College football’s 2017 season officially kicks off on Saturday in Fort Collins, Colo., with Colorado State opening its new stadium against Oregon State. This Mountain West-Pac-12 non-conference affair is the first FBS game of the 2017 season and is one of five matchups on Saturday, Aug. 26.
Colorado State finished 2016 by winning four out of their last six games, and coach Mike Bobo’s team hopes to build off that by contending for the Mountain Division title. Oregon State is also building momentum under third-year coach Gary Andersen. After a 2-10 record in his first season in Corvallis, Andersen guided the Beavers to a 4-8 mark last fall. The roster isn’t quite where Andersen would like it, but Oregon State has enough talent in place to contend for a bowl in 2017.
Colorado State and Oregon State have played just two previous meetings on the gridiron. The Rams claimed the last victory in this series (1975), while the Beavers won in 1962. Both of those matchups took place in Corvallis.
Oregon State at Colorado State
Kickoff: Saturday, Aug. 26 at 2:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Colorado State -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Oregon State QB Jake Luton
In order for the Beavers to challenge for a bowl game this year, the passing game has to take a step forward. Oregon State averaged only 173.8 passing yards and completed just 54.7 percent of throws per game in 2016. The quarterback room looks a little different for coordinator Kevin McGiven this fall, as Marcus McMaryion transferred to Fresno State, and Jake Luton – a former Idaho and junior college recruit – joined the team prior to spring ball. The Washington native ranked as a three-star recruit in the 2017 signing class after throwing for 3,551 yards and 40 touchdowns at Ventura College last year. Luton stands tall at 6-foot-7 but also has some mobility, as evidenced by his 175 yards and six touchdowns on the ground at Ventura. The junior has the size and skill set to give Anderson and McGiven an upgrade in the passing attack. But Saturday’s matchup is his first start at the FBS level, so there’s still plenty of mystery surrounding Oregon State’s passing game. The Beavers won’t have receiver Seth Collins (36 receptions in 2016) due to a finger injury, and this unit lost Victor Bolden (46 catches) to graduation. Who will step up for Luton outside of Jordan Villamin and tight end Noah Togiai on Saturday? Colorado State returns two starters and added Utah graduate transfer Jordan Fogal to a secondary that finished 107th nationally in pass efficiency defense last year. There could be plenty of opportunities for Luton to make plays through the air on Saturday afternoon.
2. Colorado State’s High-Powered Offense
Colorado State’s offense got off to a slow start last year, but the Rams finished 2016 on a tear. Over the last six games, Colorado State averaged 48 points per contest and scored 63 against Mountain West champion San Diego State. Can Bobo’s attack pick up where they left off? The personnel is certainly in place. Quarterback Nick Stevens opened 2016 as the starter, lost the job after a slow start, only to regain it after a season-ending injury to Collin Hill. Stevens finished last year with 1,936 yards and 19 touchdowns and should push for All-Mountain West honors. His favorite target is senior Michael Gallup, who also came on strong over the second half of 2016. Gallup finished last year with 76 receptions for 1,272 yards and 14 touchdowns and earned fourth-team All-America honors by Athlon Sports for 2017. In addition to Gallup, Stevens also has big-play threat Olabisi Johnson (22.2 ypc in 2016) on the other side. The Rams bring back three running backs that eclipsed the 500-yard mark in 2016, including Dalyn Dawkins (919 yards). This explosive and deep offense figures to challenge an Oregon State defense that improved from 2015 to 2016 but still has a ways to go. The Beavers struggled to stop the run (218 ypg), only generated 18 sacks and gave up 15 plays of 40 yards or more last year. The opener should give Andersen and coordinator Kevin Clune an early glimpse of how much this defense has improved since 2016.
3. Oregon State’s Ground Game
Helping to ease Luton’s transition to the starting lineup is a powerful ground attack. The Beavers quietly have one of the Pac-12’s deepest backfields in place for 2017. Junior Ryan Nall pounded opponents for 951 yards and 13 touchdowns last fall, and he’s joined in the backfield by former Oregon running back Thomas Tyner, sophomore Artavis Pierce and TCU graduate transfer Trevorris Johnson. Nall has battled injuries over the last two seasons but is poised to push for 1,000 yards. And the junior has more help in the backfield with Tyner and Johnson, which should keep him fresh deep into the 2017 campaign. Expect Oregon State to feature Nall and this backfield in Saturday’s game against Colorado State. The Rams ranked eighth in the Mountain West last fall by surrendering 214 rushing yards per game. This unit returns five starters up front, but senior linebacker Deonte Clyburn – missed 2016 due to blood clots – is sidelined once again. With Clyburn sidelined, juniors Josh Watson and Tre Thomas will have to take on a bigger role against the run. If the Beavers establish the run, they can take up huge chunks of time, keeping the high-powered Colorado State offense on the sidelines.
This is the marquee matchup for the slim, five-game slate for Week 0. Both teams enter 2017 with momentum and an opportunity to take a step forward under a third-year coach. The Beavers have a tough schedule in conference play, so a win here would be a boost to their bowl hopes. Luton has potential under center, but Oregon State is likely to lean on a steady diet of Nall, Tyner and Johnson to keep Colorado State’s offense on the sidelines. However, even if the Beavers manage to dominate the time of possession, the combination of Stevens and Gallup won’t be easy to keep in check for all four quarters. The Rams also figure to have some extra incentive and momentum in their new home stadium. Expect this one to go down to the wire.