Around the Horn, August 28, 2019

Around The Horn” is news feature resurrection from the early days of We take readers around the college athletics world, as it relates to Colorado State and the Mountain West Conference. 

Top 10 Showdowns: The Rocky Mountain Showdown is two days away, and the start of the college football season is like Christmas to me. I’ve witnessed every Showdown in person since the series was renewed as an annual matchup back in 1995. The Rams have only won seven times during that stretch (ugh), but each win was memorable, as were a few of the heartbreaking losses. Here’s how I’d rank the top 10: 

  1. 1999 — 41-14 WIN. Putting an absolute beatdown on the Buffs. CU QB Mike Moschetti ran for his life the entire game, and CSU’s offense was rolling as the Rams dominated every facet of the game. 
  2. 2002 — 19-14 WIN. Exciting defensive game in which Bradlee Van Pelt scored the game-winning TD with a few minutes left, culminating with the head spike of Roderick Sneed
  3. 2000 — 28-24 WIN. The second of back-to-back wins by QB Matt Newton, who declared after the game, “I guess there’s a new sheriff in town.” 
  4. 2009 — 23-17 WIN. In the opener of Steve Fairchild’s second of four seasons, the Rams went into Boulder and beat the Buffs on their own turf, prompting Ram fans to storm the field. Yours truly may still have a piece of that Folsom Field turf on my desk.
  5. 2014 — 31-17 WIN. It wasn’t CU’s best team, but it was Jim McElwain’s best season (10-2) and this win made it two out of three victories vs. the Buffs in his short tenure at CSU.
  6. 2012 — 22-17 WIN. CU went a horrendous 1-11 that year, but it didn’t make the win any less sweet. It was McElwain’s debut at CSU, and he called his shot upon his arrival on campus earlier that year, claiming the Rams would win that game. 
  7. 2006 — 14-10 WIN. In somewhat of an ugly game, Caleb Hanie was outstanding, completing 20 of 23 passes. CU head coach Dan Hawkins tried to be sneaky by inserting running QB Bernard Jackson into the game, which was effective for about one series, as the Rams were not prepared for him. But the Ram defense figured out he couldn’t throw the ball and stymied the Buffs’ offense for the remainder of the game.
  8. 2003 — 42-35 LOSS. Had CSU pulled this game out, it would have likely gone down as the best-ever CSU-CU game in Ram fans’ book. It was a back-and-forth slugfest, led by Van Pelt who accounted for all five Ram touchdowns in the game (three passing, two running). The game featured a downpour, a lightning delay, and a dream-dashing reception by Jeremy Bloom deep inside the Rams’ 10-yard line to set up the Buffs’ game-winning touchdown with under a minute remaining.  
  9. 1996 — 48-34 LOSS. The only visit CU made to Fort Collins during my time as a Ram fan. The atmosphere was electric the entire day, from tailgating to the closing cannon fire. CSU traded blows with a Top 5 CU team, including a kickoff return for touchdown by Calvin Branch. CU took the lead in the final minutes, and added on a rub-your-nose-in-it score in the last minute on a reverse. One of the most energetic crowds ever to attend a CSU game. Makes the Buffs’ visit to Canvas next year an exciting proposition. 
  10. 1997 — 31-21 LOSS. After the tough loss at Hughes the year before, the Rams went to Folsom and were sticking it to the Buffs for the first half of the game, concluding the half with a brutal blind-side hit by Clark Haggans on CU quarterback John Hessler. The Rams went into the lockerroom with all the momentum, which was unfortunately given back on a pair of Moses Moreno interceptions in the second half — one of which was a pick-six. 

Yes there were some honorable mentions — including the overtime losses in 2007 and 2015, and the back-two-back three-point heartbreakers in Boulder in 2004 and 2005, but it’s still too soon to talk about those games.  

Let’s hope the 2019 Rocky Mountain Showdown can be added somewhere — anywhere — in the top 7 of this list come late Friday night! Count me as optimistic. 

By the way, on the Ramblings board this week, Durward Ram pointed out an interesting observation that the Rams have beat the Buffs in ‘99 and ‘09, and are looking to also do it in ’19. If that every-10-year pattern isn’t something to hang your hat on, I don’t know what is!

Izzy speaks. Former CSU running back Izzy Matthews joined CBS4 sports anchor Michael Spencer at the ViewHouse Centennial Monday night, along with former Buffs’ QB Sefo Liufau for a Rocky Mountain Showdown edition of Xfinity Monday Live. Matthews talked about his love for playing the game at Mile High Stadium in Denver, which will end after Friday night. 

“It’s just cool going to a neutral site,” Matthews said. “Looking up and one side being all CSU, and one side being all CU, you know you’re not going to that when you start going home-and-home. It’s one of those cool things that you can’t really replicate in a college stadium.”

Liufau agreed: “It’s a great experience. It’s different than a college football stadium, it’s a big game for both sides. I think I received my biggest hits from those games. It’s a great experience and I really enjoyed it.”

During the show, Matthews also touched on the much needed changes Bobo implemented in the program this year, and said the change to Joey Guarascio in the strength/conditioning program was particularly a smart move. 

“That was a great call by coach Bobo hiring him, because something needed to change, things needed to change.”

OPI gone bad. As we approach the two-year anniversary of the “Offensive Pass Interference” game at Mile High Stadium, the Pac-12 recently listed in its new football officiating communication policies that it will release public comment by the end of the day after the respective game for game-ending calls or no-calls, errors in officiating mechanics, errors in rules interpretation or “other extraordinary circumstances.” Pac-12 officiating has come under scrutiny both externally and internally in recent seasons, including following the 2017 Rocky Mountain Showdown (officiated by a Pac-12 crew) in which CSU was flagged three times for questionable offensive pass interference calls, and a host of penalties. In the week following the game, Bobo submitted reviews to the Pac-12 officiating office for 25 penalties called in the Showdown. 

The conference is also changing its instant replay review process to be more “collaborative” effort, after member schools questioned the integrity of the replay system when an unauthorized, untrained “third party” overruled a controversial targeting call in the USC-Washington State game last September. 

Not a Mensa. As I was driving around town Tuesday morning, I was flipping through the radio stations looking for some Rocky Mountain Showdown discussion. Much to my surprise, I came across the Smile High Morning Show on Mile High Sports Radio network, hosted by Danny Williams and Geoff Girsch, who were seemingly talking about the game. But quickly I realized the discussion was on how the matchup is a “no-win” situation for the University of Colorado, to which Williams threw in this gem: “That’s a tough one. You don’t even get any BCS points for beating CSU, do you, if they’re not ranked?” 

Hmmm. Not sure how that was a rational thought — nevermind the fact that the BCS ended in 2013 and was replaced by the College Football Playoff. Please go back to discussing the Denver Broncos ad nauseam. 


Oh, burn! Speaking of the College Football Playoff, a Washington Post columnist took a pretty good shot at the CFP committee, pointing out the bad optics of administrators who refuse to pay college athletes, and then conduct their own useless preseason protocol meetings a Ritz-Carlton oceanside resort in Dana Point, Calif. Author Sally Jenkins wrote:

The 13-member committee won’t be issuing any rankings until November, yet somehow they required a multiday conference at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, a California beachfront hotel where the cheapest rooms start at $681 a night. How did committee chair Rob Mullens of Oregon and his colleagues — who include athletic directors Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma, Scott Stricklin of Florida, R.C. Slocum of Texas A&M, Todd Stansbury of Georgia Tech, Gary Barta of Iowa and Terry Mohajir of Arkansas State — justify this summer convocation at the Ritz, you might ask? According to the CFP press office, the committee ‘reviewed the schedule for its weekly rankings, went over its protocol, and finalized the list of members who will be recused’ from voting on certain schools. They also went over how to use their electronics and video.

Now, look. The schedule for weekly rankings is this: They come out every Tuesday. They always come out every Tuesday.

As for the “protocol” it was written in 2012 and has not changed. And recusal is pretty simple: you can’t vote for your own school.

But for some reason these matters required deep thought on the beach at Dana Point.

Read the rest of Jenkins’ perfectly sensible barbs in the Washington Post

Pay Dat Man His Money.  USA Today ran a story this week that showed a breakdown of more than 250 “guarantee” games in 2019 and their payouts. They had info from three CSU games on the list:

  • vs. Colorado in Denver: Will receive 45% of revenue (CU gets 55% of revenue)
  • At Arkansas: Will receive $300,000
  • vs. Western Illinois: Will pay $375,000

The biggest paychecks schools in the MW will be receiving according to this list are:

  • San Jose State at Arkansas: $1.5 million (this is a one-time game, not a home-and-home like CSU has with the Razorbacks, which is why the Rams receive one-fifth of the payout the Spartans are getting)
  • Utah State at LSU: $1.5 million
  • UNLV at Northwestern: $1.2 million
  • New Mexico at Notre Dame: $1.1
  • Fresno State at USC: $1.1 million

The biggest jackpot of the 2019 season according to USA Today is Alabama, who will take home $4.5 million from organizers of the Peach Bowl to play Duke in a nationally televised game at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  

Transfers galore. Dating back to mid-October of 2018, one of the more common phrases you hear in the college sports lexicon is “Transfer Portal”. That’s when the NCAA created a process where Division I student-athletes can transfer to a different school and receive a scholarship without asking their current school for permission, thus ending the controversial practice in which some coaches or administrators would prevent students from having contact with specific schools. An interesting report put out by SportSource Analytics shows the drastic increase in transfers over the last eight years. In 2012, the number of college football players who had played for two or more teams was 347. This year, that number is 770.

Interestingly enough, despite the transfer trend in recent years, the Mountain West has ranks ninth out of 11 FBS conferences in number of players having played at two or more FBS schools. It’s worked out okay for the Rams, however. 

Lay the 18? Can’t help but notice some eery similarities between new Liberty coach Hugh Freeze and CSU coach Mike Bobo’s health situation last year. Freeze started experiencing back pain August 10 and four days later he was taken to University of Virginia Medical Center for tests, where he then had surgery. During the procedure, doctors also discovered he had a life-threatening staph infection. He’s missed nearly three weeks of practice as he goes through the recovery process. He can’t be on the field and at best will be confined to the booth for the Flames’ opening game this weekend. He has been helping to run practices from a hotel room with video conferencing and walkie talkies. Freeze made a surprise appearance at practice last Friday, being driven onto the field on a golf cart as the team cheered. Similarly, Bobo spent 10 days in the hospital during fall camp while doctors were treating him for peripheral neuropathy, which he still suffers from today, although to a lesser extent. Like Freeze, he kept in contact with his staff via phone, text, and video conferencing,  and critiqued practice video from his hospital bed. He handed over playcalling duties to quarterbacks coach Ronnie Letson for the first few games of the season, and had to sit in the coaches’ booth during the season opener vs. Hawaii. Liberty hosts No. 22 Syracuse Saturday night. If you’re a gambling kinda person, might be worth laying a few ducats on the ‘Cuse -18 this weekend, for the sole reason of having witnessed how such a situation affected CSU a year ago. 

Another MW “first”. The Mountain West has been a pioneer in many aspects of college athletics over the years, from being the first conference to initiate its own television network, to the first to employ instant replay, to the first to air games on Twitter and Facebook. This week, the conference achieved another “first” when it announced that the conference has been granted a waiver by the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Rules Committee to permit the use of electronically transmitted data to the bench for coaching purposes during regular season conference games. The MW will partner with ShotTracker, and it is the first time such a program will be used by a conference in NCAA basketball. Each player will wear a ShotTracker sensor, which tracks player and ball movement in real time, providing teams with more than 70 unique statistics. MW coaches, student-athletes fans and media will have access to instantaneous data that no conference has unilaterally had access to before. As part of the waiver, the MW is required to submit its data as part of a study that will evaluate the long-term viability of technology on the bench. Click for more details

Polar opposites. CSU Athletic Director Joe Parker is a good man and a good college athletics administrator. But he is not the flamboyant leader that Fresno State Athletic Director Terry Tumey is. In addressing a group of Bulldog student athletes this week, Tumey showed his enthusiasm for the 2019-20 season by jumping into the Aquatic Center pool, fully clothed. (Yeah, can’t envison Parker doing that.) Tumey, by the way, apparently can’t swim, so he had to be pulled from the pool by the water polo coach and a couple others.

Diving into 2019-20 with @TerryTumey! #GoDogs

Tell it like it is. San Diego State head football coach Rocky Long no doubt had Aztec ticket office members cringing this week when he had this to say about the 15% decline in season ticket renewals for 2019: “Why buy a season ticket when you can show up five minutes before the game and get the best seat in the house? I wouldn’t buy season tickets, I might have something else to do one weekend.”

He salvaged his comments by adding, “But, wait until the new stadium is built. Then you won’t be able to get in without a season ticket.”

The Aztecs hope to open their new stadiuim in 2022. More comments below. 

New Mess(ico). Former New Mexico Athletic Director Paul Krebs is facing five felony charges after recently being indicted by a grand jury on seven counts in connection with an elaborate 2015 golf trip to Scotland. According to local news outlest, the trip cost the university about $64,000 of public money plus an additional $25,000 to pay some costs for three private donors to the school. Not only did Krebs violate university rules by approving the costly vacation, documents say he tried to cover it all up in July 2017 by making an “anonymous” donation to the university of $25,000 of his own money. Krebs resigned as athletic director in June 2017 after admitting to using public money for the trip. The newly filed indictment charges Krebs with embezzlement over $20,000 for using $24,500 of UNM money to pay for three individuals not affiliated with UNM or the UNM Association to go golfing in Scotland. He is charged with lesser embezzlement counts for using $13,625 in UNM money to pay for a down payment for the trip and taking $9,379 from UNM to pay for himself to go on the trip. The indictment also charges Krebs with unlawful interest in a public contract, tampering with evidence, criminal solicitation and tax fraud.

Meanwhile, during his 11-year watch, the athletic department was slowly going in the tank and racking up a large deficit. The department missed budget eight times in 10 years and accrued a $4.7 million deficit to the university’s reserves by the end of fiscal year 2017. The university’s Board of Regents voted last summer to eliminate four Lobo sports programs (men’s soccer, men’s and women’s skiing, and women’s beach volleyball) under a plan designed improve the foundering athletic department’s health. To top it off, last year, the department released a report showing Lobo athletics is significantly out of compliance with federal Title IX mandates, requiring universities to provide equal opportunities to male and female student athletes at a proportionate rate to the general student body enrollment. Yikes.

On a good note, head football coach Bob Davie successfully talked current Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez into allowing the football team to start staying in a hotel the night before its six home games (as many schools do), after the department declined to do so in 2018 as a cost-cutting measure. So they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice.  

Let there be light. During a recent interview, former Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon revealed that ESPN was reason the Wolverines got permanent lights installed at the Big House in 2010. Brandon said he got so sick of the portable lights that networks would bring in resulting in bad shadows on the field. So he arranged a deal to have ESPN pay for permanent lights at the stadium, in return for a promise to play at least one night game per year. Must be nice to have that kind of pull. When the Rams were an ESPN Thursday and Saturday night staple, CSU had to fork out tens of thousands of its own dollars each time they brought in lights to Hughes Stadium. Permanent lights weren’t installed at Hughes until 2000.    

60 miles makes a difference. Credit to Swoll Cracker for posting this gem on released results of a survey it conducted of more than 550 people about the least and most desirable locations in the U.S. The respondents voted Colorado as the No. 1 most desirable state to live, while conversely, Wyoming ranked No. 1 on the “You Couldn’t Pay Me” to move there scale. See the report here


Prediction time. CSU has never lost five straight in the series since the rivalry was renewed on an annual basis in 1995. I don’t think the losing streak will reach five this year either. The Rams have undergone a makeover, from an influx of talented new players/transfers, to a new player leadership program, to new strength and conditioning principles and leadership. Bobo knows that his back is against the wall, and needs a good season (with wins over hated rivals) to keep his job. He has talked positively of his team in a manner we haven’t heard since becoming the coach in 2015. He appears confident, and by all accounts so does the team. QB Collin Hill has NFL tools, but couldn’t fully show them last  year as he was still in the process of recovering from ACL surgery eight months priorand not being as sharp due to missing all of spring ball and not getting starter reps in the fall. He will be a difference maker this year, as well as a trusted team leader. The offense has a solid stable of running backs and weapons at TE and WR. If an inexperienced offensive line can perform decently, this unit should score a lot of points against a younger CU defense. The Rams’ defense should be vastly better than last year, which isn’t saying much, but with a second season under defensive coordinator John Janicek, players should feel far more comfortable in his system. The defensive line should be stronger than it has been in many years, with junor defensive end Emmanuel Jones joined by Arizona State transfer Jalen Bates on the other side, and four talented, experienced guys on the interior. The linebacking corps gets a boost from Troy transfer Tron Folsom, who can fly and hit, to complement fellow starters Cam’Ron carter and Max McDonald. Cornerbacks Rashad Ajayi and Anthony Hawkins return as starters with experienced safeties behind them in Jamal Hicks and Logan Stewart. Sure, depth could be an issue for the Rams, but in one game — the first of the year — they’ll be healthy and in position to compete with most of their projected starters in place. 

CU has a new head coach in Mel Tucker, who will toughen up the Buffs’ defense in time, but will it show in Week 1 of his tenure, and will he have his team buying in early in the season? We saw first hand the learning curve that a coordinator from Georgia went through upon arrival in Colorado. It’s fair to think Tucker’s influence may take time also. In addition, the Buffs have hated rival Nebraska set to visit Folsom Field the following week. Will the Rams’ have the Buffs’ full attention after owning the series the last four years? CSU is nearly a two-touchdown underdog. The line is understandable considering the Rams’ performance last year, but certainly inflated for a rivalry game, and I certainly like them to cover — and, and in fact, have a shot at a victory. 

Rams 34, Buffs 28. 

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