At the end of last season, both of these teams jettisoned their coaches after poor seasons. Fresno State fired longtime coach Pat Hill after the Bulldogs went 4-9, and Colorado State sent Steve Fairchild packing after a 3-9 campaign. Then Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who had previously been the Fresno State OC even earlier, was a favorite for the Fresno State job for a short while, but he eventually pulled his name out of the running and went to Colorado State, while the Bulldogs hired Texas A&M coach Tim DeRuyter. The connections don't stop there though. DeRuyter only retained two of Pat Hill's staff, running backs coach Joe Wade and Director of Football Operations Drew Hill. Hill left for Colorado State shortly thereafter, and McElwain hired in short order three more members of Hill's old staff: LB coach Tim Skipper, OL coach Derek Frazier, and Football Office Manager Sandy Steele. Finally, current Fresno State WR coach Ron Antoine is a Colorado State graduate. As an aside, both McElwain and DeRuyter eventually went after an under-the-radar RB in last year's recruiting cycle in Marteze Waller, who ended up signing with Fresno State.
The two teams last met in the New Mexico Bowl in 2008, with Colorado State winning 40-35.
Fresno State is 3-2, coming into Fort Collins off of a wild 52-40 win over San Diego State at home in which Derek Carr threw for over 500 yards and five touchdowns. Three different receivers broke 100 yards, including senior Rashad Evans in his first game back from academic ineligibility. The Bulldogs are in the top 20 in the nation in total offense and scoring. They have shown explosiveness but have also made mistakes along the way. On the defensive side of the ball, Fresno State is led by Safety Phillip Thomas, who leads the nation in interceptions with 5. As a team, the Bulldogs lead the nation in interceptions with eleven and total takeaways with sixteen. The return of numerous key players who were out last year plus Nick Toth's attacking defensive style has worked wonders, and senior LB Shawn Plummer may return from his knee injury this week.
Colorado State is 1-4. The Rams started out strong with a win over the in-state rival Colorado Buffaloes but have trailed off. RB Chris Nwoke was hurt in the first game and hadn't seen action until last week's 42-21 loss to Air Force; he had 10 carries for 30 yards. The Rams' run game was not the same without him healthy; Colorado State is now 116th in rushing yards per game and was held to 129 yards and just 3.8 yards per carry against AF. In addition, the Rams lost starting QB Garrett Grayson to a shoulder injury early in the game. Backup M.J. McPeek came in and threw for 292 yards and 2 TD, but he also threw two picks. The Rams also appear to have lost senior CB Momo Thomas to injury as well.
Both teams are going to want this game badly. The Rams need a win to get some morale and momentum back and Fresno State has yet to win a road game this season. Several things play in the Rams' favor, including the cold weather (The forecast is in the high 40s), the elevation, and the fact that Fresno State moves onto rival Boise State after this game and the Bulldogs may come out a bit flat. On the flip side, the Rams' injuries do not bode well. M.J. McPeek, newly adjusting to starting, is facing a defense that excels in forcing opponents into mistakes and turnovers. For a secondary facing a very talented passing attack (3 of the top 5 WRs statistically in the MWC are on the Bulldogs in league-leading redshirt freshman Davante Adams, junior Isaiah Burse, and Josh Harper, plus the returning Evans), the loss of Thomas looks fairly bad, especially given that the Rams surrendered 370 yards passing and 3 TDs to the only competent passer on their schedule thus far in San Jose State's David Fales. Colorado State has also shown a weakness against the run, allowing two straight 200-yard games to opposing running backs.
Fresno State's versatility on offense makes them an extremely hard team to defend. Rouse will sneak for five and six yards like clockwork if there aren't enough men in the box, but Carr will pick the opposing secondary apart given time and the 'Dogs WRs can embarass all but the best DBs in single coverage. The 'Dogs will probably come out firing in their up-tempo offense, with a slightly more even pass-to-run ratio than last week's 56-30 split. The Rams, meanwhile, will want to play keep-away and keep the 'Dogs' offense off the field as much as possible. With a faltering run game and injured Nwoke that is a tall order, especially given Fresno State's propensity for forcing turnovers. Even given the terrain advantages and the altitude I can't see CSU holding the 'Dogs off for too long. Prediction: Fresno State 41, Colorado State 24.