Around the Horn, Oct. 11, 2019

Around The Horn” is a resurrection of a column from the early days of RamNation.com. We take readers around the college athletics world, as it relates to Colorado State and the Mountain West Conference. This one is brought to you by Ginger and Baker, which has live, local music on the Rooftop tonight and every Friday and Saturday in October during happy hour from 4-6pm! 

Welcome Lobos! This is the first time we’ve ever done an Around the Horn on a Colorado State football game day — even dating back to the original days of ATH back in the mid-2000s! This might just be the good luck charm Colorado State needs to get off the schneid against FBS opponents (the streak is now 10 losses in a row) as the Rams face New Mexico at 6 p.m. MT tonight on CBS Sports Network. Of course, in this case, the Rams may not need our luck at all, considering they’ve won nine straight against the Lobos and 15 out of the last 20. Gamblers must be well aware of this information as more than 70% of the betting public (according to Covers.com) is taking the Rams and laying the 3.5 points. This marks the first time the Rams have been favored against an FBS team since, well, against New Mexico October 13 last year at Canvas Stadium. The Rams squeaked out a 20-18 win in that game (their last FBS win) and covered the 1-point spread. The Rams are 6-7 in Friday night games (not including bowl games) dating back to 1990, with three of those six wins coming against the Lobos. In other words, the Rams are elated to be visiting the Land of Enchantment tonight.   

Apt barometer. Vegas oddsmakers’ opinions of teams are usually a pretty good indicator of how good or bad that program is. The Rams have been favored vs. FBS opponents just four times since the start of the 2018 season (out of 19 games). During the Mike Bobo era, the Rams have been favored in 23 of 58 games vs. FBS opponents. That essentially means 60.4% of the time, oddsmakers have thought of the Rams as the lesser team on the gridiron. 

Vote of confidence. The Denver Post asked former legendary CSU football coach Sonny Lubick his thoughts on this year’s Rams, and he was quick to come to the coaching staff’s defense.

“I like the coaching staff. I like Coach Bobo. They’ve got to get a break here or there,” Lubick told the Post. “They’ve played some really good games, and I think the defense will come along. I know you’ve got to come along sooner than you’d like. I’m not against anything that they’re doing. ”

Lubick added that he thinks CSU athletic director Joe Parker is “a good man, a good person,” but wonders if the Rams have had too difficult a schedule the past few years.

“Yes, they’ve (dropped) games, but they’ve played pretty well this year against pretty good competition,” Lubick said. “I don’t care how good or bad Arkansas is, they’re a big team, and that was a game that CSU probably has every right to win or have a chance (to win) … you can schedule over your head a little bit and it takes a lot out of you.”

Where were you? Twenty-five years ago this week, the 23rd-ranked Rams went into Tucson and shocked previously unbeaten, No. 6-ranked Arizona (No. 1 preseason pick by Sports Illustrated) with a 21-16 win. It was the best night in the history of CSU football, judging by the effect it had on the city of Fort Collins,  attention it brought to Colorado State University, and the springboard it gave to the football program under Lubick (who went on to win the WAC Championship for the first time in history that year, and won six more conference titles in the next nine seasons). I’ll never forget watching the game on Prime Sports Network with a group of friends in a small house just west of C.B. & Potts off Elizabeth St. As the game went on, our cheering got louder and louder, and when Sean Moran scooped up a fumble for a 77-yard defensive score to give the Rams a 21-6 lead late in the third quarter, we dog piled on the floor, causing the student resident living in the basement to come to the front door and angrily ask what the hell was going on. As we explained the historic importance of what was happening, this fellow student — who couldn’t have cared less about football and had no idea the Rams were even playing — stayed and watched the rest of the game with us. Later, as my friends and I celebrated with thousands of other fans on Elizabeth St., we saw the dude from the basement hooting and hollering “Go Rams” as he climed a light pole amidst the sea of people. Morale of the story: Winning football binds a community. It gives the student population — sports fans and non-sports fans — a reason to come together. It generates pride in alumni. CSU has to find a way to get back to those days of winning, inspiring football. 

Hoops sneak peak. The men’s basketball team held an open scrimmage for the first time this season prior to the Homecoming football game Saturday, and for those of you who are down on football and didn’t make it to the scrimmage, I wish you had. Your spirits would have been given a boost by the apparent promise that this team has for years to come. We all know about the returning stalwarts in Nico Carvacho, Kris Martin, and Hyron Edwards, as well as the young up-and-coming sophomores Kendall Moore and Adam Thistlewood. But when you see the size and skill of three of the new freshman that have arrived in the program, it will make you giddy. David Roddy (Minneapolis, Minn.) stood out the most, as at 6-5, 250 lb he looked more like a linebacker than a basketball player. But he’s got tremendous athletic ability and maturity, and he can score both inside and from the perimeter. Nevada decommit Dischon Thomas (Phoenix, Ariz.) stands 6-9, 215 lb while John Tonje (Omaha, Neb.) checks in at 6-5, 195, and both are pure muscle and physically mature. It’s hard to believe the three of them are 18 years old, but each looks like they are ready to compete immediately. Head coach Niko Medved said he’d like to redshirt one or two of them, but may not be able to because of how they’re competing so far. Add in sophomore VCU guard transfer P.J. Byrd and true freshman guard Isaiah Stevens (Allen, TX), who both handle the ball very well, and this team has a lot of components in place to elevate the Ram basketball program in the near future. 

A few hundred people watched the scrimmage as the team competed in three, 10-minute games. Players and coaches hung around afterwards and met with fans. For more impressions from the event, check out Cracker’s College Hoops blog. Expect the hoops team to conduct similar scrimmages on Homecoming each year. 

Fab 5. College Basketball Central (cbbcentral.com) published a piece back in August outlining its top “Five Underrated Mid-Major Recruiting Classes”. The Rams made the list along with Loyola (MD), Saint Peter’s, Rhode Island, and College of Charleston. The author calls Roddy the headliner of the group but outlines the aforementioned Thomas, Tonje, and Stevens, along with James Moors, the 6-foot-10 New Zealander who the author calls the “epitome of a stretch four who shot over 50% from 3 at FIBA U19 this summer”. Aside from the five freshmen, the piece also mentions the three new transfers in the program, including Byrd (immediately eligible), Georgia transfer Ignas Sargiunas, and Ohio transfer Teyvion Kirk as reasons for the high rating of this class. More here

Shhhh. College basketball games are just a few weeks away (CSU’s first exhibition vs. Western Colorado is three weeks from today), but many college programs will  get a chance to square off against real opponents in private scrimmages over the next couple of weeks. Such scrimmages are closed to the public, and in the past have been kept secret, but Stadium did some digging on this year’s scrimmage matchups, and here are the Mountain West’s:

  • Air Force – 10/19 vs. Southern Utah in Las Vegas
  • Boise State – 10/26 at Utah
  • Colorado State – 10/25 at Northern Colorado
  • Fresno State – 10/19 at UCLA
  • Nevada – None
  • New Mexico – 10/19 vs. Portland State; 10/27 at Oregon
  • San Diego State – None
  • San Jose State – 10/19 at UC Davis; 10/26 vs Sacramento State
  • UNLV – 10/19 vs. Pepperdine
  • Utah State – 10/19 vs. Northern Colorado
  • Wyoming – 10/26 vs. University of Colorado – Colorado Springs

For the full list nationwide, click here

Playbook warrior. Former Ram wideout Bisi Johnson, now the fourth-leading receiver for the Minnesota Vikings (8 catches for 78 yards so far this season) joined the weekly “Under Center with Kirk Cousins” show, and talked about what it took for him to make the 53-man roster in this rookie season. No. 1 on his list was religiously devoting himself to learning the playbook. Check out the video below for more. 

Passing grades. CSU junior quarterback Patrick O’Brien’s performance in a 24-10 San Diego State Saturday night wasn’t awful. He completed 19-of-30 passes for 217 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. But he missed a lot of opportunities according to Bobo, and thus the coach opened the QB position for competition this week in practice, which O’Brien competed for with sophomore Justice McCoy, and then recaptured starting role for tonight’s game. In his two and a half games thus far since taking over for injured Collin Hill, he has a combined passer rating of 130.7 according to TeamRankings.com. In Hill’s two and a half games prior to getting injured, he had a 158.8 passer rating. The best passer rating in the last 14 years was Nick Stevens’ 171.5 in 2016, followed closely by Garret Grayson’s 166.2 in 2014.  

Here are the passer ratings of CSU quarterbacks dating back to 2006, according to TeamRankings.com:

  • 2019
    No. 28 Collin Hill: 158.8
    No. 88 Patrick O’Brien: 130.7
  • 2018
    No. 49 K.J. Carta-Samuels: 140.1
    No. 96 Collin Hill: 121.1
  • 2017
    No. 31 Nick Stevens: 148
  • 2016
    No. 5 Nick Stevens: 171.5
  • 2105
    No. 49 Nick Stevens: 138.8
  • 2014
    No. 5 Garrett Grayson: 166.2
  • 2013
    No. 52 Garrett Grayson: 138.4
  • 2012 (No QBs in the top 100)
  • 2011
    No. 96 Pete Thomas: 116.1
  • 2010
    No. 80 Pete Thomas: 124.2
  • 2009
    No. 85 Grant Stucker: 122
  • 2008
    No. 38 Billy Farris: 136.2
  • 2007
    No. 19 Caleb Hanie: 144.6
  • 2006
    No. 58 Caleb Hanie: 124.3

AAC > MW? While Boise State is currently the highest-ranked Group of 5 team (No. 14 in both the AP and Coaches Polls), and trending towards earning the New Year’s bowl game bid that goes to the top G5 team, the AAC is once again looking like the deepest G5 conference. The league has three programs ranked in the AP’s Top 25 (Memphis, SMU, and Cincinnati) and four more receiving votes (Temple, Navy, UCF, and Tulane). No other MW teams make an appearance in the AP Poll or others receiving votes column, and only Hawaii and San Diego State make the other’s receiving votes column in the Coaches Poll.  AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told the Athletic, “It’s been our goal to have the deepest conference and be as much as the so-called P5 as we can be. To do that, you have to be deeper so we have a better strength of schedule.

“I would much rather not be a one-horse or a two-horse league. I want to see a lot of really good teams. I want to see our league develop that strength of schedule where we’re respected. That’s more important than getting that New Year’s bid. That doesn’t mean the bid isn’t important. We obviously want to get it and play those top teams. … It’s important to get that bid, not only the financial part, but the exposure on New Year’s Day. But it’s more important to have what is perceived as the best G5 conference, and I think that’s what we’ve had since the beginning of this whole thing.”

Leader of the pack. The Mountain West may not have as much depth as the AAC currently, but it does lead the way among all conferences in wins vs. Power 5 non-confererence opponents (and Notre Dame) this season. Here are the current records:

  1. Mountain West: 8-10
  2. Big 12: 6-4
  3. SEC: 6-5
  4. American Conference: 6-12
  5. Pac 12: 5-3
  6. Big Ten: 4-5
  7. ACC: 3-8
  8. Sun Belt: 3-8
  9. MAC: 1-21
  10. Conference USA: 0-17

(Independents Notre Dame and BYU are 2-1 and 2-2, respectively. ) 

Leader of the Pack. Prior to the college football season, we mentioned that Malik Henry was one of three “Last Chance U” alums on Mountain West rosters. The former Independence (Kan.) Community College QB was signed as a preferred walk-on at Nevada this summer and was vying for the starting QB position for the Wolfpack. He didn’t win the job going into the season, but the Pack, coming off a 54-3 loss to Hawaii Saturday, have now named him the starter in this week’s game vs. San Jose State. Henry’s notorious collegiate career started at Florida State before he transferred to Independence (Kan.) Community College, and has been riddled with on- and off-the-field issues. Here’s a little snippet from Season 3 of the Netflix series on why Henry was one of the more entertaining players on the show.

Quitters never win. Last week in this column we noted how two Houston Cougars football starters decided to take advantage of a new redshirt rule and sit out the rest of the year as a redshirt — after playing in the first four games of the season — because they didn’t like the team’s record and wanted to position themselves for a fresh start in 2020. Their decisions had head coach Dana Holgorsen’s full blessing. Well, the fallout is already occurring. Check out the following series of tweets from former Cougars offensive lineman Justin Murphy who shredded Holgorsen and the program for “actively tanking” the 2019 season. 

Close shave. As sports gambling becomes legalized in more and more states (currently 11), expect to see more stories like this one to surface in the coming years. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment alleging that a member of the Colombo crime family in New York attempted to fix an NCAA Division I college basketball game in December 2018. He was accused of offering members of an unidentified college basketball team “thousands of dollars to intentionally lose the game”, according to a news release from the Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Like a scene out of the Sopranos, Benjamin Bifalco was caught on a wiretap discussing the scheme with Joseph Amato Jr., one of 20 defendants who were arrested last Thursday and charged with a variety of crimes targeting the family. Bifalco allegedly bailed on the plan as the attempt to fix the game appeared to fail, and the proposed bets ultimately would not have won. 

The NCAA released a statement saying it was “actively monitoring the situation, which is a part of the criminal process, and will respond accordingly if it is determined that NCAA rules were violated.”

Fault! While actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman have garnered most of the national media attention for essentially bribing their kids’ way into college and college athletics, there have been underpublicized examples of victims who have missed out on their own athletic opportunities due to the scam. A recent article by ProPublica.org tells the story of former Sage Hill High School (CA) boys tennis teammates Adam Langevin (the top player on the team) and Grant Janavs (who failed to make the varsity roster his senior season). Janavs earned a scholarship to play at Georgetown, while Langevin received no Division I offers. Turns out Janavs’ mother Michelle was one of two Sage Hill trustees in the group of 33 parents who were charged in the now-infamous “Operation Varsity Blues” case. In March, William (Rick) Singer, an independent college-admissions counselor, pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to fraud, racketeering, money laundering, and obstruction of justice in a scheme that involved bribing college coaches and administrators and rigging test scores. Ultimately, Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst was accused of accepting upwards of $2.7M in “consulting” fees from Singer’s foundation to secure a spot for Grant Janavs on the roster. Michelle Janavs’ escapades reportedly didn’t end there either. She also paid $200,000 for her older daughter to get into USC for beach volleyball and paid another $100,000 to fix both of her standardized test scores. For more on this fascinating read, click here

Well-oiled machine. The 15th-ranked women’s volleyball team continued its methodical march through the regular season with a 25-22, 25-20, 25-17 sweep over Fresno State Thursday night at Moby Arena. It was the 10th sweep of the season for the Rams, who improved to 15-1 overall, 5-0 in MW play. Senior middle blocker Kirstie Hillyer recorded her 1,000th kill during the match and became just the fourth Ram to reach 1,000 kills and 500 blocks in her career (joining Mekana Barnes, Megan Plourde, Angela Knopf). The Rams’ lone loss this season came to now-16th ranked California during the season-opening weekend, and they are just one of 10 teams with one loss, behind No. 1 Baylor who is still undefeated. The Rams host San Diego State (9-7 overall, 2-3 in MW play) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Moby Arena.  

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 All previous Around the Horn columns can be found here. 

 

 

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