The Mountain West is back and gets primary attention on Thursday night when Colorado State clashes with Fresno State. Let’s make a winning bet.
Colorado State Rams vs. Fresno State Bulldogs
Thursday, October 29, 2020 – 10 PM ET at Bulldog Stadium
Colorado State’s Difference From Hawaii
Be wary of relying on the box score of Fresno State’s season opener in order to inform your College Football Betting Picks. It is true that Hawaii gashed the Bulldogs with 323 rushing yards, but this feat will not repeat itself on Thursday.
Hawaii featured tremendous returning experience along its offensive line, a new run-focused offense, and a pair of returning running backs who averaged well over five YPC and accrued over 900 rushing yards last year. Plus, Fresno State had to play its first game without its top defensive player from last year, linebacker Justin Rice. Rice transferred to Arkansas State.
Colorado State will be similar to Hawaii in its willingness to run the ball, specially with Steve Addazio as the Rams’ new head coach. At Boston College, his teams regularly ranked among the nation’s leaders in run play percentage.
However, unlike Hawaii, Addazio does not possess the weapons with which to take advantage of Fresno State’s potential defensive weakness. During the offseason, the Rams lost 31 starts from their 2019 offensive line, including three starters. They lost both guards and their left tackle.
Their top returning running back is nothing special. Marcus McElroy Jr. ran for 370 yards last year on 4.6 YPC.
Colorado State Offense vs. Fresno State Defense
With Collin Hill being one of two Ram quarterbacks to transfer out of the program, Colorado State has limited options at quarterback. Patrick O’Brien will certainly be the guy under center for the Rams. His numbers from last year reveal a disturbing tendency to take sacks.
With the losses at offensive line, pass protection could be an issue for the Rams. However, I like Fresno State’s pass defense to improve upon its numbers from last season, regardless of its pass rush. Its secondary is healthier, at least for now. Also, the team's top cornerback, Wylan Free, returns to his natural position after playing at safety last season.
It is true that Colorado State’s offense is geared for the pass because wide receiver is its strongest position. However, the Rams will be limited through the air thanks to Addazio’s scheme, possibly the Rams’ lack of pass protection, and Fresno State’s improved secondary.
Fresno State Offense vs. Colorado State Defense
Last week, Fresno State debuted its new quarterback, Jake Haener, who transferred from Washington. Haener had some accuracy issues, which were magnified by his lack of chemistry with Fresno State receivers. Barely completing over half his passes, he missed some favorable shots deep and missed too many throws in general.
Whereas O’Brien sometimes takes too many sacks, Haener did the opposite. With 13 mostly undesigned carries, he ran too often when pressure came or when his first read appeared unavailable. Even if Haener fixes his issues with accuracy, chemistry, and pocket presence, he will still struggle.
Last year, Colorado State owned one of the nation’s top pass defenses. It ranked ninth in allowing 184.4 passing YPG. The Rams bring back the core of their secondary, which is led by Preseason All-Mountain West third-teamer Logan Stewart at cornerback.
Stewart will have an easier test than one could have predicted before the season. Fresno State lost its top wide receiver, Zane Pope, to injury. He led the team, easily, in receiving yards last season. Fresno State wants to pass the ball more, and it is true that the Bulldogs had to pass more in their season opener since they were behind.
However, the Bulldogs have continuity at offensive coordinator and were, even last year, more of a pass-first team as measured by their low run-play percentage. With Kalen DeBoer having been brought in as head coach, his characteristic pass-first mentality can only solidify the Bulldogs’ pre-existing pass-first tendency.
Even if the Bulldogs weren’t going to underutilize their top running back, they couldn’t find much success against Colorado State’s returning plethora of defensive tackles and of its important linebackers.
Both offenses will be undermined in this match-up by scheme. Whereas Colorado State will want to run more when it’s built to pass, the Bulldogs will want to pass more, and therefore encounter Colorado State’s defensive strength. The Rams’ secondary will limit Fresno State’s unreliable pass attack while the Rams on offense lack the weaponry to do what Hawaii did to Fresno State.
For the above reasons, expect a low-scoring contest when you shop around the top sportsbooks.