LARAMIE — For the first time in five years, Wyoming will be trying to take back the Bronze Boot from its most bitter rival rather than attempting to hold on to it.
Like nearly all of the opponents on UW’s schedule, Colorado State has the experience to make that easier said than done.
One advantage the Cowboys will have this fall is getting the Rams at home when the teams renew the Border War rivalry on the first Saturday in November. UW hasn’t lost a Border War at War Memorial Stadium since 2015 and had won four straight in the series before CSU notched a 10-point victory in last year’s meeting in Fort Collins.
It turned out to be the lone win for the Rams last season, though only playing four games because of coronavirus-related cancellations made it hard to accurately assess what CSU was last season. But many of the significant contributors from last year’s team are back to give it a full go this time around.
CSU will look a bit different at quarterback now that Patrick O’Brien has transferred to Washington, but Todd Centeio is primed to take over as the full-time starter after getting some snaps in his first season in the Rams’ program. A graduate transfer from Temple, Centeio will bring more mobility to the position as a dual-threat signal caller, but the Rams will need him to grow into a more consistent passer if he wants to hold on to the starting job. Centeio completed just 39% of his 36 attempts a season ago.
Two more transfers, Jonah O’Brien (Eastern Illinois) and Matt Valecce (Boston College), were brought in to push Centeio, and one of them could get the nod should Centeio’s struggles throwing the ball continue. The Rams have some experienced pass-catchers that should help whichever quarterback is behind center.
CSU’s offense got a massive lift with the return of Trey McBride, who caught 22 passes for 330 yards and a team-high four touchdowns a season ago. Many thought it would be the last for the NFL prospect in a Rams uniform, but the 6-foot-4, 260-pound tight end surprised nearly everyone by deciding to return for another season in college.
Speedster Dante Wright, who doubles as a punt returner, is also back on the outside after finishing last season as CSU’s second-leading receiver, but there isn’t much behind Wright in terms of proven playmaking ability. Junior E.J. Scott is still around, though he’s only caught 30 passes in his career. Veteran wideout Nate Craig-Meyers transferred to Central Florida for his last collegiate season.
CSU coach Steve Addazio, who cut his teeth as an offensive line coach, will likely want more out of the running game to help out after the Rams finished 105th nationally in rushing offense a season ago (124 yards per game). With every starting offensive lineman back as well as its top two running backs, A’Jon Vivens and Marcus McElroy Jr., CSU should be better in that department.
The Rams’ biggest vulnerability last season came on the other side of the ball. CSU allowed nearly 36 points per game, second-most in the Mountain West, and surrendered 18 touchdowns in those four games. Though the bar isn’t set all that high, the Rams should be able to offer more resistance this fall with 10 defensive starters back.
Up front, the group is led by a handful of veteran linemen, including sack leader Scott Patchan. Manny Jones and Toby McBride are back on the interior of the defensive line after combining for nine tackles for loss a season ago.
Dequan Jackson returns as the anchor of the linebacking corps after finishing the last two seasons as the Rams’ leading tackler. Jackson also had 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks last fall and will be joined again at the second level by Cam’ron Carter, CSU’s second-leading tackler last season.
Marshaun Cameron, Rashad Ajayi, Tywan Francis and Logan Stewart are all back in the secondary. The Rams finished with just one interception last season, but as a whole, CSU was one of the better teams in the Mountain West at taking the ball away, ranking third in the league in turnover margin (plus-.25).
With that much experience back in the fold on both sides of the ball, quarterback play figures to be crucial for the Rams, who haven’t had a winning season since 2017.
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.