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Ram Tough

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - A decade ago, the powers that be in Fort Collins tabbed Sonny Lubick their new head coach and something tells me, they have never regretted it. It only took a year for Lubick to turn things around, as the Rams went just 5-6 in his first season at the helm (1993), but it has been all roses since then, as CSU has posted eight consecutive winning campaigns and three straight bowl appearances (a school-record). Lubick came into this season as the school's second winningest coach with a 74-34 record and his .679 winning percentage coming into the 2002 campaign is best all- time. Only Harry Hughes (1911-1941) has posted more victories with the Rams (125), but it took 31 years to amass those victories. At Lubick's current pace (8.2 wins per season), he will reach 125 in almost half that time. Lubick's credentials surely set him apart. For instance, he has earned six bowl invites in his nine seasons with the team. He has also led the Rams to five conference titles (won outright or shared) between 1994 and 2000, more than any other program except Florida State, nationally. The Rams are in the top-15 in terms of victories since 1994, ahead of national powerhouses like Notre Dame, Alabama and Wisconsin.

The Rams' fan base has grown by leaps and bounds under Lubick, as his teams have posted three seasons with double-digit victories (10 wins in 1994 and 2000 and 11 wins in 1997), the only three in school history. This season could see another huge boost in interest, as Lubick may just have one of his best teams ever.

Sonny Lubick
Sonny Lubick came into this season as the school's second winningest coach and his .679 winning percentage coming into 2002 is best all-time.
Selling the public on the notion that a Mountain West Conference member belongs in a BCS Bowl certainly won't come easy, but if you ask the Virginia Cavaliers or Colorado Buffaloes, they will certainly attest to the quality of football coming out of Fort Collins.

A favorite in the MWC this season, the Rams have already cleared two big hurdles in their bid for yet another 10+ win season, as they traveled to Charlottesville in the earliest game of the season, knocking off their ACC opponent in the Jim Thorpe Classic. The team then returned to the Centennial State to claim bragging rights within the state borders with a huge upset of top-10 foe and arch-rival Colorado last week. The victory propelled the Rams into the top-25 rankings, a place they don't plan on vacating any time soon.

If Lubick's team can get over its last two non-conference hurdles (UCLA and Louisville), people will start talking about a perfect season. If that happens, it will be hard to keep the Rams out of one of the major bowls. Of course there is a great deal of work left in front of the Rams, but there is something special about this team and 2002 could just be the season CSU takes that next step as a program.

It starts with an offense that can get it done on the ground or through the air.

The CSU ground game hasn't had a workhorse type back in a couple of seasons, as the last every down back to wear the gold and green was Kevin McDougal (now with the Indianapolis Colts). This season however, Lubick may have his workhorse in Doak Walker candidate Cecil Sapp. With 25 carries in the season opening win against Virginia and another 20 last week, Sapp has proved capable of anchoring the ground game. He also has a knack for reaching the end zone, as he has scored two rushing TDs in each of the first two games.

The rushing attack gets plenty of support from athletic signal-caller Bradlee Van Pelt. The duel threat has amassed 498 yards of total offense in the first two games, gaining 101 yards rushing (28 carries) and 397 yards passing.

The players responsible for getting open in the passing game are wideouts Joey Cuppari (seven receptions, for 125 yards and one TD in 2002) and Chris Pittman (seven receptions, for 106 yards), while 6-3, 225-pound youngster Matt Bartz has earned time as Van Pelt's relief valve at the tight end position.

While the offense has shown balance in the early going (198.0 ypg passing and 169.5 ypg rushing), the defense makes just as many big plays. During Sonny Lubick?s nine-year career at Colorado State, the Rams are a +53 in turnover ratio and have scored 24 defensive touchdowns. An active unit, this year's squad will undoubtedly build on that number. In the first two games, the team is already +5 in turnovers, with six fumble recoveries and two interceptions.

All-conference linebacker Eric Pauly (6-4, 230) and strong safety David Vickers (6-0, 210) have been all over the field in the first two games. Vickers leads the Mountain West in tackles (22) and is tied with three other players atop the conference, with 11.0 tackles per game. Pauley has 18 total tackles in the first two games, including 10 tackles in last week?s win over Colorado. It was his 10th double-digit tackle game in the past 13, dating back to last season. Pauly also collected his first career interception in the win over the Buffs. Fellow linebacker/end Andre Sommersell and cornerback Dexter Wynn have also been extremely active, with 16 and 15 tackles on the season, respectively.

The defense gives up some yardage (398 ypg), but its ability to come up big when needed is something the whole team feeds off of.

Colorado State will travel to Los Angeles this week to open UCLA's season. With two games already under their belts, the Rams could have a distinct advantage over the Bruins. I'm sure this is not a fact that is lost on UCLA head coach Bob Toledo, as he tries to prepare his Bruins for battle this weekend.

With a tough CSU program coming to town, a battle is exactly what the Bruins will get.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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