Hoops, a tree and a plea

by Tony Phifer on October 29, 2010

Random ramblings on a (finally) wind-free Thursday:

I attended a men’s basketball scrimmage Wednesday night, which was sponsored by the Ram Club. The hour-long scrimmage was very entertaining and offered hope to the 200 or so fans in attendance that the Rams are due for a fun year. Seniors Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin will be a formidable combination at forward, and sophomore point guard Dorian Green really seems to be coming into his own.Men's Basketball v. CU in Moby Arena. CSU won 77-62. December 10,  2009

But the guy who REALLY got me excited was guard Wes Eikmeier, a sophomore transfer from Iowa State. Eikmeier isn’t overly large (he’s listed at 6-foot-3), but he’s a deadly outside shooter with a knack for getting to the rim off the dribble. A former AAU teammate of fellow Rams guard Jesse Carr, Eikmeier appears to have the ability to carry the offense on his back – at least in short bursts.

The Rams, by the way, officially open the season Nov. 13 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff – the first of 13 home games on the schedule.

I made a quick trip to the grassy area south of the South College Fieldhouse and found the oak tree planted in memory of CSU alum Glenn Morris, the 1936 Olympic decathlon gold medalist. The tiny oak – it can’t be more than a foot tall – replaces the tree given to Morris (and all 1936 gold medalists), which he donated to CSU. The original tree is unaccounted for, but the new tree – donated by Olympic historian Don Ross – is a direct descendant of the surviving Olympic oaks.

The area is marked by a plaque documenting Morris’s many accomplishments when he became CSU’s first and only Olympic track and field gold medalist.

And finally, if you are at all interested in joining the Ram Club, which provides scholarship dollars for CSU’s 300-plus student-athletes, the 2010 deadline is today. CSU has the fewest booster club members of any school in the Mountain West Conference, and the Rams need your help if they are going to contend for league championships and national honors. Call 491-4666 for information, and tell them I sent you.

A little perspective on a blustery Monday

by Tony Phifer on October 25, 2010

I’m a big believer in perspective – particularly when it comes to sports. Just when you think things can’t get any lower for your team, you look at another team that has things far worse – and suddenly you don’t feel so bad.

For example, no one felt good about Colorado State’s 59-6 football loss to No. 9 Utah on Saturday. The Rams were coming off a big win, and fans were hoping to see some progress against one of country’s best teams…but it didn’t happen. So much for progress.

But just when things looked bleak for the Rams, along came the Denver Broncos, whose performance in their 59-14 loss to the hated Oakland Raiders made CSU’s effort look downright uplifting. So, there’s your perspective following a weekend that, once again, included a mixed bag of results.

Volleyball – The 15th-ranked Rams seized control of the Mountain West Conference race Friday night by ripping Border War rival Wyoming in straight sets before an orange-clad crowd at Moby Arena. CSU (19-2, 8-0) completed the first half of the league season with an unblemished record and now has a three-match lead over New Mexico and Utah in the race for the championship.

Next up – The Rams, winners of 10 consecutive matches, open the second half of the MWC season with a tough road test at 8 p.m. Saturday at San Diego State. The Aztecs pushed the Rams to five sets earlier this season at Moby Arena.

Football – The Rams were overmatched against the talented Utes, who kept alive their hopes for a BCS bowl game with a convincing win. CSU (2-6, 1-3) made some plays early and moved within 17-6 late in the second quarter before the Utes reeled off 42 unanswered points. The Rams were held without a touchdown for the fourth time this season, and the defense surrendered 648 yards to the powerful Ute offense.

Next up – The Rams, who have faced four top 25 teams, finally get a break in the schedule over the final four weeks, starting with a 4 p.m. Saturday home game against winless New Mexico. The Lobos, who are ranked No. 1 in ESPN’s infamous Bottom 10, rank near the bottom in most major national offensive and defensive categories.

Swimming and diving – The Rams went 2-1 in a quad-dual meet against MWC foes New Mexico, Air Force and San Diego State. Freshman Yana Garvey notched CSU’s lone individual victory, winning the 200-yard backstroke.

Next up – The Rams face state rival Denver University at 5 p.m. Nov. 5.

Final thought – Former CSU golfer Martin Laird was on the wrong side of history Sunday at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas. Laird, the defending champion, was locked in a three-man, sudden death playoff when Jonathan Byrd had a hole-in-one on the fourth playoff hole to win the title in stunning fashion. Byrd’s shot marked the first time in PGA Tour history that a playoff had ended with a hole-in-one.

While Laird certainly would have benefitted from winning, he did still pocket $378,400 and now stands 35th on the PGA season money list with a career-best $2,137,928.

Again, it’s all about perspective.

Accurate statement: Thomas can sure throw

by Tony Phifer on October 22, 2010

Seven games into the season, I think it’s safe to say that Colorado State football coach Steve Fairchild has found himself a quarterback. Pete Thomas has been everything he was built up to be – and then some. And the fact that he’s just a true freshman inspires hope that he can lead the Rams to unprecedented heights during his career.

Through seven games, Thomas is 24th nationally in completions with 21.57 per game, 34th in passing yards (1,566) and 54th in passing efficiency. He’s second in the Mountain West Conference in passing yards and has completed 35 more passes than any other league quarterback.

That’s all great, but the one Thomas stat that jumps off any page is this: his 67.7 completion percentage. That’s an impressive spring-qb-story rate for any quarterback, let alone a kid who was just attending his high school prom last spring. He not only is the most accurate passer in the MWC, he’s the most accurate quarterback at CSU – ever! He even ranks ahead of more notable quarterbacks like Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley (65.4), Washington’s Jake Locker (56.1), Stanford’s Andrew Luck (65.7) and TCU’s Andy Dalton (66.7), the reigning MWC offensive player of the year.

The exciting part of Thomas’ development is that he’s improving right before our eyes. Even though he has thrown the same number (8) of touchdown passes and interceptions, over his past 110 passing attempts he has seven touchdown passes and only one interception.

Of course, the true measure of a quarterback is his ability to produce victories, and so far Thomas is just 2-5. But with a fast-improving offensive line, some exciting young receivers, and a running game that has finally come around, the Rams have explosive offensive potential. It might not show Saturday against No. 9 Utah, but the future – with Thomas in charge – indeed looks bright.

In art and football, beauty’s in the eye of beholder

by Tony Phifer on October 14, 2010

I’ve never been terribly artistic...or perhaps I should say I AM terribly artistic. Heck, even my stick figures were drawn with crooked lines. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t to need to ace an art class to graduate.

I did, however, enjoy playing with Mr. Potato Head when I was a kid. I could put together a variety of noses, eyes, lips and hats and come up with something that was, well, artistic. Sort of, anyway.

That’s kind of the way I view the Colorado State football team. Even though their record is 1-5, the Rams at times have displayed attributes of a successful football team.

They looked great, for example, on defense in the first half of the TCU game. Their passing game was downright impressive against Idaho, and their running game dominated against Air Force.

The Rams have kicked well, punted well, returned well, and tackled well – at times. At other times, they have been an absolute mess, unable to move the ball on offense or get off the field on defense.

Heading into Saturday’s noon Homecoming game against UNLV, I have to believe the Rams are close to putting together some of these parts and coming up with a winning formula. Their effort has been consistent, and coach Steve Fairchild speaks enthusiastically about the Rams’ progress in practice. That's normally a formula for success.

Nobody is looking for a master creation here; a simple win would suffice. Like with Mr. Potato Head, all of the parts don’t have to be perfect for the final product to be a success. I’ll take an ugly, stick-figure win over a aesthetically pleasing loss any day.   

Halladay in a special class

by Tony Phifer on October 7, 2010

I got home Wednesday just in time to see the final few outs of Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay’s no-hitter. Truly, it was an amazing performance – the first no-hitter in Major League Baseball’s postseason since Don Larsen’s landmark perfect game for the Yankees in 1956. Halladay, who won a Cy Young Award in the American League while pitching for Toronto, already had wrapped up this year’s NL’s Cy Young Award before taking the mound against the Reds in the first round of the NLDS. His historic performance, coupled with a perfect game earlier this year, immediately puts him into the Cooperstown discussion – and he’s just 33.

So what, you ask, is Roy Halladay doing in a Colorado State-themed blog? Simple, really. In addition to his remarkable accomplishments on the mound, Halladay was also part of an incredible group of athletes at Arvada West High School that included two Ram legends.

Former Rams were Halladay's teammates

The 1994 A-West basketball team (Halladay was a second-team all-state forward) included a guard named Kevin McDougal and a center named Casey Malone. While Halladay went on to chase his baseball dreams, McDougal (also a baseball standout) came to CSU and became one of the best running backs in school history, leading the Rams to a couple of conference titles. And Malone (a football tight end) came to CSU and developed into an NCAA champion in the discus.

Three sports, three standouts

Since then, Malone has become the top-ranked discus thrower in the country and a two-time U.S. Olympian. McDougal played two seasons in the NFL before shoulder injuries forced him into retirement. And Halladay, well, you know what he’s been up to.

So, on one Colorado high school basketball team you had a Cy Young Award winner and potential hall of famer, a two-time Olympic discus thrower and an NFL running back. And two of the three were Rams.

Remarkable.        

TCU proves to be the real deal

by Tony Phifer on October 4, 2010

Let’s hope the shoulders of the Colorado State volleyball players are stout – right now, the Rams are pretty much carrying the banner for the entire athletic department. The 18th-ranked Rams are alone atop the Mountain West Conference standings after surviving a nasty four-match stretch. They hit the road this week with a chance to solidify their standing as the conference leader.

The football team, meanwhile, ran into a defensive wall Saturday against fifth-ranked TCU, playing well for a half before falling 27-0 in the MWC opener for both teams.

Here’s a quick wrapup:

Football – Defensively, the Rams were brilliant in the first half against TCU (5-0, 1-0 MWC), limiting the Frogs to two field goals and keeping talented senior

quarterback Andy Dalton under control. Somehow, however, even a 6-0 deficit seemed insurmountable against a TCU defense that made life miserable for Rams quarterback Pete Thomas and the offense.

CSU (1-4, 0-1) didn’t mount a sustained drive until the fourth quarter, and even then could not score. The Rams were limited to 45 rushing yards and 161 overall. The Frogs, meanwhile, ran for 346 for their 474 total yards, finishing the game with four players rushing for 50 or more yards.

Worth noting: Kudos to TCU Gary Patterson, who was classy as always. The Frogs could have scored a late touchdown to make their dominant win look a bit more impressive for pollsters, but Patterson backed off in the final minutes against the weary Rams. Not only is Patterson a great coach, he’s a good guy. 

Next up – Things don’t get any easier for the Rams, who play at noon Saturday at Air Force (4-1, 1-0). The Falcons are coming off an emotional win over Navy, and their only loss was to powerful Oklahoma. The Rams will have their hands full.

Volleyball – The Rams capped a stretch of four wins in seven days Thursday by beating San Diego State in five tough sets. The Rams (13-2, 3-0) weren’t particularly sharp in losing the second and fourth sets but found their rhythm when it mattered in the fifth.

Next up – The Rams hit the road for games Thursday (Air Force) and Saturday (UNLV) before opening a four-match homestand. 

Tough spot for TCU, Patterson

by Tony Phifer on October 1, 2010

As a journalist, I was never a big fan of TCU football coach Gary Patterson. He was always anti-media, and did everything in his power to make sure the only news coming out of his program was exactly what he wanted. He never made his players available to out-of-town media for game-week stories, and seemed to go out of his way to irritate sports writers at home in Fort Worth, Texas, and across the country.

The other side of Patterson, though, I always greatly admired. Even though his teams very often have been head and shoulders above at least half of the teams in the Mountain West Conference, Patterson has always gone out of his way to promote the league and speak highly of every league team. More important, he has always called off the dogs in routs and refused to run up the score on the opposition, even though a bigger point spread might impress voters in the various national polls. He’s both a great coach and a class act.

17-point win not good enough

Given what took place in the past few days, however, I wonder how much longer Patterson can afford to be a good guy. TCU, you see, entered last week’s game ranked fourth, and handed cross-town rival SMU a convincing 17-point loss on the Mustangs’ home field. When the rankings came out Monday, however, the Horned Frogs slipped to No. 5 in the polls. Oregon, which used seven turnovers Saturday to beat Arizona State 42-31, moved from fifth to fourth.

For a TCU team hoping to compete for a national championship, the message is clear: Winning simply is not good enough. If you want to impress the voters and hold (or improve) your place in the polls, you must bludgeon lesser foes into submission.

Rams next up for Frogs

It will be interesting to see how Patterson and his unbeaten, fifth-ranked Frogs handle this situation Saturday when they invade Hughes Stadium for a noon battle with Colorado State. TCU is a 33-point favorite and is expected to rout the Rams.

Based on what happened in the polls last week, you couldn’t really blame Patterson if he piles on the points in an effort to impress the voters. After all, how many legitimate chances will he get to get in the national title hunt? This might be his best shot, and he can’t afford many more slips in the polls.

Still, I suspect that Patterson will remain true to his convictions and simply try to win the game instead of attempting to impress voters with a lopsided score. Let’s just hope that, should they go 12-0, the Frogs are part of the championship discussion – regardless of how badly they beat their foes.      

The scheduling puzzle

by Tony Phifer on September 18, 2010

College athletic directors will tell you that putting together a football schedule is a very small part of their job. It also can one of the most important.

Many an AD has had his/her legacy determined by scheduling. Do it well, and you’re a star. Do it poorly, and you start faxing resumes.

A couple of examples:

1. David Ames, the longtime CSU Ag Sciences professor who served as interim AD in 1993 and one of the really good people on this campus, needed to add a game to fill out the 1994 schedule. When he chose a game at Arizona, most CSU fans thought he was nuts. And when Arizona was picked by Sports Illustrated to win the 1994 national championship, Ames himself probably thought he was nuts. But when the Rams beat Arizona and went on to win their first WAC title, Ames became a hero for scheduling a game that many consider the most important in CSU history.

2. Prior to the 2003 season, former CSU AD Jeff Hathaway scheduled a home-and-home series against Miami (Ohio). At the time, no one thought much of it – until we learned that Miami had a brilliant young quarterback coming back for his junior season. Sure enough, that brilliant young quarterback led Miami to a 41-21 win over the Rams at Hughes Stadium and went on to earn several All-American honors. His name: Ben Roethlisberger. Hathaway, now the AD at Connecticut, quickly moved to postpone the return game to Miami, fearing another lopsided defeat. Saturday, seven years after it was originally slated to be played, the Rams and Redhawks finally complete the home-and-home series in Oxford, Ohio.

Rams trivia: Roethlisberger, who has led the Pittsburgh Steelers to world championships in 2006 and 2009, is one of four quarterbacks who have played at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium before leading NFL teams to the Super Bowl. They are: BYU’s Jim McMahon (Chicago Bears, 1986); BYU’s Steve Young (San Francisco 49ers, 1995); and Fresno State’s Trent Dilfer (Baltimore Ravens, 2001).

Strap in, Ram fans

by Tony Phifer on September 17, 2010

One of the most difficult aspects of watching a football program like Colorado State’s go through the rebuilding process is waiting for that inevitable – and necessary – time when the team hits bottom. Then, and only then, can a program start the climb back to respectability.

Most Rams fans came into 2010 expecting this season to be a struggle. I know I did. Heavy graduation losses along the offensive line and at wide receiver severely handicapped the offense, and the defense has yet to live up to its promise. Toss in the fact that 17 true or redshirt freshmen – including starting quarterback Pete Thomas – are playing key roles on this team, and it’s no wonder the Rams are 0-2 heading into Saturday’s game at Miami (Ohio).

Rough ride

Was I hoping for more? Absolutely. Heck the Rams have yet to score a touchdown, and their defense didn’t stop a single drive by Nevada last week. But while the first two games have been ugly, I can’t say the results were unexpected. This is how rebuilding works: you tear down the old and, once you have reached the foundation, start building the new. It’s a long, frustrating process.

I don’t know when the Rams might reach bottom or what it might look like. I suspect it will happen in the next couple of weeks, but it might take longer. All I know is that I am excited by the caliber of young talent in the program, and that the future is bright.

The...bottom...is...coming...

Right now, the easiest thing to do is abandon ship and wait for the team to rebound before committing to the program. We’ve all become so used to instant gratification that we have no patience for the rebuilding process.

However, if CSU is to return to the glory days that made it a Mountain West Conference power and a player on the national scene, this is what has to happen. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but buckle up and hang on. Once the Rams hit bottom, the climb back to the top will make all of the bumps worthwhile.

Wrapping up the weekend…

by Tony Phifer on September 13, 2010

All I can say is, thank goodness for volleyball. The 15th-ranked Rams continue to be the best thing going at Colorado State and their performance at their own Ram Volleyball Classic provided some measure of comfort following a sad showing by the football team. So, here’s the Ram weekend, in review:

Volleyball: The Rams completely dominated the three visiting teams at the Ram Volleyball Classic, beating Texas Tech, Northeastern and Illinois State in straight sets in the two-day event. While they weren’t particularly impressive against Tech and Northeastern, they played their best against Illinois State – the top opposing team – and easily dismantled the Redbirds. Senior Danielle Minch was named tournament MVP, while sophomore Megan Plourde and junior Evan Sanders joined Minch on the all-tournament team. Next up: The Rams host Virginia Commonwealth at 7 p.m. Thursday, with 23rd-ranked Long Beach State invading Moby Arena at 7 p.m. Friday.

Cross country: The wife-husband combination of Jake and Ellie Keyser led the Rams to a pair of second-place finishes Saturday at the CSU Invitational at Hughes Stadium. Ellie won her second consecutive individual title, winning the 5K race in 17:59, while husband Jake was second in the men’s race in 20:54. Western State won both men’s and women’s races. Next up: The Rams travel to Minnesota for Saturday’s Roy Griak Invitational – one of the country’s top races.

Football: If you were looking for a positive spin on the Rams’ 51-6 loss to Nevada…well, so am I. Honestly, this was a numbing defeat – the Rams looked overmatched from the start and never found any rhythm on offense or defense. The concerns are many, but two of them currently top my list: The defense did not force a single punt, and the offense has yet to score a touchdown in two games. Needless to say, the Rams need to get better in a big hurry. Next up: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, at Miami (Ohio).