(21) Colorado State (10-1) at Air Force (8-3) (ET)
GAME NOTES: The Ram-Falcon Trophy is up for grabs on Friday afternoon, as the 21st-ranked Colorado State Rams clash with the Air Force Falcons in the regular season finale for both Mountain West Conference programs.
This game is significant for the Rams for a number of reasons, most notably being that it could be the gateway to the Mountain Division title if they win and the Boise State Broncos fall to Utah State.
One of the hottest teams in college football right now, since losing to the Broncos in the conference opener way back on Sept .6 by a score of 37-24, the Rams have been untouchable as they ride a nine-game win streak. Last week, the team throttled yet another opponent as it ran over New Mexico in a 58-20 final in the last home game of the season.
"That's a 10-win team you guys just saw out there, Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain said after the triumph. "That's something else. And the way they went about their business and just went out and played the game the way it should be, it was good to see."
While the Rams get much of the attention in the conference, along with the Broncos now, Air Force has quietly put together an impressive run of success as well. The team had rattled off four consecutive victories before being turned away by San Diego State in the final road game of the season, 30-14. Still, the Academy is five games over .500 on the campaign and has been anything but an easy target for conference foes this season.
Air Force maintains a 31-20-1 edge in the all-time series with the Rams, although CSU blew the Academy away last season in a 58-13 final in Fort Collins.
Colorado State took no mercy on the Lobos last week, rolling up a program- record 698 yards of total offense as all phases of the game rose up to dominate. The best performance came from running back Dee Hart who carried the ball just 20 times, but ended up with 230 yards and five touchdowns. Throw in two receptions for 42 yards and another score and it was easy to see why he was named the MWC Offensive Player of the Week.
Also having outstanding games yet again were quarterback Garrett Grayson and wideout Rashard Higgins. The signal caller converted all but six of his pass attempts for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and the receiver grabbed 10 passes for 167 yards and two scores.
Even when defenses know he's probably going to get the ball, Higgins still makes big plays. Four times this season Higgins has had double-digit receptions, and only once has he failed to reach at least 100 yards. He has scored a total of 15 TDs, at least one in all but two games, which is why he has been named a finalist for the prestigious Biletnikoff Award, presented to the nation's top receiver.
"I am incredibly humbled and honored to be a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. To even be in this position for an award named after a Hall of Famer is something that wouldn't be possible without being a part of an amazing team; coaches, teammates and all of the support we have. This is a dream come true, but it is truly a team award and we still have a lot to accomplish to reach our goals."
Higgins is in this position due to the efforts of Grayson who has completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 310.3 ypg and a stunning 29 TDs, against just five interceptions. It has also helped that defenses now also pay more attention to Hart, the Alabama transfer who has gained 1,139 yards and scored 16 TDs of his own.
Over on the other side, the Falcons could be entering this game without a couple of key components following their loss to San Diego State. Running back Jacobi Owens, who missed the SDSU meeting, is expected to miss this final game due to a foot injury, and quarterback Kale Pearson is listed as questionable for an undisclosed reason as preparations begin for the arrival of CSU.
Last week, Pearson converted 10-of-22 passes for 171 yards and a score, adding a team-best 59 rushing yards on 14 attempts, although the Falcons came up quite short of expectations in their running game with a mere 140 yards and one TD on 41 carries.
On the defensive side of the ball, even though the Academy absorbed the loss, Weston Steelhammer still lived up to his hype as he made a game-high 11 stops and registered an interception. Fifth on the team in tackles with 48, Steelhammer has three sacks and a team-best five INTs, to go along with two recovered fumbles and a safety.
The unit ranks 47th in the nation in points allowed, giving up 24.2 ppg, which is an important stat given that the Air Force offense is missing some key parts most likely. Obviously, with the potential change in quarterback the Falcons will be keeping the ball on the ground even more where they are seventh in the country with 274.9 ypg, even though Owens will not be there to take any hand-offs.
Needing a victory in this final game of the regular season, expect to see the Rams to do everything in their power to make it happen. Chances are it won't be too difficult given the changes in the depth chart for the Falcons.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colorado State 42, Air Force 21