"We've won national championships," says Byrne. "We know what it takes. Sometimes it takes a little luck."
An hour after Colorado State's 41-13 starching of New Mexico in the WAC championship game in Las Vegas, Rams coach Sonny Lubick slipped on a black turtleneck and gray sport coat and headed out for a night on the town with some friends. "C'mon, we're going to go hit some casinos," he playfully told a reporter on his way out the door. "Maybe we'll get lucky and make some money."
Lubick had ample reason for optimism. The victory, keyed by sophomore fullback Kevin McDougal's 255 rushing yards—second-best in school history—and three touchdowns, raised Colorado State's record to 10-2 and gave it a third conference title in four years. The 18th-ranked Rams, winners of eight straight, will play Missouri in the Holiday Bowl, and Lubick likes his chances in San Diego too. "This is the most talented team we've had here," he says.
If Colorado State had any doubters, its gutty performance against determined New Mexico changed their minds. On a day when quarterback Moses Moreno was limited to just nine completions on 20 attempts for 92 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions, the Rams' defense, special teams and running game picked up the slack.
The win was further evidence of the tremendous rebuilding job Lubick has done since arriving in Fort Collins five years ago. A former defensive coordinator at Miami, Lubick has lifted the Rams from WAC doormat past BYU to preeminence in the conference. Under him Colorado State is 40-19, including 31-9 in conference games. Over the same span BYU is 30-10 in the WAC.
Lubick's first priority has been defense. The ball-hawking Rams—No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin this season, at plus 2.08 per game—feature a slew of speedy defenders, including two smallish ends: Clark Haggans, a 6' 4", 225-pound sophomore who burned New Mexico with five tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick, and 6' 3", 237-pound senior Adrian Ross, who caused and recovered a fourth-quarter fumble to set up the touchdown that put the Rams ahead 27-13. "If the offense is struggling," Ross says, "we can carry the team."
That hasn't been necessary too often this year. Moreno, a senior who entered the game ranked second in the NCAA in pass efficiency, has thrown for 2,257 yards and 20 touchdowns. Fullback Damon Washington has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, and McDougal, a converted defensive back, has been a big-play runner all year. Against the Lobos he had touchdown dashes of 44, 42 and 66 yards; Washington added a 51-yard scoring run. "The key is balance," Lubick says. "You're not going to win throwing the ball 40 to 50 times."
A decade ago such talk would have gotten a coach laughed out of the WAC, but now that Lubick has shown it's possible to commit to defense and still win, teams such as Air Force, Utah and Wyoming are following his lead. "The WAC's identity as a passing conference is changing," says New Mexico coach Dennis Franchione, whose Insight.com Bowl-bound Lobos have relied on a balanced attack for years. "Sonny and some of the other coaches have come in and shown that defense really makes the difference."
A Wait Ended, a Weight Lifted