The Star-Tribune is taking an early look at each of Wyoming's opponents in the order they appear on the Cowboys' 2019 schedule. Next up is Colorado State.
LARAMIE -- After dabbling in mediocrity the previous three seasons, Colorado State officially dipped into the red under Mike Bobo last year.
Bobo will get a chance to get the program he inherited five years ago back on track. The question is, will he?
CSU is coming off not only its first losing season of Bobo’s tenure -- one that led to Bobo reportedly declining a contractual raise in the offseason -- but its fewest number of wins since 2011. The Rams went 3-9 overall, and only San Jose State and New Mexico had worse records in Mountain West play than CSU’s 2-6 mark.
The Rams have yet to win a bowl game under Bobo despite playing in one each of his first three seasons at the helm, and CSU’s struggles against its biggest rival has only amped up the frustration among its fan base. CSU is just 1-3 against Wyoming under Bobo and will take a three-game series losing streak into this year’s Border War matchup Nov. 22 at War Memorial Stadium.
The experience CSU has at quarterback should help. Collin Hill is back as the Rams’ starter after taking over midway through last season and throwing for 1,387 yards and seven touchdowns with seven interceptions in 10 games, though he played some of his best football at the end of the season with 580 passing yards and four touchdowns in the last two games. Nebraska transfer Patrick O’Brien and sophomore Justice McCoy pushed Hill this spring, but the 6-foot-5, 214-pounder ultimately solidified his place atop the depth chart.
What the Rams don’t still have are Hill’s top two targets from a season ago in Preston Williams and Olabisi Johnson. Williams, who led the MW in receptions and yards, and Johnson combined for 150 receptions and 18 touchdown catches last season, leaving significant voids when it comes to production and playmaking ability for the No. 2 passing offense in the MW a season ago.
But CSU always seems to have a receiver emerge -- the Rams have had a 1,000-yard receiver five straight seasons -- and Warren Jackson could be next in line. At 6-6 and 220 pounds, the big-bodied Jackson caught 32 passes for 405 yards and four scores last season and could quickly become Hill’s go-to target. Tight end Cameron Butler is back after finishing as the Rams’ fourth-leading receiver last season while CSU is also adding Auburn transfer Nate Craig-Meyers, a former top-100 recruit, to the mix this fall.
The Rams struggled to be balanced last season with a running game that ranked next to last in the MW last season, and that was with Izzy Matthews, who led CSU with 717 rushing yards. But Matthews is out of eligibility while four starters along the offensive line are also gone, leaving CSU to hit the reset button in the running game. Senior Marvin Kinsey and junior Marcus McElroy return after combining for 115 carries last season, though the Rams may have to take a committee approach in the backfield if one of them isn’t able to separate himself as the primary ballcarrier.
CSU is losing its top two tacklers from a defense that gave up more rushing yards than any other team in the MW last season, but the Rams are counting on their experience up front to help with that. Defensive end Emmanuel Jones, defensive tackle Ellison Hubbard and nose tackle Devin Phillips are all back as is safety Jamal Hicks, who racked up 93 tackles last season.
Cornerback Rashad Ajayi returns after spending most of his freshman season as a starter in a secondary that gave up the fourth-fewest passing yards in the league. He’s one of many players that will need to take the next step in their development if CSU is going to rebound from last season’s disaster.