1. The Rams have not enjoyed the same success in 2016 as they've been gathering over the past few years, what are the two biggest reasons why the Rams seem to be having the struggles they are?
If I had to narrow it down to two reasons, I'd say poor line play and inexperience. CSU's offensive line was touted preseason as arguably the best in the Mountain West, but through six games, they've been wildly inconsistent or simply not effective. The Rams lack experience in most areas, but offensive line is not one of them. Interior veterans Jake Bennett and Fred Zerblis received preseason award watch list nominations and/or all-conference recognition, yet they have struggled to create holes in the run game. Guard Paul Thurston was a former starter on Nebraska's offensive line, but has struggled with ineffectiveness and injuries, while tackles Nick Callender and Trae Moxley lack mobility and consistency. The Rams have run the ball well at times, namely last week in their comeback win over Utah State, but it's not dominant like many thought it would be.
On the defensive side of the ball, CSU returned to a 3-4 front, but they don't have the personnel or depth to truly be effective. All three starters are first-year starters (NT Josh Lovingood and ends Jake Buys and Darnell Thompson). They are solid, but the Rams have resorted to true freshmen Toby McBride and Arjay Jean to fill needs at end, especially on sure passing downs. So depth is the main issue there, but the group overall has steadily improved over recent weeks. I just wouldn't consider them world beaters by any means. They usually do enough to get by against average competition, but against teams like Colorado and even Wyoming, they got dominated.
The other aspect is youth across the board. CSU has numerous freshmen or first-year starters all over the field on both sides of the ball. Third string QB Collin Hill, a true freshman who was easily the best quarterback of the three (CSU did everything it could to hold onto his redshirt through the first two games), tore his ACL in last week's win and is out for the year. Opening season starter Nick Stevens is back at the helm to lead the offense, but he struggled mightily in CSU's first game blowout loss to rival Colorado. Inexperience and youth have really limited the team defensively, especially, but also in the passing game due to new receivers.
2. Who is Colorado State's secret weapon? In other words, which player will make an impact on Saturday that we may have never heard of?
The one player that continually comes to mind for me is true freshman tailback Marvin Kinsey. He's a 6-foot-1, 200-pound slashing back from Atlanta and can take it the distance on any carry. He hasn't seen the field as much this year because he's third behind a strong duo that consists of Dalyn Dawkins, a jitterbug-type back, and bruiser Izzy Matthews. Kinsey is only 18 years old, but he runs with a high pad level and had a costly fumble in the loss to Wyoming. Once he starts to get accustomed to the college game, learns to run behind his pads, plus get more reps in game situations, watch out. He's the guy I expect to be a home run threat in CSU's offense in the future, but it's probably too soon still to expect he can do that in his first college season, and especially on the road at a conference powerhouse.
3. What do you believe Colorado State can do (either defensively or offensively) to put the pressure on Boise, and possibly come away with a win?
CSU doesn't have the horses on paper to simply go back-and-forth and keep up with Boise State. They'll need to create turnovers, then capitalize on them. The Rams will also need strong line play and to take care of the football. The problem is, in Boise State's blowout wins over the Rams in past years, CSU seems to give up quick, explosive touchdowns that put the game out of reach in a hurry. They can't yield so many explosive plays (see Thomas Sperback), but they also need to rattle Rypien with pressure, although rushing the passer has been the core issue limiting CSU's defensive production. So, really, they'll need to play a perfect game and hope Boise comes out flat - maybe put the ball on the turf a few times or throw a pick-six to the CSU defense.
4. What is the current "State of the Union" for Colorado State fans? What is the expectation of said fans through the remainder of the schedule?
Well, at this point, CSU is trying to salvage a bowl appearance. The Rams got trounced by rivals Colorado (44-7) and Wyoming (38-17), which is unacceptable. The home loss to Wyoming was especially disappointing considering CSU got out to a 14-3 lead, were at home in front of a rare sellout crowd, and got absolutely manhandled in the second half by an average Wyoming team. Yet they came out last week after a poor first half (they trailed 21-10 at half), showed toughness and heart to comeback and beat a scrappy Utah State squad. Collin Hill was extremely impressive as a first-year QB, but with him out, CSU will be hard-pressed to earn a bowl bid, even at 3-3. This season has been a disappointment in some fans' eyes, yet the overall expectation going into the season, to some degree, was that this was somewhat of a rebuilding year. CSU still has the talent to compete against most teams in this league, but it's tough to put a finger on the Rams because they are so wildly inconsistent.
5. What are your keys to a Colorado State victory and score prediction?
Well, I laid out my keys to some degree in answering the third question. Simply put, CSU will need to play a clean game on both sides of the ball, come up with a few explosive scoring plays and hope Boise State plays sloppy football. All of that is not out of the realm of possibility, but certainly the likelihood of that happening is slim. If Collin Hill were at quarterback, CSU would have a much better ability to throw the ball vertically and hurt Boise deep, but with him out, Nick Stevens is now at QB and struggles in throwing the ball downfield. I'd expect CSU to be more conservative in the passing game and possibility the run game, which is the tendency of play caller/head coach Mike Bobo. If CSU wants to win, though, they'll need to take more risks. I think Kinsey needs to see more reps, possibly receive as many as 15-18 touches, in order for CSU to find some explosiveness offensively, because I don't think they can count on Nick Stevens to make big plays with his arm, or Dawkins or Matthews to scamper for big runs.
Sperbeck has been the ultimate CSU killer. McNichols is a touchdown machine. Vallejo and Perez are just a few of the studs on the Broncos' defense. The Rams are still (at the very least) one or two more strong recruiting classes away from getting to Boise State's level. With the Broncos at home, CSU hangs tough for a few series, but Boise State pulls away easily for a 44-17 win.