FORT COLLINS — Mike Bobo doesn’t claim to be an interior decorator. Far from it. But the process of breaking in a new stadium requires attention to detail, even if it falls outside the typical duties of Colorado State’s head football coach.
“I’m tired of looking at colors and figuring out furniture, stuff my wife is better at,” said Bobo, standing on the platform outside his new office that overlooks Sonny Lubick Field, “and (I’m) ready to get out on the grass.”
That moment has arrived.
Oregon State visits Fort Collins for a 12:36 p.m. Saturday kickoff, and beyond the fanfare of debuting their new digs, the Rams will embark on a program-defining season. CSU enters 2017 as a dark-horse pick to reach the Mountain West championship game — they haven’t won the conference since 2002 — by earning six first-place votes in the Mountain Division in the preseason media poll. A Pac-12 victory in the opener? Vindication for lofty expectations.
Oregon State won just four games last season, but concluded with consecutive wins against Arizona and in-state rival Oregon. The Beavers enter a new starter at quarterback, Idaho transfer Jake Luton, with an offense powered by tailback Ryan Nall — a junior who averaged 6.5 yards per carry with 15 touchdowns last fall. Oregon State also features a familiar face at tight ends coach, Dave Baldwin, who served as offensive coordinator at CSU from 2012-14 under then-head coach Jim McElwain.
“Offensively, they probably have one of the biggest backfields in the country when you look at their size and the strength,” Bobo said. “The guy that comes to mind is Nall. He runs with power, he’s got great vision, he’s got balance and he’s got straightaway speed. It’s going to be a big challenge for our defense in stopping the run.”
But, much like the Rams, Oregon State’s defense has been its deficiency. In 2016, the Beavers ranked last in the Pac-12 for interceptions (7) and total sacks (18), in addition to allowing 30 or more points in eight games. The Beavers return eight defensive starters.
Meanwhile, CSU lacks no confidence on offense. Redshirt senior quarterback Nick Stevens touts 20 career starts; junior receiver Michael Gallup has recorded at least one touchdown in eight straight games, including six over his past two; senior center Jake Bennett, a 2016 second-team All-Mountain West selection, anchors an offensive line that paved the way for 2,831 total rushing yards last fall.
“We were playing really, really well at the end of last year, but at the same time, we were still making errors — we weren’t perfect by any means,” Stevens said. “Knowing that we still have more to go makes me excited as well, because that wasn’t the peak.”
Oregon State coach Gary Andersen has yet to win a road game (0-11) over his first two seasons in Corvallis, so Group of Five opponent or not, the Beavers understand the test that awaits in Fort Collins.
“Going to play Colorado State, opening up a new stadium, they’re going to be a challenge, there is no doubt,” Andersen said at Pac-12 Media Days in Hollywood, Calif. last month. “They’re a good football team, and they proved that last year. They did some things in the Mountain West. We’ve watched their tape and have a lot of respect for them. … It’s a game that we look at as a tremendous challenge.”