The Colorado State Rams and Alabama Crimson Tide exist in two separate college football universes.
Colorado State plays in front of a half-empty stadium with little to no television audience, while Bama rakes in huge ratings on major networks. The Rams are coming off of their first win of the season -- a not-exactly dominant performance against an FCS squad -- while the Crimson Tide exacted revenge on Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and the sixth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies in convincing fashion. Jim McElwain and the Rams do their best every year to recruit talent overlooked by power programs, while Nick Saban and the Tide add blue-chip prospects to a roster already chock-full of NFL talent.
So if you're McElwain and Colorado State, why schedule this game at all? Well, first of all, it's a nice payday -- Colorado State will receive a reported $1.5 million for their trouble -- but there's another reason why this kind of game is worth putting on the schedule.
Because playing against the big boys is the type of thing to do if you want success, even at a non-AQ-conference level. It's how Colorado State rose to national prominence under Sonny Lubick, when a 1994 upset of an undefeated Arizona Wildcats team ranked No. 4 in the country ushered in the glory days Rams football. It's how Boise State went from "that team with the blue field" to a perennial Top 25 program. Upper-echelon MWC teams like Fresno State, Utah State and Nevada all regularly schedule matchups against big-time competition.
If a coach handles the situation well, it's how a team matures and develops. And when you put a scare into a highly favored opponent (see Zips, Akron), it's how you get some national attention that may help your recruiting down the line.
So does all that mean Colorado State actually has a chance when they take on the winners of three of the last four national championships on Saturday and shoot for their first road victory in over two years?
In a word: No.
In two: Hell no.
But the players can't say that, and they didn't, as Rich Kurtzman recounts in a piece on Examiner.com:
"I'm excited. I can't wait," Rams starting quarterback Garrett Grayson said of playing Alabama this week. "Everybody in the country, in the world, obviously is doubting us. Hopefully we're going to go down there and shock the world. That's the mindset we have. We have nothing to lose. They have everything to lose. That's the kind of the mentality we're going in (with)."
Grayson's confidence is what a quarterback needs to project, as is the attitude of the team's best defensive player.
"I always look forward to competition like that," senior linebacker Shaq Barrett said of Alabama. "It's just an opportunity to go out there and show what we can do as a team. I'm pretty sure a lot of the other guys on the team feel as though we can go out there and give them a game."
In reality, this will be a learning experience for the Colorado State. Former offensive lineman Clint Oldenburg, who traveled to No. 1 USC as a member of the Rams in 2004 -- a 49-0 loss -- summed up what can only be considered the best-case scenario following the team's trip to Tuscaloosa:
"I think this game has the potential to be a very critical turning point for the program based on what it can do to guys," he continued. "The team is going to be a very mature team and regardless of the outcome of the game, they have to take some certain things from it."
So while McElwain might literally be leading the Rams as sheep to the slaughter against his former squad, the decision to play top-shelf opponents should pay off over time. And who knows, perhaps by the time the teams next play -- they're scheduled to meet again in 2015 or 2017 -- Colorado State will be the favored team.
Yeah, somehow I don't think so, either.