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Now is the time to get excited about Rams basketball

October 19, 2009

The University of Kansas has Late Night at the Phog, the University of Memphis has Memphis Madness and the CSU Rams have 7 O’Clock Rock. While it might not be as epic as the events hosted by some of the major college basketball programs around the country, it’s is a fun opportunity for fans to see what exactly they can expect on the courts of Moby Arena for the 2009-2010 season, and they can do so on Thursday evening.

Even though it might be scheduled a full week after NCAA basketball teams were allowed to hold their first official practices, that shouldn’t take away from what 7 O’Clock Rock brings to the CSU campus – one of the few times during the year fans are truly excited about Rams basketball. Harsh? Maybe. But if CSU basketball could get the kind of support that football and volleyball had, I honestly feel that both teams’ wins in the past two years would be doubled.

Take a look at any of the top basketball programs across the country; aside from the obvious in elite coaching and talent, what do they all have in common? Amazing basketball environments, buildings where you can barely hear what the person standing next to you is saying because the noise is so deafening.

CSU doesn’t have that, and while the finger usually points toward winning (or the lack there of), in Fort Collins that argument is moot. Granted, this is more of a football town than basketball, but from 2006-2007 the CSU football team won only seven of their 24 games – which in terms of success, that’s not winning at all. But when Steve Fairchild showed up, so did the crowds – they weren’t great last year, but people came.

Tim Miles didn’t get that same welcome. His first year was highlighted with a team full of walk-on’s, a 7-26 record (none of which came against MWC opponents), Stuart Creason’s injury and everyone covering their eyes when 7-footer Ronnie Aguilar entered the game.

Year two was a little better, the Rams picked up two additional wins, four in conference, saw sparks of greatness with Harvey Perry and Andy Ogide and a new star was born in freshman Jesse Carr. But a first round exit from the MWC Championships and an embarrassing home attendance rate topped by the lack of dedication from fans – outside of former suspended forward Josh Simmons – to make the one hour drive to Laramie for the Border War negated all of that.

Now it’s year three and expectations are high. The CSU community wants a 15-win season with victories over Wyoming and CU-Boulder. Unlike last year, the Athletic Department didn’t fail miserably in their home scheduling with big opponents over winter break. Fans won’t tolerate a loss to Northern Colorado in Greeley this year. New uniforms in tact, it’s time to shine.

While the men have slowly gotten the ball rolling over the past two seasons, there isn’t a coach I’ve been more impressed with at CSU than Kristin Holt of the women’s program. In her first year at the helm, she took the Rams to a 10-21 record with five victories in conference.

Think that’s no big deal? Tell that to a more talented 2007-2008 team who won only two regular season games and at one point had a 20-game losing streak. That was a team which faltered under Jen Warden’s “I don’t wanna make adjustments,” “zone” defense.

Because of Warden, two of the Rams’ three most talented freshmen, young women who looked like they would eventually carry this team, decided to transfer along with promising sophomore Emily Neal. Those losses, along with graduation of junior Kelly Rae Finley, put new interim head coach Kristin Holt into what looked to be a no-win situation. Nevertheless, Holt uses assistant coach Dick Lien’s sources and knowledge of overseas talent for recruiting, and turns in arguably the most impressive women’s basketball season in the MWC.

For the CSU women, who were picked to finish eighth in the MWC this year (so were the men), this is the first season since 2006-2007 that the Rams won’t be having to rebuild off of a mass exodus of players for reasons other than graduation. This team has a lot of good talent and coaching and are without a senior on roster. While some might see that as a negative, juniors Bonnie Barbee and Zoi Simmons are the leaders that this squad needs.

I know men’s basketball is what receives most of the media attention, but I, a male student, am suggesting that fans keep an eye on the CSU women this year for a possible breakthrough performance.

My midseason All-MWC football selections

October 15, 2009

First Team Offense:

QB: Terrance Cain (Utah)
RB: Harvey Unga (BYU)
WR: Dion Morton (CSU)
WR: Vincent Brown (SDSU)
TE: Dennis Pitta (BYU)
K: Joe Phillips (Utah)
P: Pete Kontodiakos (CSU)

First Team Defense:

DL: Jerry Hughes (TCU)
DL: Johnathan Rainey (New Mexico)
LB: Carmen Messina (New Mexico)
LB: Daryl Washington (TCU)
DB: Shamiel Gary (Wyoming)
DB: Elijah-Blu Smith (CSU)

Second Team Offense:

QB: Grant Stucker (CSU)
RB: Joseph Turner (TCU)
WR: David Reed (Utah)
WR: Ryan Wolfe (UNLV)
TE: Eric Peitz (CSU)
K: Erik Soderberg (Air Force)
P: Brian Stahovich (SDSU)

Second Team Defense:

DL: John Fletcher (Wyoming)
DL: Ben Garland (Air Force)
LB: Mychal Sisson (CSU)
LB: Coleby Clawson (BYU)
DB: Marcell Gipson (Wyoming)
DB: Nick Oppenneer (CSU)

Newcomer: Terrance Cain (Utah)
Freshman: Austyn Carta-Samuels (Wyoming)

When football fails, focus on volleyball

October 11, 2009

The CSU Athletic Department’s campaign of “Defend the Fort” has been growing more and more ironic over the past few weeks due to the fact the Rams football team, unless you count James Skelton’s interception against Weber State, hasn’t made an overly important defensive stop since week one against CU-Boulder–a school who is proving to be one of the worst teams in FBS.

No, you can’t count Weber State’s choke job with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. CSU lucked out that the Wildcat’s backup center messed up the snap and Guy Miller was there to fall on it.

What started as an impressive 3-0 start to the season has become a nightmare with three consecutive losses and, based on the Rams’ play the past two weeks against Idaho and Utah, it could be a long night at TCU next weekend.

Time out. Time to clarify something.

I’ve been told by some that the tone of my column has gone from overly positive to very negative over the past few weeks. For those of you who think that, I feel it is your perception of The Weekly Blitz that has changed, not my attitude.

From the start I have been honest. Straight up honest throughout both the good and the bad. I like to tell it like it is –– the way I see it. If I have offended a reader somehow, I apologize, but don’t take things so personally. I’ve been told by both athletes and fellow CSU “civilians” that they enjoy my column. I appreciate that, I do, and I thank you for reading, but the bottom line is that I’m honest when the Rams are doing well, and I’m honest during times like these.

I want CSU to win, but I have no effect on the outcome. I simply analyze and report.

Ok, time to continue. Where were we?

Yes, the defense. Since allowing only 251 yards to the Buffaloes in week one, the CSU defense is now allowing an average of 370 per game. In the past two weeks the Rams have given up 860 yards of offense (403 against Idaho and 457 against Utah). Of those 860 yards, 581 came via the air attack. What is wrong with this defense that once looked so promising?

It’s not as if there isn’t talent on this squad. Safety Elijah-Blu Smith had three interceptions in the Rams first three wins, and cornerback Nick Oppenneer has reached the same feat in the last three losses. Defensive coordinator Larry Kerr’s resume’ speaks for itself in terms of quality, and despite injuries, this defensive line has held their own and provided much better pressure on the quarterback than the one from a year ago.

Did the quality of the Rams opponents just increase along with CSU, keeping the green and gold still the same amount of steps behind the Mountain West Conference’s elite?

While the defense struggled against Utah, quarterback Grant Stucker also took a step back backward. After throwing for nearly 700 yards and six touchdowns against BYU and Idaho, Stucker took a big blow against Utah, completing only 12 of his 24 pass attempts for 184 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions –– all of which were picked off by Utah free safety Robert Johnson.

Quite frankly, I’m not entirely sure why Stucker was put in position for his second interception after it was clear the poor weather conditions were putting a damper on his usually solid deep ball. But what’s done is done.

And you know what made matters worse on Saturday? The fact that we have some idiot students at this school who decided to turn a spectator sport into a snowball fight by throwing them on the field, at police and at photographers. Ever heard of a thing called sportsmanship? You’re just lucky there wasn’t a 15-yard penalty thrown on CSU for unsportsmanlike conduct (and lucky it didn’t happen 15 times).

To those of you who disgraced our institution on Saturday, congratulations for being a waste to society. Now please never attend class again, so you will fail out of school and not make the rest of us look as bad as you.

See, brutal honestly. That’s the name of the game.

This is a confusing and frustrating time right now for the green and gold faithful, but there has to be a way to push through. Doesn’t there?

I know, let us turn our attention to the CSU volleyball team who without the “Big Three” from a season ago are proving to be a much better overall unit. The Rams have won their last 10 matches and are currently boasting a Mountain West Conference record of 6-0, which is good enough for sole possession of first place following New Mexico’s upset of the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City this weekend.

But there’s still work to do. In fact, CSU has their biggest two volleyball matches of the young conference season this week at home inside of Moby Arena. On Thursday, CSU hosts BYU (9-7, 4-1) and then play Utah (12-6, 5-1) on Saturday.

What do you say we take our minds away from football for a while and keep defending the Fort for the volleyball team, who hasn’t lost a home MWC match in two seasons?

CSU homecoming is just another fall weekend

October 7, 2009

Oh college football homecoming. Is there anything more exciting for students? Why yes, yes there is. Things like hiking, snowboarding and binge drinking on a Tuesday night, just to name a few.

For students, homecoming is just another fall weekend featuring a football game — nothing more, nothing less. Sure, there might be a few more activities to do over the weekend like watch a parade or loiter at a bonfire, but these are mainly things that freshmen do once and then realize are a waste of time.

Football scheduling usually follows one of two models. Model A: Schedule a weak opponent with the hopes of rolling over them for a quick victory and an easy “W” in the record books for the home crowd, or Model B: schedule one of your conference’s elite schools and hope that the larger crowd will help propel you to an upset. This season the CSU football team has followed Model B as they’ll play host to the defending Mountain West Conference and Sugar Bowl champions, Utah.

As a student, when it comes to homecoming, at least at Colorado State, I just don’t get it. Greek Life here is a joke, there are no giant homecoming displays outside of the well-hidden buildings that claim to be fraternity or sorority houses around campus, there is no dance to remind us of the hell that was high school (thank goodness). Other than maybe mommy and daddy coming to visit, homecoming here at college is just another weekend.

I think the only point of homecoming at the college level is to designate one weekend for alumni to come back to where they received their degree from, no matter how far they must travel, and shortly relive that college experience. All of you non-freshmen, really think about it. Let your mind wander back to previous homecoming weekends here at CSU. Were the bars filled with “old folks” (I use that term lightly)? I know I remember hating how overpopulated Old Town was, so badly packed that I ended up heading all the way down to Harmony to find a bite to eat, only to still be faced with a 45-minute wait.

Come on, I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

Show of hands now (yes, do it. If you professor asks what your question is, tell them you’re just following instructions), how many of you have asked yourself on college homecoming “what’s the big deal? Let’s just play some football like every other week!” Chances are, this is the feel echoed by most of you.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my folks, and if they decide to come see me on homecoming weekend I’ll gladly spend time with them. But for the most of us, this weekend will be just like any other.

Nevertheless, go Rams!

Sound the alarm, CSU football enters DEFCON 1

October 5, 2009
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Ladies and gentlemen, if you stayed awake late enough on Saturday night to watch the CSU football team’s loss to Idaho on ESPNU, you saw a prime example of how to kill your own season. Kill may be an understatement; brutal murder might be more accurate. The Rams’ loss to the Idaho Vandals was exactly what the team could not afford at this point of the season — it’s the type that can easily send a team into a deadly tailspin.

Sure, if you want, you can blame the loss on the officials spotting obvious first downs short of the marker or on their lack of knowledge of the rule book when it comes to receivers stepping out of bounds and then being the first to touch the football (Idaho wide receiver Eric Greenwood’s first touchdown reception), but ultimately it came down to CSU just getting whooped by an inferior opponent.

Granted, Idaho is a talented team whose only loss came against Washington, the school who beat Southern California and took Notre Dame to overtime on Saturday, but the Rams are a more talented squad — they just got their butts handed to them.

I’m sorry, the blunt truth hurts.

The game started off great for CSU, Nick Oppenneer got an interception in the end zone on the Vandals opening drive, then the Rams charge down the field and score. The Rams make Idaho punt their next possession and Stucker leads the team again as CSU takes a 14-0 lead.

Great, right? Sure, but now is where about everything starts to fall apart. For the remainder of the game, the Idaho offense runs what are essentially three different routes for the next three quarters that the CSU secondary can’t seem to stop to save their lives. Those routes are: send the 6-foot-6 Greenwood deep on the fade, send receiver Max Komar across the middle or send him on an out route to the sideline.

CSU simply could not stop those three routes, which allowed Idaho to control the entire second half.

CSU secondary should not shoulder all the blame, however, this is a team sport. I mean, I guess you could argue that the secondary kept the Rams in the game. They gave CSU a chance with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when Oppenneer knocked the ball loose from Greenwood, forcing an incompletion on third down which led to a Vandal punt. Stucker threw his only interception two plays later that sealed the Rams’ fate. I guess we could put the blame on him?

I don’t know if that’s fair, though, before that play, he did complete 19 of 34 pass attempts for 297 yards and four touchdowns — that’s pretty impressive.

You could yell at Rashaun Greer for dropping yet another perfectly thrown ball that was a guaranteed touchdown, but he did end up with seven receptions for 125 yards.

Maybe the defensive line? They couldn’t seem to stay balanced and were called for offsides twice on third down that led to the Vandals getting a new set of downs at critical points of the game. Yea, let’s blame it on them. Oh wait, without the d-line preoccupying the Idaho offensive line, there would be no way for Chris Gipson and Klint Kubiak to record sacks — I guess we can’t blame the front four.

So whose fault is it? It’s everyone’s. It’s a team sport, you win as a team and you lose as a team,and no matter how nasty that loss was and how detrimental it could wind up being to the rest of the season, the blame cannot be placed on one individual player or one team unit.

I wasn’t able to attend the game in Moscow, I was in the comfort of my home and for the first time this season I got to actually cheer and yell at my TV screen because it’s obviously a portal that allows the players to hear me (everyone knows that’s a fact). I was pulling my hair out when Greer dropped that touchdown, when Eric Peitz couldn’t hold on to that third down conversion and when the secondary couldn’t cover those Idaho receivers. Just like all of you, I was in shock. But when I sat down and thought about all of it, the team as a whole, no one individual, should take the brunt of the blame.

College football is a tough game, and I’m not out on the practice field every day trying to represent my school. Outside of intramurals and video games, my days of being an athlete are long behind me. Still, I understand the ramifications of this loss to Idaho.

CSU started off the season 3-0 but by the time they play San Diego State three weeks from now, their record could easily be 3-4, which I feel is a big step backward. CSU hosts Utah for homecoming on Saturday and then hits the road for No. 10 TCU the next week.

I don’t want to see this season spin out of control, but there is absolutely no room for error against the Utes this weekend. It’s do-or-die time in Fort Collins, who’s going to make a play?

What we learned at BYU

September 28, 2009

PROVO, Utah — I’m going to try to sugar coat this as little as possible because losing sucks, plain and simple — especially when you’re playing a conference opponent. Still, while there may be no moral victories in the world of college football, we did learn a lot about the CSU Rams this weekend, like just how good they are (and they’re good).

The scoreboard shows a 19-point victory for the BYU Cougars, but if you were to take away both of Grant Stucker’s interceptions in the first quarter which were caused by Rashaun Greer not getting a handle on the ball — neither of which were Stucker’s fault — we could be looking at either a much smaller deficit or possibly a Ram victory.

Sure, what’s done is done and mistakes are going to happen in the game of football, but both of those turnovers were in CSU territory and both led to touchdowns. All 21 of BYU’s first half points came in the first quarter and none of those three touchdowns were scored on drives of more than 45 yards.

Still, a loss is a loss.

But how about Grant Stucker? If you thought he played a good game against CU-Boulder, I sure hope you didn’t miss his performance on Saturday. Despite an “L” in the record book, Stucker’s performance against BYU was the best showing by a CSU quarterback in the past three years –without question.

Playing in front of 64,000 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium, arguably the toughest place to play in the Mountain West Conference, Stucker was 30 of 50 for 372 yards with two touchdowns along with two picks.

But what was most impressive of his 372 yards was the fact that he did it without a single pass longer than 21 yards. The main criticism of Stucker is that he can’t be consistent in the short-to-mid range passing game, but he did it on Saturday.

He was much more impressive than BYU’s Max Hall, who only had two touchdown passes rather than one because the Cougars decided to pad his stats on their second-to-last drive of the game instead of running the clock out.

On Saturday we also learned a little about wide receiver Tyson Liggett. When he entered the game in the first quarter, you could almost assume that he was being put on the field to punish Greer after his two drops that led to interceptions, but he continued to produce throughout the game while Greer remained on the sideline. Sure enough, Liggett, a former walk-on, goes on to lead the Rams with 11 receptions for 156 yards and a touchdown.

This is the kind of game, win or lose, where you learn a little about your team and just what they are capable of. Even though the Rams didn’t cover the spread due to some costly mistakes, they proved that they can play with the best of the conference in a hostile environment such as Provo. You learn about how well your backups can play. Middle linebacker Chris Gipson had two sacks, stepping up in place of the injured Alex Williams. When starters like Greer don’t produce, players like Liggett step up and give you better depth.

No matter how well the Rams played (or didn’t, if you want to angle it that way), CSU still has to start over with game preparation on Tuesday as they have another road game against a surging Idaho team next week. Time to put the loss in the past and focus on the next step.

CSU, TCU can save the conference

September 21, 2009

Top to bottom, college football is a lot closer than most people think. That’s why we love it.

This was very apparent over the weekend when two top ten schools lost to unranked opponents, helping to lower the number of unbeaten teams in the FBS to 27 (and yes, CSU is one of them).

In addition to No. 3 Southern California and No. 7 BYU being shell-shocked on Saturday, three other schools in the AP Top 25 were forced to add a one in the loss column this weekend.

For college football fans as a whole, this weekend is one of the reasons we love to wake up on Saturdays and turn on College Football Gameday. We love the upsets. We love seeing the seven-time defending Pac-10 champions (USC) fall to a school who went 0-12 in 2008 (Washington).

While that’s all good and dandy, for the majority of you reading this column, you are also fans of the Mountain West Conference, a conference that took an unfortunate step back on Saturday thanks to two of its three undefeated and top 25 schools losing to – I’ll say it again – unranked opponents.

After following the MWC closely for a few years now I have learned that it has a very unique aura surrounding it and fans of its institutions. During non-conference play, fans of MWC schools root for other conference teams, even if that means cheering for a rival; Air Force for CSU, CSU for Wyoming, Utah for BYU, etc. Where I’m from, this is a foreign concept.

My parents both went to Oklahoma State, thus I was taught to root against the Oklahoma Sooners on a weekly basis. I grew up a big Kansas fan; therefore, I always rooted against Kansas State and Missery.

My freshman year of college I attended the University of Arkansas, so it was LSU we hated. But here at CSU, as long as the Rams aren’t playing Wyoming, go Pokes! And the reason this is the case is thanks to three little letters.

B. C. S.

While I’m aware that everyone, even those idiots in Congress, likes to hate on the BCS, for the most part, it is the best available system (a playoff system is not fiscally possible, especially in an economy like this, but I’ll discuss that on another Oprah). Granted, there should be some tweaks including giving the MWC an automatic bid, but until at least 2012 that’s not going to happen.

The BCS is why we as MWC fans root for the other institutions, hoping that one can go undefeated and follow in the footsteps of our original BCS buster, Utah. We want that automatic bid to help solidify the conference’s legitimacy.

It’s assumed that in order for a non-BCS school to reach one of the five coveted bowl games, that university would need to go 12-0 during the regular season, which thanks to the upsets caused by the ACC’s Florida State and the Pac-10’s Oregon over the weekend against BYU and Utah, respectively, the chances of seeing the MWC playing in a “real” January bowl game are dwindling.

Dwindling, not dead.

Both Colorado State and TCU, who were picked to win the MWC season, are both still undefeated. They’re two teams with a lot of talent and incredibly strong defenses, especially against the run. The Rams rank 24th in the country in rush defense while the Horned Frogs are third.

CSU’s Elijah-Blu Smith is tied for third in the country with three interceptions, Alex Williams ranks second in forced fumbles and third in fumbles recovered with two in each category. As a unit, the Rams rank third in the nation with 10 turnovers gained, giving them a margin of +7, good for second in the country.

As far as sacks go, TCU’s defense, led by defensive end Jerry Hughes, leads all of college football with 11 total sacks in only two games played (Hughes has 4.5 of those).

On Saturday, CSU and TCU have tough games on the road against BYU and Clemson. The Cougars are going to be mad after their embarrassing loss over the weekend and the Tigers of Clemson have CJ Spiller, one of college football’s best running backs. These two Mountain West teams need to step up on the road this week, because if neither does, it’ll be another year of nay-sayers calling the MWC a fluke.