By Randy Holtz, Rocky Mountain News
FORT COLLINS - Look, this is simple, really. All the Colorado State Rams have to do to get their season back on track Saturday is . . .
• Beat the 10th-ranked team in the land.
• Stifle the nation's most dangerous and dynamic punt returner.
• Move on from an emotionally devastating, come-from-ahead, overtime loss to their most bitter rival.
This should be cake. But sarcasm aside, think what happens if CSU bucks two-touchdown-underdog odds and beats California at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium (noon, CSTV). Sonny Lubick, the program's savior and patriarch, has thought plenty about it. "It could mean a lot to our program and our season if we won this game," said Lubick, who has heard plenty of whispers his retirement would be the best thing for his flagging program. "I think it would make people forget about a lot of things. A win like this would be immensely great for our student body and our entire school. But it'll be a formidable challenge." He's got that right. Not only is Cal an upwardly mobile program that figures to fight for the Pacific-10 Conference title and national acclaim, but the Rams have caught the Golden Bears in what could become their best year in decades. Led by premier receiver/returner DeSean Jackson, an early candidate for the Heisman Trophy, Cal is loaded. The offense is fast and tested and the defense, while not among the nation's most stingy, has plenty of talent and experience. "This is a quality, classy team," Lubick said. "They have the most speed on both sides of the ball we'll see all year. But we'll do our thing and play our best and see what happens." Jackson is the most recognizable name, but the Bears are brimming with ability and savvy. Running back Justin Forsett is a yard- gobbling senior with big-time speed. Receiver Lavelle Hawkins makes it dicey to double cover the immensely gifted Jackson. Quarterback Nate Longshore is smart and resourceful. The line is solid.
Defensively, the Bears are quick to the ball and boast a difference-maker in junior linebacker Zack Follett. With Cal in possession of all this skill, experience and national attention, a major question is if the Bears will dismiss the Rams as a mere speed bump in their rollicking road and overlook CSU. It doesn't take a genius to do a Google search and figure out CSU has lost eight consecutive games and is a shell of the once-competitive program that annually put itself in the mix for bowls and conference titles. But Cal players and coach Jeff Tedford don't envision a letdown. Tedford figures to spend considerable time between now and noon Saturday playing the Appalachian State-Michigan card. Don't come ready to play, and here's what can happen. It's the oldest trick in the coaching book. "I don't think we'll be overconfident," Tedford said. Added Cal center Alex Mack: "We can't be content with one week (last week's impressive win against Tennessee) and just stop there." And chimed in receiver Robert Jordan, another in Cal's constellation of offensive stars: "If we don't win this week, last week means nothing." CSU is hoping those are hollow words. Otherwise, consecutive loss No. 9 seems imminent in a Ram Nation with more than its share of state issues.