Colorado State-Pueblo Football enters 2014 at number 16 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 11-1 (9-0) Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference didn’t give the ThunderWolves too much of a challenge in 2013. They breezed through the regular season without a loss, won every game by at least nine, won the conference for the third season in a row, and earned a first round bye in the D2 playoffs. Then, trouble.
Grand Valley State beat Saginaw Valley 40-7 and earned the right to travel to Pueblo to face the ThunderWolves in round two. CSU-Pueblo looked to be well-rested early, jumping out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter, but then GVSU got going. From late in the first quarter on, the Lakers outscored the ThunderWolves 34-14, including a shutout final 22 minutes to win 34-30. It was a classic, back-and-forth game – exactly what the playoffs inspire, and exactly the type of game the ThunderWolves didn’t play in all season. It was a familiarly bitter end to a great season for CSU-Pueblo, who have a 1-3 playoff record over the past three seasons to go with their 33-0 regular season record over the same span.
-Drew Swartz OG – Starter
-DaVaughn Thornton TE – 19 catches, 215 yards, 4 TDs
-Josh Sandoval WR – 42 catches, 624 yards, 3 TDs
-Mike Pennel DT – 36 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 FFs, 2 FRs
-Matt Tucker LB – 52 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FR
-Nick Henderson S – 60 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 8 pass breakups
-Brandon Kliesen P – First team Daktronics All-American, 60 punts, 45.2 yard average
What to Watch For
Tough D – The ThunderWolves were the #87 defense in terms of yards allowed last season, but that’s a bit of a misleading stat in a vacuum. It’s true they allowed a lot of yards (391.8 per game in fact) but they made stops when they needed to. Colorado State-Pueblo only allowed opponents to move the sticks on 28.2% of third downs (seventh best in D2). In the red zone, they allowed their opposition to score only 65.8% of the time (#13 in D2). And despite all those yards allowed, they only allowed 19.8 points per game (#21 in D2). Many of the players who made these stats happen will be back this season, including consensus All-American defensive lineman Darius Allen.
The ThunderWolves are in a bind: they’ve proven themselves to be the best team in the RMAC pretty convincingly – going undefeated in three-straight regular seasons will do that – but they’ve also struggled mightily in the playoffs. It’s a classic case of big-fish-small-pond-itis. The ThunderWolves aren’t really challenged in the regular season, and when it comes time to compete with the best of D2, they aren’t ready – consistently. What can they do? They can’t recruit for the other teams in their conference, they can’t coach for them, and they can’t move conferences (well they could, but that’s not up to the players and coaches who we’re focused on here), so they’re stuck. They need to figure out a way to overcome their pushover-schedule (maybe tougher out of conference scheduling?). Until that happens, fans should expect the same thing: undefeated regular season, early playoff exit.