I hate playing Colorado State. Mostly because it never seems to be easy for Utah, especially in Fort Collins. There Utah has struggled, only winning twice since 1990. But it was Utah's last visit to Hughes Stadium that might have been the worst of those losses. That was Kyle Whittingham's first season and Utah rolled into their game against the Rams with a 3-2 record. They were in dire need of a victory, already in a 0-1 hole in Mountain West play and coming off a tough loss to North Carolina the week before.
In that game, Utah jumped out to an early lead, only to watch Colorado State storm back and take a 21-17 lead late. The Utes, not giving in, worked the ball all the way down to Colorado State's one yard line and had three downs to punch it in. They couldn't and CSU won on a goal line stand. The fans stormed the field and Utah left deflated, an all too common scene for the Utes against the Rams in Fort Collins over the years.
Saturday, the Utes will look to do something only two team have done over the past 17 years, defeat Colorado State on the road. The last time that happened was Urban Meyer's first season, where Utah's Arnold Parker returned a fumble 80 yards for the game winning touch down with 1:33 left. The Utes escaped Fort Collins and went on to win the Mountain West and finish ranked for the first time in ten years. And while the chance of a winning a conference championship this year appears to be slim, a victory over the Rams could most definitely position Utah for their best run since the 2004 season. However, if Utah does in fact lose, it could unravel all the good that has been built over the Utes' four game winning streak.
For Colorado State and head coach Sonny Lubick, they haven't seen anything quite like their 2007 season. The Rams started the season 0-6 before dominating UNLV Saturday, the win ending the team's 13 game losing streak. And even though CSU won't likely sniff a bowl game, they have shown enough fight over the season to not be overlooked. In fact, prior to their victory over the Rebels, I would have wagered CSU was the best winless team in the country. And the results would seem to back that up.
Colorado State opened the season with a heartbreaking overtime loss to rival Colorado, losing by only a field goal. Then took Cal to the wire, before relenting in a 6 point loss. And though they also have close losses to mediocre Houston and a terrible San Diego State team, this team is good enough to beat Utah. If UNLV taught the Utes anything, Utah is capable of losing to anyone. That means Kyle Whittingham has got to demand his players understand the importance of this game. That it isn't an automatic victory and if history has taught them anything, Fort Collins is not an easy place to play.
If Utah shows up and plays like they have the past four weeks, they will win. Colorado State does not have the talent Utah does, they lack confidence and right now the Utes are brimming with it. If, though, Utah comes into this game expecting to roll, they will lose. Colorado State has heart and heart often can prevail over talent if the opponent isn't playing up to their level. Utah needs to play to their own talent level and if they do they will be ok. If they play down to Colorado State, or play complacent, it could get ugly, history has shown as much.