With SEC play on the horizon, Alabama hosts an improving and intriguing Colorado State squad with the potential to make a run at the Mountain West championship and a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Rams picked up a huge 58-27 win over Oregon State in their season opener but followed with a tough 17-3 loss to in-state rival Colorado. Battle-tested already with a veteran offense capable of putting up big numbers, Colorado State could pose a challenge for the Crimson Tide ahead of next week’s SEC opener with Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Colorado State at Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Alabama -28.5
Three Things to Watch
Reigning SEC Player of the Year Jalen Hurts has been efficient in Alabama’s first two games. The sophomore signal-caller threw for just 96 yards in the prime-time season opener against Florida State, but he connected with Calvin Ridley on a beautifully thrown 53-yard touchdown pass to put the Tide ahead for good in the 24-7 win. Overall, Hurts has completed an efficient 66.7 percent of his passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He has also gained a team-high 209 rushing yards and two scores on 25 carries, including a 55-yarder in last week’s 41-10 win over Fresno State.
Colorado State quarterback Nick Stevens has shown flashes of brilliance over the first three games of his senior season, but he has also made several mistakes. Stevens has thrown for at least 300 yards in all three games this year but has also been intercepted in each contest. Though far from a dual threat, Stevens proved capable of picking up yardage with his feet when he broke loose for a 41-yard gain in last week’s 38-10 victory over FCS member Abilene Christian.
Overall, Stevens has completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 980 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions, and he has connected with top receiver Michael Gallup on 26 passes for 304 yards and a touchdown. Gallup has posted two 100-yard receiving games already.
2. Running game
Alabama held Florida State to 40 rushing yards on 27 attempts in Week 1 — a stellar 1.5-yard average for run stopper Da’Ron Payne and company. Fresno State fared slightly better last week, but the Bulldogs managed just 57 rushing yards and 2.59 yards per rush attempt.
Colorado State doesn’t have as talented a rushing attack or offensive line as Florida State, but the Rams boast a solid running back duo in Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews, who have run for 183 and 148 yards, respectively, this season. The Colorado State offensive line has cleared the way for 4.8 yards per rush this season and has allowed just two sacks in three games.
Offensively, the Crimson Tide gained 4.1 yards per carry against the Seminoles, with Hurts and running backs Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Najee Harris combining for 173 yards against one of the most talented defenses in the country in the opener. Alabama piled up 305 rushing yards and averaged 7.82 yards per carry against a softer Fresno State squad a week ago. Colorado State has held opponents to 119.0 rushing yards per game and 3.84 yards per carry thus far.
3. Turnover battle
Colorado State is one of only a handful of teams to have already played three games, which skews the overall numbers slightly, but it’s worth noting how volatile the Rams have been both forcing and losing turnovers. No other FBS team has forced more turnovers (9) than Colorado State, who have seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Only one (Central Michigan) has picked off more passes. However, the Rams have also lost seven turnovers (four interceptions and three fumbles). Only Oregon State (10) has been worse.
On the other hand, Alabama has been much more stable. The Crimson Tide have forced three interceptions and recovered one fumble this season, and Alabama has yet to lose a turnover on offense. Let’s not forget that Alabama scored 11 defensive touchdowns last season, and two of the best defensive playmakers in the country, safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, are back in action this year.
Simply put, Alabama is the most talented team in the country, so it’s understandable for the Crimson Tide to be favored by four touchdowns against a Mountain West opponent. But it’s also worth noting that the Rams have played well through three weeks and are explosive enough offensively and stingy enough on defense to compete for a conference title. Alabama should win easily, but don’t expect an overwhelming blowout.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Colorado State 14
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.