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Is the New Mexico Bowl a must-win game for Colorado State coach Mike Bobo?

Deputy sports editor Matt L. Stephens and college sports reporter Kyle Fredrickson discuss the importance of Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl against Marshall for Colorado State and coach Mike Bobo.

Matt: Colorado State enters the New Mexico Bowl this week without a lot of momentum. The Rams won their season finale, but that was a month ago, as they had a bye on the last week of the regular season and beat a San Jose State team that was without a victory over a Division I opponent at that point. CSU struggled through the final quarter of the season, going 1-3 with losses to Air Force, Wyoming and Boise State. With the Rams’ sluggish play lately and how much excitement around this program has died, I think it’s fair to ask, is this a must-win game for coach Mike Bobo?

Kyle: Let’s pretend the date is Dec. 23, 2014, and Bobo is being introduced as the Rams’ next head football coach. Then imagine being told that CSU would reach bowl games in each of his first three seasons. It would be cause for major celebration (what a home run hire!). And yet, here we are 36 months later discussing Bobo’s job security. Crazy, right? But maybe it’s a good thing expectations have raised to the point where simply reaching the postseason isn’t good enough. If the Rams want to be named in the same breath as Boise State as consistent Mountain West title contenders, seven wins simply won’t cut it. Bobo would admit to the disappointment that’s wrapped otherwise successful seasons, but the brightest minds in college football aren’t just lining up for the opportunity to take his place. That’s reality in the Mountain West. So be careful what you wish for, disgruntled Rams fans.

Matt: Look, Bobo isn’t going to get fired if CSU chokes another one away Saturday. In no scenario do I see that happening. But we can’t ignore the fact Bobo is 2-9 in bowls and rivalries. His two previous bowl appearances have been dreadful, losing the Arizona Bowl to a mediocre Nevada team and getting embarrassed in Boise last December by a bunch of Vandals from Idaho who had no business playing on the same field as the Rams. I’ll give Bobo a little credit that one of those two “big-game” victories came against Air Force in 2015, and the Falcons went on to play in the Mountain West championship, but the other was against two-win Wyoming that same year.

Kyle: All this talk about falling in rivalry games points makes me think of another high-profile coach with the same problem: Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy. College football’s most famous mullet is 2-11 all-time against hated rival Oklahoma, and somehow, Gundy will enter the 2018 season with a raise and essentially a lifetime rollover contract. You can bet that broils some longtime OSU fans. So why is Gundy’s job so safe? It comes down to something Bobo hasn’t achieved yet in Fort Collins, and that’s a stellar postseason resume. The Pokes have gone to now 12 straight bowl games and won four of their last six. It’s not a perfect analogy, with OSU’s wealth of resources and Gundy’s status as a hometown hero, but Bobo’s failures in big games can also be masked to a certain degree … if he can beat Marshall on Saturday.

Matt: The bottom line is this: Anything short of a Mountain West championship this season was going to be a disappointment, and CSU didn’t even come close. Now the Rams are playing in the New Mexico Bowl against Marshall instead of the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon with a chance to sweep the Beaver State this season. Bobo has had three seasons in Fort Collins and his teams have finished 7-5 in each regular season. Where’s the improvement in wins and losses? The fan base is getting restless, and while this program playing in a bowl for five straight seasons is an accomplishment, should the Rams lose Saturday, Bobo’s seat will start heating up.

Kyle: There’s no way he’d say it publicly, but I’d have to think that CSU athletic director Joe Parker would agree with you. Let’s also not forget Bobo was hired before Parker assumed office, too. The Rams aren’t going to fill their shiny new stadium season after season if they continue to teeter on mediocrity and Bobo has yet to prove he can lead them out of it. If Saturday goes the way of CSU’s last two postseason outings, I’d expect a short list of candidates to watch down the road to begin circling among big wigs in the athletic department. Not as a sign of immediate action, but rather as a starting point should the need for future change become apparent. A dream scenario for CSU: Someone ingrained with Rams DNA who doesn’t see Fort Collins as a stepping stone that can also win conference championships. Is it time to put Joey Porter on speed dial? Not yet, but Saturday’s outcome might set the tone for the future of CSU football.

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