As the final seconds of the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl counted down, CSU fans were left with a question: How should the 2014 season be remembered?
Certainly the 45-10 loss to Utah was not what the Rams or their fans had in mind. The Rams fell behind early but closed to within 24-10 at halftime, only to see the No. 24 Utes pull away in the second half for a convincing win.
Ten wins: Rare feat
The Rams had their chances after Utah burst to a 21-7 lead after one quarter. The Rams surrendered just 10 points over the next two periods, but Utah’s explosive offense eventually wore down CSU’s defense, leaving the Rams with a 10-3 final record.
“Ten wins is a big accomplishment and for me, and I’m sure Garrett (Grayson) feels the same way. As a senior, you want to look back at what you left behind and hopefully the younger guys and everyone else can continue growing under what we’ve built and get better next year,” said graduating senior linebacker Max Morgan. “I’d like to think this team is mature enough to know … that 10 wins don’t fall in your lap.”
The Rams came into the bowl hoping to become just the second team in school history to post 11 wins. Despite falling short of that goal, they still had many highlights in a memorable season:
- Sophomore wide receiver Rashard Higgins led the nation in receiving yards and touchdowns. He became CSU’s first consensus All-American since Greg Myers in 1995, and was a finalist for the Fred Biletnikoff Award.
- Grayson, the Rams’ senior quarterback, finished his stellar career owning every significant school record for passing and total offense. He was named the Mountain West offensive player of the year and was a Heisman Trophy aspirant. He’s the only quarterback in CSU history to surpass 4,000 passing yards for a season and 9,000 for his career.
- Fifteen players – a school record – were named to the all-Mountain West team, including six who won either first- or second-team honors.
- The Rams posted the best home attendance in more than a decade and had back-to-back sellouts at Hughes Stadium.
- The Rams cracked the Top 25 for the first time since 2003.
Changing the game
Mostly, though, the Rams changed the perception of CSU football both locally and nationally. The Rams have put together back-to-back winning seasons that included bowl invitations after posting four consecutive losing seasons from 2009-12.
“From where we started when I first got here to where we are now, this is really special,” Grayson said. “Hopefully, the seniors left something behind that will help this program continue to grow and get better and better.”
New coach, veteran team
New coach Mike Bobo, the former offensive coordinator at Georgia, will have lots of talent to work with. Despite losing stalwarts like Grayson, Morgan, offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo and kicker Jared Roberts to graduation, the Rams will return eight starters on offense and seven on defense.
Mostly, this team will be remembered for re-establishing the program — and its reputation — on the national scene.
2014: A very good year
The Rams’ success helped the Board of Governors decide to move forward with building an on-campus stadium. And it provided a window into the behind-the-scenes community service the program is known for, particularly the relationship with 9-year-old Jack Miller, a cancer patient made an honorary member of the team.
It was, in almost every way, a very good year.