Opponent: Colorado State Rams
Date: September 11, 2021
All-time series record: First meeting. Technically, we were supposed to play them last year, but, well...
Last year: 1-3, 92nd in SP+, 110th in Sagarin
Head coach: Steve Addazio (second year at CSU, 1-3; 11th year overall, 58-58)
Let’s try this again, shall we?
Vanderbilt was scheduled to play Colorado State in Nashville last September, until the SEC decided to cancel the entire nonconference schedule and go with a conference-only schedule. That game was the home half of a home-and-home series signed a while back, and now, Vanderbilt will head to Fort Collins for the second game of Clark Lea’s head coaching tenure on September 11. This game has already been announced as a 9 PM CT kickoff on the CBS Sports Network, and as I wrote when the kickoff time was announced, this is quite likely the latest that a Vanderbilt football game has ever been scheduled to kick off.
That’s one factor that will make this game exceptionally weird. The other factor is that Fort Collins, Colorado, is located at an elevation of 5,003 feet. The city where I live is 3,202 feet above sea level and I notice a difference when I run at that altitude as opposed to the lower altitude of Nashville, so that could potentially be a factor in this game.
As far as the team they’ll face, well, that’s a bit of an open question. Colorado State played just four games in 2020 and lost the three they played away from Fort Collins: 38-17 at Fresno State, 52-21 at Boise State, and 29-17 at San Diego State. They did beat erstwhile rival Wyoming at home by a score of 34-24 for their one win of the season, but trying to glean anything from a four-game sample seems pretty foolish. And that’s before you get into the fact that the Rams had a new coach in 2020: Steve Addazio, the former Temple and Boston College head coach, who replaced Mike Bobo — who, ironically, was South Carolina’s interim coach for three games last season.
One thing we do know, though, is that the Rams will have a new quarterback. Last year’s starter, Patrick O’Brien, transferred to Washington after throwing for 591 yards and completing 45-of-80 passes last season. You would think that redshirt junior Todd Centeio, who struggled (14-of-36, 207 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) as O’Brien’s backup last season, would be facing competition for the job, but Addazio already announced him as the 2021 starter back in February and I have to assume he’s not going to lose the job on the basis of a single game against South Dakota State (the Rams’ Week 1 opponent) so Vanderbilt will probably see him.
It’s tough to say that Centeio will have weapons to work with, but at the very least, Colorado State does return its top two rushers (A’Jon Vivens and Marcus McElroy) and its top three receivers (tight end Trey McBride and starting wide receivers Dante Wright and E.J. Scott) from last season. McBride is a weapon at 6’4” and 260 pounds and was on the receiving end of all four of CSU’s passing touchdowns last season, while Wright averaged 15.8 yards per reception on 20 catches. And the offensive line is a similar story: yeah, the Rams return all five starters, but then... this wasn’t a terribly impressive unit last season.
The defense is much the same story: they return practically everybody (to the point where I’m actually questioning if they even updated the roster from last season), but from a unit that wasn’t all that great (the Rams allowed 35.8 ppg.) Then again, opponents averaged just 2.5 yards per carry on the ground... then again, do Mountain West teams really run the ball?
In other words, I just wrote a bunch of words to tell you that I don’t know a whole lot about this team except that they played four games last season and have a new quarterback and seem to return a lot of guys off a not-very-good team. The real reason this matchup scares me is that (a) Colorado State might be better than Vanderbilt and (b) uh, are we really doing this at a mile above sea level? This game is one that’s certainly winnable but also one where I’ll think a lot of Clark Lea if he can actually go out and do it.