September 4, 2023
The rainbow appeared late in the first half Saturday.
It wasn't an omen for CSU fans.
Meanwhile comma ...
Up the roads from Boulder, the state of the Colorado State football program is perplexing.
As I watched the final minutes of the Rams' 50 -24 loss to Washington State from the sideline of Sonny Lubick Field
at Canvas Stadium Saturday night, I caught myself comparing it to the circumstances involved when I stood at roughly the same
spot six years earlier.
day, the Rams faced another Pac-12 team --the then-horrible Oregon State Beavers -- and cruised 58-27 in the first game played
at what later was christened Canvas Stadium. The mood was upbeat, with Mike Bobo beginning his third season and the
expectations for the program justifiably raised in the wake of the move from crumbling Hughes Stadium to the new on-campus
facility. The magical 2014 season under Jim McElwain had helped swing the board of governors' vote to green-light the project,
and CSU was taken seriously as a Big 12 expansion candidate in 2016.
Although the back-to-back 7-6 seasons in Bobo's first two seasons seemed underachieving, the overall momentum
The scoreboard in the final seconds of Canvas Stadium's
inaugural game in 2017. It was against Oregon State, eventually a one-win team that season -- and it came out a bit differently
than Saturday's loss to WSU.
What happened? I'm in the minority after McElwain's graceless exit, but the biggest what-if is
what might have happened if the veteran coach who had paid his dues, even with a long stay as a Big Sky Conference assistant,
had decided the grass (and money) wasn't always greener at the Power 5 level and stayed at CSU, whether for good or at least
for a couple more seasons. (The longshot would have been the Rams moving to a Power 5 at some point with McElwain coaching.)
But it's a waste of time to dwell on that. The fact is, his successors weren't able to take advantage of the new stadium and
other football facilities, and Steve Addazio especially was a boorish, ill-fitting disaster. The pandemic didn't help matters,
but he was a puzzling hire regardless.
The momentum is gone. In the mania that is expansion and realignment, CSU should
be a hot commodity, whether as the elite of the Mountain West maneuvering for position, or as a candidate to improve its lot
in the wake of the Pac-12's implosion. Six years ago, if you outlined the upcoming scrambling for me, I'd have said, surely,
CSU would come out of it in a considerably improved situation. The weird thing is, success on the football field isn't necessarily
the key in improving a school's viability as a candidate to step up to a more prestigious league (see Rutgers, see Rice, et
al), but it sure would have helped CSU's cause to put together a series of validating football seasons.
Perhaps I'm overreacting to the single loss to Washington State. The Cougars were 7-6 last season. But I viewed
it as one of those litmus-test games against a Power 5 school early in a season, and even worse than the loss against no better
than a decent Pac-12 team was that the Rams looked so overmatched. And I kept coming back to that CSU rout of the very similar
OSU Beavers six years ago. It involves more than the on-field product, too. In the leadup to the opener, CSU very publicly
said a Canvas Stadium sellout was the goal. It backed off in the final days, and official attendance was a disappointing 31,497
-- a figure that seemed generous given huge patches of empty seats. Also intriguingly, both OSU and WSU -- the left-behind
Pac-2, so to speak -- have been courted by the Mountain West, and CSU-OSU and CSU-WSU both could have been previews of league
matchups in the near future. That could even be in the rebuilt Pac-12.
Jay Norvell is left to sort out the football problems. He inherited
a mess, not momentum. Bringing a core of former Nevada players with him wasn't an effective instant fix. The Air Raid offense,
billed as wide-open and entertaining, so far has been a dud. Clay Millen, beaten up and shell-shocked, was prematurely thrown
in -- and left in -- as a redshirt freshman at quarterback. Even Norvell has hinted it was counterproductive, saying he wished
an older veteran could have been around to get the Rams through a transitional season.
has taken the high road in many ways. That even includes energetically visiting alumni and booster gatherings around the state
and making offseason media rounds, especially in Denver. (Many Denver media folks wouldn't be able to get to CSU minus Google
Maps.) He routinely shoulders blame, perhaps to excess as he attempts to avoid a complete erosion of confidence.
When Norvell Saturday night was asked about the Rams' next game (following a bye), he noticeably
bypassed even naming the opponent.
It's the Colorado Buffaloes.