This is Part 6 of my “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. We’re going in order, one per week, with Colorado State up this week.
Coach: Steve Fairchild (3rd year)
2009 Record: 3-9
2009 vs. AF: Air Force 34, Colorado State 16
2009 in a Sentence: After a 3-0 start that included a season-opening victory at rival Colorado, the Rams fell apart, dropping nine straight, including a 29-27 loss to otherwise winless New Mexico.
Off/Def Starters Back: 4/10
Roster Report: In each of his first two seasons at Colorado State, Fairchild has used fifth-year seniors as his starting quarterbacks – and each was in his first year starting.
In 2010, Colorado State likely will have a youngster under center. The frontrunners for the quarterback spot appear to be Pete Thomas, a true freshman from El Cajon, Calif., who enrolled early at Colorado State and went through the Rams’ spring practices, and Nico Ranieri, a redshirt freshman from Orlando, Fla.
“We’re going to be young at quarterback, obviously, and we’ve still got a long way to go,” Fairchild said. “But we’ve flashed at times.”
According to the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the 6-foot-2, 204-pound Ranieri completed 7-of-10 passes for 73 yards for the Gold team in the Rams’ spring practice-ending Green vs. Gold game. Thomas completed 2-of-5 passes for 46 yards for the Green team, including a 34-yard touchdown, and one of his passes was dropped in the end zone.
Whoever wins the quarterback battle will play behind an inexperienced line, as the Rams lost four starters from last season’s group that was the nation’s most experienced. Among the players likely to contribute are tackles Mark Starr and Paul Madsen, who started five and seven games, respectively, at one tackle slot last season, and Jake Gdowski, who started four at guard.
Fairchild told the Coloradoan that running back is probably the Rams’ strongest position. Back are seniors-to-be Leonard Mason, who rushed for a team-high 766 yards and two scores in 2009, and John Mosure, who picked up 650 yards and seven touchdowns on 124 carries. The Rams also have Raymond Carter, a transfer from UCLA, and redshirt freshman Chris Nwoke.
“We’ve got a little more explosiveness there,” Fairchild told the Coloradoan. “More big-play capability than we did last year. … We’ve obviously got a number of guys, so we’ve got to kind of filter through who does what and what their role’s going to be.”
Sophomore Lou Greenwood, who had 147 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, got some looks at wide receiver in spring practices, as did T.J. Borcky, who was the Rams’ starting quarterback when spring began. Colorado State will be inexperienced at wide receiver. Tyson Liggett, a 5-foot-9 walk-on, is the Rams’ most experienced returner with 20 career catches and five career starts.
The Rams should be strong on defense. They return 10 starters, including linebacker Mychal Sisson, who led Colorado State in tackles (91), tackles for losses (15.5) and sacks (6) in 2009 en route to second-team All-MWC honors. Also back is standout linebacker Ricky Brewer. An All-MWC selection as a sophomore in 2008, he had to sit out the 2009 season for a team rules violation.
Colorado State also has several starters back in the secondary – free safety Elijah-Blu Smith (three interceptions in 2009), strong safety Ivory Herd and cornerback Momo Thomas.
The Rams also have a pair of experienced specialists in returning starting punter Pete Kontodiakos (40.9 average last season) and returning starting kicker Ben DeLine (12-for-16 on field goals last season).
Fast Fact: Colorado State won 10 of its 14 games against Air Force from 1992 through 2005, but Air Force has won four straight since, including all three contests under head coach Troy Calhoun – by 24, 17 and 18 points, respectively.
What Caught My Eye: Colorado State lost four games by a touchdown or less in 2009, including two by two points and one by one point.
Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Air Force minus-8.5. The Falcons have owned the Rams of late and there’s no reason to think they shouldn’t be significant favorites in this game.
Final Thought: When Colorado State hired Fairchild to replace Sonny Lubick prior to the 2008 season, I thought it was a great move and saw plenty of parallels to what Air Force did in hiring Troy Calhoun (i.e. former quarterback returns to his alma mater to replace a legend whose teams had slipped a bit in his final few years).
After the Rams went 7-6 and won the New Mexico Bowl in 2008, Fairchild’s first season, I thought Colorado State was well on its way to returning to its glory days when it sat at the top of the MWC. So I was borderline stunned by the Rams’ 2009 collapse.
But even with that collapse, I feel like Fairchild will get Colorado State going in the right direction – and sooner rather than later.