Are the Buffs Ram-Tough?

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While Colorado State University continues to spin-dry its library books and, for all we know, its chemistry professors, in the wake of last month's killer flood, fifth-year coach Sonny Lubick is quietly getting ready to put his best-ever team onto the field at Hughes Stadium.

The Rams are picked on every list to win the Pacific division of the Western Athletic Conference, but touchdown-happy, defensively challenged WAC football has never stirred the souls of the national pollsters. Before a down is played, the Rams are ranked near the bottom of the Top 25. The Rams have 25 wins in the past three seasons--pretty fair for a program that was once the laughingstock of the game.

CSU's imminent date with the big bad Buffs--rivals who, frankly, never give them much respect--could change all that. A close reading of the matchups reveals that this could be a much closer game than most people expect. For one thing, Lubick has got the best quarterback in the WAC (an honor usually reserved for the incumbent at Brigham Young) in senior Moses Moreno. With over 2,900 yards passing last season (third-best in school history), he was sixteenth in the nation, and among QBs returning in 1997, he's fifth, trailing only such big-name guns as Tennessee's Peyton Manning and Miami's Ryan Clement. Since first stepping on the field as a slender 6-2, 180-pounder, Moreno has gained 35 pounds of muscle and 500 pounds of confidence. His two favorite targets, Geoff Turner and Paul Turner (unrelated), are also back, and the Rams boast one of college football's biggest offensive lines, which averages 6-5 and 305 pounds. Anthony Cesario, a 6-6, 300-pound junior guard, is the headliner, but look out for 6-4, 285-pound Mike Newell, whom Lubick calls "as good a center as there is in America. Not just the WAC."

CSU's passing and its Nebraska-like beef could--I say could--mean trouble for the Colorado defense, especially those inexperienced linebackers, and especially if Moreno can also get some production out of his club's questionable one-back running game.

The bad news for the always-underrated guys from Fort Collins is that, in typical WAC fashion, their defense was unbelievably porous last year. The Ram "D" ranked 104th among 111 teams, yielding 458 yards per game, although those numbers got inflated in losses to Oregon, Nebraska and, yes, Colorado. Lubick points out that the Rams' entire secondary was composed of newcomers in 1996, and they stand to improve this season.

"This could be the best football team since I've been at Colorado State," Lubick says. "We have question marks. If we come together, we could be a decent football team."

The understated Lubick is hoping for a lot more than that, of course. The Rams get their first taste in Fort Collins Saturday against another unfettered WAC passing team, Nevada. But they're clearly laying for the Buffs, a rival that disses them, and if Moreno and his two Turners manage to be the last men standing after 90 or 100 points go up on the board (the Buffs won last year 48-34), the Rams just might get their fondest wish.

Too bad the game won't be played where it really belongs--in Mile High Stadium, before a howling crowd of 77,000 divided in their partisanship. After years of second-class citizenship, the Rams deserve as much, and the Buffs have long since established their marquee value. Call it the Mountain Bowl.

The most exciting (and dispiriting) finish of the baseball season was played out Saturday afternoon in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The players were five feet tall.

For those grownups who missed it, here's what happened in the championship game of this year's Little League World Series:

Gavin Fabian, from Mission Viejo, California, pitched his third game in five days and took a 4-1 lead (and a no-hitter!) into the bottom of the sixth and last inning against the team from Guadalupe, Mexico. Clearly exhausted, little Gavin walked the first two batters and went 2-0 on the third before manager Jim Gattis--the man intent on ruining this kid's arm--took him out. Relief pitcher Adam Sorgi evened the count to Gabriel Alvarez at 2-2 before Alvarez smashed a game-tying homer over the left-centerfield fence. The Mexican kids went on to win 5-4 on a walk, a single and an error.

Good for Guadalupe. Their thrillingly improbable victory came forty years to the day after Mexico won its first Little League Crown and will rightly go down in sports legend.

Manager Gattis is another story. While several of his young players--the reliever and the kid who made the error among them--tried to take blame for the loss, Gattis publicly blamed it on his club's "attitude." He said his boys started moping and acting like losers as early as the fourth inning, when they had a 3-0 lead. He carped that some hitters, after striking out, came back and actually sat down in the dugout.

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Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo