have to do to play our best game on Saturday.â€
To pull off the upset CSU will have to handle the vaunted triple-option attack of AFA. The timing of the game has helped the Rams.
Because there were no classes during the week, the team was able to run an extra practice and meetings on Monday to help prepare for the unusual offense.
The attack is known for its potent running game, and with good reason. AFA is averaging 318 rush yards a game, third in the nation.
But maybe the biggest stumbling block for CSU will be finding a way to not get hit by big pass plays.
In matchups with AFA in the past two seasons, both losses for CSU, Falcons quarterback Tim Jefferson has thrown for two touchdowns each game by surprising the Rams with play-action passes.
â€œWhen they can throw it, they are awfully difficult to deal with,â€ Fairchild said. â€œThey have had years where they just don’t have a guy in there that is proficient enough in the pass game, but they have one now and they’re hard to stop when he can throw the football like that.â€
Trying to keep pace with the AFA offense will be a CSU attack that is expected to be led for the second straight week by freshman quarterback Garrett Grayson.
Grayson is playing because starter Pete Thomas is out with what the team has called a knee sprain.
In his first career start last week at Texas Christian University Grayson threw for 248 yards and a touchdown, but did also throw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
But the key for CSU may not be Grayson, it will be the running game.
â€œWe feel like we can run the ball on them,â€ Grayson said. â€œThey donâ€™t have a good run defense this year so we feel like we can pound the rock on them. Thatâ€™s our gameplan right now.â€
That load will fall on the broad shoulders of sophomore Chris Nwoke who has rushed for 448 yards and 6.8 yards per carry in the last three weeks.
No matter how they do it, the Rams are eager to win and show some progress to a program that kind seem to find any momentum.
â€œThey beat us the last three years,â€ Fairchild said. â€œ(Coach) Troy (Calhounâ€™s) done a good job. They’ve got a good football team, a good football program. I think we’re headed in the right direction and this would be a nice win for us.”
Join the conversation-Join a live-chat on Collegian.com and use the hashtag #afa_vs_csu on Twitter. The best entries throughout the game will be retweeted.
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Air Force Academy vs. CSU
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: Hughes Stadium
Conversation: Join our live-chat on Collegian.com and use hashtag #afa_vs_csu on Twitter. Best entries will be retweeted.