It was a forgettable 2020 season for much of the college football world. That goes double in Ft. Collins for the Colorado State Rams, which managed to play just four games of their original eight-game schedule.
It was the first year of new head coach Steve Addazio’s tenure with the Rams, but really it shouldn’t count either for or against him. With five bowl appearances on his head-coaching resume, including four at Boston College, we know he can coach. In 2020 he was given a nearly untenable position. Very few practices, a canceled season, then rescheduled for eight games. Then four of those games were canceled, including three at the last possible moment.
One big bright spot was the win over rival Wyoming and the bringing home of the Bronze Boot for the first time in five years.
Don’t tell Addazio that it was a wasted season, however. He won’t hear it. “We feel very optimistic about where we are and where we’re headed and feel like in this weird four-game sample, we got a lot done.”
It was weird, with Addazio saying that on most days, the team was down 15 to 20 players because of quarantines, positive tests, and others experiencing symptoms of a possible COVID infection. And by the time the team had completed its third game of the season, more than 40 players had tested positive for COVID-19.
There may be more problems this season as new variants emerge. But a full season is scheduled, Addazio has another year in Ft. Collins under his belt, and he has a new starting quarterback to build around.
Of the 127 FBS schools that played in 2020, only three teams played fewer games than Colorado State. It was next to impossible for the Rams to get into any kind of rhythm, and it’s challenging to draw any conclusions about 2021 from what we saw a year ago.
Game 1: 17-38 loss at Fresno State
The season was supposed to begin at home vs. New Mexico, but just five days before it was scheduled to kick-off, it was canceled, making a trip to Fresno State the first game of the season. Favored to win by 2.5 points, CSU lost by 21, giving up 348 yards through the air.
Game 2: 34-24 win vs. Wyoming
Facing Wyoming at home and getting +3.0 from the bookmakers, the Rams pulled off the 34-24 upset on the back of a pair of touchdown receptions by future NFL tight end Trey McBride (who is returning this season). The Border War rivalry has been played since 1899, and the win in 2020 was Colorado State’s series-leading 59th.
Game 3: 21-52 loss at Boise State
Boise State scored three touchdowns on blocked CSU kicks – two punts and a field goal – and the Broncos were up 21-0 by the end of the first quarter. It’s worth noting that coach Addazio coached the special teams in 2020 and said the breakdowns in blocking were the result of COVID absences. The Rams were 14-point underdogs going into the game and came up well short of covering the spread.
Game 4: 17-29 loss at San Diego State
Two more cancelations had CSU off for nearly a month before traveling to California to take on San Diego State. The Aztecs were favored by 7.5-points and easily covered that spread. CSU outgained SDSU in the game, but the loss dropped them to 1-3 on the season and 1-3 against the spread.
Mountain West Conference Outlook
It was an unusual season for a lot of reasons last year, including the team that emerged from the conference in first place – the San Jose State Spartans. It came just two years removed from a 1-11 record, and it was the first above .500 finish in San Jose since 2012. The Spartans are likely to compete for the West Division title but won’t be at the top of the conference in 2021.
The honor of best team and best record is likely to go to Boise State. They have a tough out of conference schedule, facing BYU, Oklahoma State, and UCF. But that will make their conference schedule feel light, and they are a solid bet to run the table once the Broncos head to conference play. There is a new head coach in Boise in former Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos. But he played in Boise, coached under outgoing head man Bryan Harsin, and the transition should be smooth.
The other top-tier teams in the conference are Nevada, who will battle with San Jose State to win the West Division. Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong is the real deal after he averaged 317 passing yards a season ago and threw 27 touchdowns.
Also, don’t sleep on Wyoming just because they dropped to 2-4 last season. They had an injured Sean Chambers at quarterback, and that resulted in an offense that couldn’t do anything. This season they will rely on two great backs in Xazavian Valladay and Trey Smith, a top offensive line and a defense that returns all 11 starters from last season.
As for where Colorado State will fall in the mix, they are expected to compete with Air Force for that third spot in the Mountain Division. The schedule is kind in that they get to play Air Force at home this season. They also play Boise State at home, and the best teams in the West Division, San Jose State and Nevada, both travel to Ft. Collins this season. However, the Wyoming game is in Laramie and is likely the loss that will keep them out of second place.
RB David Bailey – Boston College
David Bailey is a big back that tips the scales at 6-foot-1, 236 pounds. When he played under coach Addazio in 2019 at BC, he rushed for 844 yards. Last year he added another 503 yards to his career total, and he’s expected to get significant playing time and perhaps become the starter.
DL Mike Ciaffoni – Boston College
Another former player under Addazio that is moving west to Ft. Collins is redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Mike Ciaffone. In 2019 as a true freshman, he played in two games and recorded three tackles and a sack. He was a three-star recruit out of high school and was ranked as the No. 6 recruit in Massachusetts. With the Rams, he could play both defensive tackle and defensive end.
OL Vincent Picozzi – Temple
Vincent Picozzi has played every offensive line position in his college career, and last year, he started at both left tackle and right guard. His versatility and experience along the line make him an important piece in helping to improve the Rams running attack.
LB – Anthony Koclanakis – Murray State
A graduate student at CSU, Anthony Koclanakis had 190 tackles in his last two seasons at Murray State and was an Ohio Valley Conference first-team selection in 2019. A middle linebacker by trade, he is also spending time at the SAM in practice and expects to make an immediate impact on defense.
WR Jordan Kress – New Mexico
In one of the best gets of the offseason, Jordan Kress is coming home. The standout from Loveland, Colorado, had been one of New Mexico’s best wide receivers, catching 40 passes for 754 yards over the last two seasons. Now he is a Ram for his final season of eligibility.
The sixth-ranked recruiting class in the Mountain West added future starters Grady Kelly and Mukendi Wa-Kalonji on the defensive line, George Miki-Han on the offensive line, and safety Jack Howell.
Offensive Coordinator Jon Budmayr
The new offensive play-caller Jon Budmayr comes to Ft. Collins after playing quarterback and coaching the quarterbacks at Wisconsin. Along with his OC duties, Budmayr will coach the QBs at CSU.
QB Patrick O’Brien – Transfer
The starter for most of the last two seasons, Patrick O’Brien leaves Colorado State with one year of eligibility left. In 15 games with the Rams, he threw for 3,394 yards and 16 touchdowns. His departure for Washington makes Todd Centeio the starter.
WR Nate Craig-Myers – Transfer
A former transfer to CSU, Nate Craig-Myers has transferred out and to Central Florida. In two seasons with the Rams he had 29 catches for 397 yards, including six catches last year. His 68 yards ranked third on the team.
CB Keevan Bailey – Transfer
Keevan Bailey played at CSU for two seasons and had five passes defended and one interception as a freshman in 2019. The son of Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey looked to have a promising future but did not play in any of CSU’s four games last season, and he has transferred out.
Offensive Coordinator Joey Lynch
Last year’s offensive coordinator, Joey Lynch, has moved to Vanderbilt, where he will be the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.
2021 Schedule Breakdown
The majority of the Mountain West plays an easy schedule, with seven teams ranked in the bottom 30 of the FBS in the strength of schedule. CSU, however, is one of three teams to be in the top 70, joining UNLV and Boise State with the distinction.
Out of Conference
It starts with a challenging out of conference schedule that should see the Rams picked to go 2-2.
The season kick-off against South Dakota State is an expected win, and so should be the second game of the year against Vanderbilt. The Commodores were 0-9 last year and aren’t much better this season.
Road games against Iowa and Toledo, however, are both going to be big challenges for a Rams team sure to be the underdog in both.
Mountain West Schedule
Conference play begins against San Jose State. It’s at home, as are most of the Rams tough games – Boise State, Air Force, and Nevada – but winning at least two of those four is going to be tough.
In conference play, CSU only plays back-to-back road games once, and it’s against New Mexico and Utah State, which should both see the Rams favored to win. The season finishes with a road trip to Hawaii and then back home on Thanksgiving weekend to play Nevada.
If CSU is to get back over .500 for the first time since 2017, there will need to be a couple of upset victories in this bunch.
Heading into the season, the over/under on total wins for the Rams is 4.5, with the over paying -120. With two doable wins out of four out of conference games, that leaves just three Mountain West victories for the over to hit. With most of their hardest games at home, this seems like a solid bet to place.
Can CSU rise up and win the conference, a bet currently pay +4000? There are simply too many good teams for that to be a realistic bet, which is, of course, why it pays +4000. Maybe take a flyer on a conference-winning bet for the fun of it, but keep your expectations in check. Being in the same division as Boise State will keep CSU out of the conference championship.
Finishing the season in the top-100 nationally will be a step in the right direction for Colorado State, but if you want to put a little money on the +100000 longshot to win the National Championship, who’s going to say no? It’s not often that you get a six-figure payout on a $1 bet, so what’s it going to hurt?