Opponent: Colorado State Rams
Date: September 26, 2020
All-time series record: First meeting
Last year: 4-8, 78th in SP+
Head coach: Steve Addazio (first year at Colorado State; 57-55 overall, 9 years)
All right, so: back to the task of previewing Vanderbilt’s 12 opponents on this year’s football schedule. (Assuming there is a football schedule... sigh.) We arrive now at the Week 4 opponent, Colorado State, a team that Vanderbilt has never played before. But the Commodores and Rams will meet four times over the next seven years, with a return trip to Fort Collins on tap in 2021, followed by another two-game series in 2025 and 2026. Yay future scheduling!
Of course, the coach who agreed to that series is gone. Colorado State moved on from Mike Bobo after last season, his fifth at the school. Bobo produced three straight 7-6 seasons in his first three years before collapsing to 3-9 in 2018 and improving slightly to 4-8 last year.
Part of the problem last season was the early loss of quarterback Colin Hill, who started the season by completing 69-of-102 passes for 840 yards with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, before being lost for the season in the third game at Arkansas. In his absence, Nebraska transfer Patrick O’Brien threw for 2803 yards with 13 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. O’Brien is back this season, and with Hill having gone to South Carolina (where, coincidentally, Mike Bobo is now the offensive coordinator) as a graduate transfer, the starting job would appear to be O’Brien’s to lose.
Also back is O’Brien’s favorite target, senior WR Warren Jackson, who caught 77 passes for 1119 yards and 8 touchdowns last season, and at 6’6” and 218 pounds has all the appearances of a legitimate NFL prospect. In fact, Colorado State’s top five targets in the passing game are all returning. On the other hand, the Rams will have to replace leading rusher Marvin Kinsey, as well as three starters on the offensive line; but the pass-and-catch combo looks good. The open question is whether with a retooled offensive line but with a solid quarterback and a good set of receivers, Addazio will wait a bit before implementing the ground-and-pound style that was his favorite at Boston College.
(As an aside: uh, what’s with all the retread coaching hires across college football? I have a theory that in the world of astronomical buyouts, schools like to save themselves a chunk of change by hiring a guy that doesn’t need to be bought out of a contract — and even better if he’s collecting a buyout from a previous employer.)
Of course, offense was never Colorado State’s problem under Bobo. The defense was a massive issue in 2018, when the Rams finished 117th in points allowed per game and allowed a ghastly 6.8 yards per play. Those numbers got a bit better in 2019 — 91st and 5.6 yards per play — but it still wasn’t something anyone would confuse for a good defense, though even those numbers are inflated by a rough first month when the Rams gave up 52 points to Colorado, 55 (!) to Arkansas, and 41 to Toledo. In November, Colorado State held both UNLV and Wyoming to just 17 points (though they lost the latter game.)
And that unit returns seven starters. The Rams have to replace leading tackler Jamal Hicks and pass-rush specialist Jan-Phillip Bombek, and not much else. Returning defensive linemen Manny Jones and Ellison Hubbard combined for 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, and unlike some Mountain West defensive lines, the Rams’ defensive line is at least in the ballpark of an SEC defensive line in terms of size. Throw in linebacker Cam’ron Carter (7 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and an interception), and the Rams have the makings of a solid front seven, at least by Mountain West standards.
From Vanderbilt’s perspective, this game comes at a rough point on the schedule — on the heels of road trips to Missouri and Kansas State, and a week before a trip to Georgia. What it means is that a loss here probably means a 1-4 start, and at least on paper Colorado State would appear to have enough to potentially spring a trap. Then again, this team went 4-8 for a reason, and while there was a coaching change Steve Addazio was hardly a world-beater at either Temple or Boston College.