ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University Stadium never has been such a welcome sight for a Lobo football opponent.
The struggling Colorado State Rams, however, welcome their return visit to Albuquerque today. CSU (3-7, 0-6 Mountain West Conference) will try to end a seven-game losing streak when it faces New Mexico (0-10, 0-6).
The last time the Rams were on Lobo turf, they were engaged in wild celebration. Running back Gartrell Johnson went crazy-insane, with 285 rushing yards, 90 receiving yards and two touchdowns in CSU's 40-35 victory over Fresno State in the 2008 New Mexico Bowl.
"I've been thinking about that," Rams senior wide receiver Dion Morton said of his team's return. "It'll be great to come back to a place where we had so many good feelings."
Especially because all the good feelings the Rams had about 2009 deserted the team back in September.
Second-year Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild seemingly had his team on the path back to its elite status it had in the conference's infancy – winning or sharing the league championship in three of the MWC's first four years.
CSU was 3-0 after a 35-20 over Nevada on Sept. 19. The program was on a six-game winning streak, dating to 2008.
A 20-6 win over the Lobos last year was the first of two straight wins to end the regular season that earned the Rams bowl-eligibility, and they built on that momentum to win their first bowl game since 2001.
"I think we became content a little bit," senior wide receiver Dion Morton said, "In coach Fairchild's first year, we all knew we had to work. Maybe we lost sight of how hard we did work."
After CSU's 3-0 start to 2009, its next four games – against Brigham Young, Idaho, Utah and TCU – had a combined 23-3 record when the Rams entered that stretch.
They had a nightmarish start during the Sept. 26 game against BYU, falling behind 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and ultimately losing 42-23. Nearly two months later, the nightmare is still going strong.
"I don't know the whys (of the losing streak)," Fairchild said. "At times I thought this football team was better than the one last year that ended up going to a bowl, but we just have not been very consistent, ever since spring football."
Statistically, CSU's numbers are not that far off from 2008 – except in total offense and third-down efficiency.
The Rams average 348.8 yards per game to rank 80th among 120 Division I-A teams. Last year they averaged 395.4 yards per game, although their 619 yards in the bowl game increased that average by 18 yards.
CSU converted 45.2 percent of its third-down attempts in 2008. This season, its success rate is 33.1 percent.
Most other statistics are down from last season, but not significantly.
Likewise, senior wide receiver Rashaun Greer said nothing has happened this season to bring the team down, either.
"I feel like our chemistry's been better than last year," he says. "It's just not translating to the field."
With a bowl game no longer a possibility, the Rams' primary focus is ending their losing streak in 2009.
"I don't think anybody on this team wants to take this problem and have somebody next year solve it for them," Fairchild said. "We just need to find a way to play well and get a win here."
PRETTY (IMPORTANT) IN PINK: The theme for today's game is "Think Pink," which is designed to raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer. Lobo players will wear pink ribbons on their helmets; coaches will wear pink shirts.
Breast cancer survivors will be acknowledged at the end of the first quarter, and game sponsors UNM Cancer Center, UNM Hospital and the President's Office will host a tailgate party for breast-cancer survivors and their families.
Coach Mike Locksley said his family and the families of two assistants have been affected by the disease. Locksley's mother, who has been battling breast cancer since 2001, will fly in from Washington D.C., for the game.
Defensive coordinator Doug Mallory's mother also is fighting the disease, as is offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey's mother and mother-in-law.
"It's important for us that we recognize this game and the impact on our families and other families in the community by this disease," Locksley said.