There were plenty of impressive displays of offense this weekend as teams look to impress voters for the AP and College Football Playoff rankings. While plenty of reshuffling took place in this week's The Associated Press Top 25 after a week that included six top-25 matchups, it is the consistent success of a team in Fort Collins, Colorado that has grabbed the attention of many voters.Colorado State is ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2003. Last week, the Rams sat just on the cusp of breaking in, and they did so in this week’s edition following a 49-22 win against Hawaii to improve to 9-1. They came in at No. 23, the same ranking for the Rams as the ’03 preseason poll. They lost to Colorado in the opener that year and dropped out completely, and had only received any votes in one year (’09) between then and this season.
That 2003 ranking for Colorado State was the end of a stretch in which it appeared in the AP poll in eight of 10 years, reaching as high as 10th in ’94. The Rams fortunes then went south for a while, with just two winning seasons in the next 10 seasons. Before head coach Jim McElwain took over for the 2012 season, the Rams had a combined nine wins in three years.
McElwain is at the heart of this Colorado State turnaround. He came to Fort Collins on the heels of manning Alabama’s attack as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator for four seasons. In that time, the Crimson Tide lost just four regular-season games. McElwain was there for the 2009 national championship, and while his departure to coach the Rams was announced a month before the 2011 championship, he stayed at Alabama to coach in the game before moving on to his first head coaching job the next day.
He then came to Colorado State touting the beginning of a “Bold New Era,” and the Rams backed up those words by winning the Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado in McElwain’s first game. The team struggled the rest of the way that season, finishing at 4-8, but signs of better things to come started to come to fruition in 2013. The Rams went 8-6 overall and 5-3 in the Mountain West, and capped off the season with a 48-45 win against Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl.That brings us to this season, in which the Rams have won all of their games so far but one, a 37-24 loss to Boise Stats in Week 2. They have started 9-1 for the first time since 1994 and their wins include Power Five teams Colorado and Boston College. Their eight-game winning streak is the fourth longest in the nation and the program’s longest since ’97. The Rams gain 480.4 yards per game, 22nd in the nation, and they are third overall in passing efficiency. They have won three games this season by at least four possessions, the first time they have done so since 1997.
Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson etched is name into program history on Saturday. He threw for 278 yards and four touchdowns, becoming the program’s career passing touchdown leader in a single season with 26. He has thrown for four touchdowns three times this season, making him the only Colorado State quarterback to do so. The Rams got it done on the ground on Saturday too, with 293 rushing yards. Dee Hart contributed 115 of those.
“Sitting and just reflecting on how much these guys have committed since they went home for [winter] break and came back for RamU, I think they’ve really turned into a football team,” McElwain said on Saturday. “We may not be the most talented team out there, but guys are playing with energy and for the most part they do their job.”
A bye week is next for the Rams, before a home meeting with New Mexico and a trip to Air Force to conclude the regular season. There is the potential for a Mountain West championship game, and given how those results go for Colorado State, a bowl game this season could be played on a much bigger stage than the Rams have seen in a long time.
Notes from the rest of the Top 25:
TCU moved into the top five for the first time since 2010. … Auburn fell from No. 3 to No. 9. … Baylor and Arizona State improved four spots to Nos. 6 and 7, respectively, while Ohio State made a five-spot jump to No. 8. … Georgia Tech rejoined the poll at No. 24. … Oklahoma dropped out for the first time since 2009.