Colorado State (0-0) at New Mexico (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 3rd, 6:00 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: University Stadium (39,224) -- Albuquerque, New Mexico. Television: The Mountain. Home Record: CSU 0-0, UNM 0-0. Away Record: CSU 0-0, UNM 0-0. Neutral Record: CSU 0-0, UNM 0-0. Conference Record: CSU 0-0, UNM 0-0. Series Record: Colorado State leads, 33-25.
GAME NOTES: Getting a jump on the Mountain West Conference schedule, the New Mexico Lobos host the Colorado State Rams in league action right out of the chute this weekend in Albuquerque. Both teams had disappointing seasons a year ago, combining to win a mere four games, but at least the Rams appear to be heading in a positive direction in 2011.
Colorado State, under the direction of head coach Steve Fairchild, posted a total of three victories, with two of those coming against the rest of the MWC as the squad finished in a tie for sixth in the standings. However, the Rams dropped three straight to close out the year, including a dismal 44-0 setback at Wyoming in the finale.
As for the Lobos, they tied for eighth in the league standings with just one win, ironically enough a 34-31 triumph over the aforementioned Wyoming Cowboys at home in early November. Like CSU, the Lobos enter this season riding a three-game losing streak and that means third-year head coach Mike Locksley remains on the proverbial hot seat after putting up a 1-11 record overall for the second straight season.
In terms of the all-time series between these familiar foes, Colorado State owns a 33-25 advantage over the Lobos, thanks in part to a 38-14 romp at home in last year's encounter. The victory for the Rams last season was one of only two in conference, the other coming against UNLV two weeks earlier in October.
Quarterback Pete Thomas will again try to get the offense moving in the right direction this year, even though he became a tackling dummy for nearly every opponent in 2010. The offensive line, which returns four starters from a year ago, was almost worthless a year ago as they allowed a staggering 3.67 sacks per outing, the highest rate in the MWC and 118th among the 120 programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision. It certainly didn't help that Thomas had almost no running attack to lean on, the group producing just 113.0 ypg to rank seventh in the league and 103rd in the country. Thomas was the only true freshman to start every game at quarterback in the FBS last season and set the Mountain West freshman passing mark with 2,662 yards through the air, but taking a beating week after week is not the sort of performance he wants to repeat this time around. Lou Greenwood will be the primary focus down the field for Thomas, the receiver having reeled in 34 passes for 474 yards and a pair of TDs a year ago.
As if trying to work their way back from a miserable 2010 wasn't tough enough, the CSU defense was issued some more bad news earlier this week when it was announced that starting middle linebacker James Skelton and backup defensive tackle Zach Tiedgen were arrested at a move-in pool party at an apartment complex last Saturday. The Rams can't afford too many distractions given that they ranked 104th in the nation in scoring defense with 34.7 ppg allowed a year ago. The pass defense is an area that needs particular attention, seeing as how the group had an efficiency rating of only 167.29, worst in the MWC and 118th in the country. Linebacker Mychal Sisson might be the only positive for the unit this year, a favorite to repeat as an All-MWC performer, as he placed second on the squad in overall tackles with 95 and was first in tackles for loss with 15. In addition to logging 4.5 sacks and a couple of fumble recoveries, Sisson was one of the nation's leaders with a staggering seven forced fumbles, equaling the total set by all of his teammates combined.
Quarterback B.R. Holbrook makes his return to the starting lineup for the Lobos this season, even though he tossed six interceptions and was responsible for a mere two touchdowns through the air in 2010. Holbrook appeared in a total of just seven games as the Lobos shuffled the QB position like no other last year, with three other players attempting at least 58 passes and combining for nine TDs and as many picks. The offense will rely heavily on tight end Lucas Reed who was a First Team All-MWC performer last year with his 33 receptions for 459 yards and five touchdowns. Ahead of Reed on the receptions list was Ty Kirk who appeared in all 12 games and made 38 grabs for 477 yards. Top rusher Kasey Carrier returns for another go after gaining 373 yards and scoring twice on 104 attempts. However, as was the case with the quarterback position where the consistency simply wasn't there in 2010, Carrier will have to be the primary ball carrier in order to get into gear and give the offense another reliable option.
Almost everything about the Lobos was brutal last season, although the pass defense was somewhat respectable by ranking sixth in the conference and 57th nationally with 218.8 ypg allowed. In the middle of it all for UNM was Carmen Messina, an All-MWC Second Team selection in 2010 who is the top returning tackler in the league after posting 115 stops. Sure, making all those hits says something about Messina's tenacity in getting after the ball, but it also tells the story of a defensive line that allowed far too many plays to get behind them into the second line of defense. Messina has led the MWC in tackles in each of the last two seasons, putting up an NCAA-best 162 stops in 2009, but at some point the rest of the players around him have to carry their weight and take some of the pressure off the tireless linebacker. Last year UNM was one of only four teams in the FBS to surrender at least 500 points (532), the 44.3 ppg permitted ranking the group dead last in college football in that department, only because East Carolina (572 points) played one more game.
Which ever team wins this meeting shouldn't get too high on itself, even though opening with a victory is certainly better than the alternative. Both teams continue to rebuild and have a very long road ahead of them, but all signs point to Colorado State getting off on the right foot.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colorado State 21, New Mexico 17
08/31 10:31:42 ET