November 21, 2014

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) Coincidentally, Colorado State has the same number of wins this season as senior starters.

That's a lot of wins (nine), but not exactly a lot of senior starters.

This class will long be remembered for weathering rocky seasons and a coaching change to lead No. 22 Colorado State back to national prominence. The seniors - 17 in all - will run through the tunnel one final time at Hughes Stadium when the Rams (9-1, 5-1 Mountain West) face option-oriented New Mexico (3-7, 1-5) on Saturday.

One thing's for sure: Third-year coach Jim McElwain will never forget these seniors sticking with the program. They've guided Colorado State to its best start since 1994 and back into the polls for the first time in more than 11 years.

''It shows perseverance and their will to invest in themselves and invest in the university,'' McElwain said. ''They have been (through) a lot in this program.''

Among the seniors playing in their final home game is quarterback Garrett Grayson, who's broken just about every passing record in school history, including yards (8,208) and TDs (58).

His standout season is gaining national recognition, too, with Grayson recently being notified that he's a Heisman Trophy Aspirant (a fancy way of saying he's a contender for the award).

''That's awesome. Those are nice things. It's nice to get your belly rubbed now and then,'' McElwain said. ''At the same time, you aren't going to get it rubbed if you fall on your face.''

Other senior starters include offensive linemen Ty Sambrailo and Mason Myers, kicker Jared Roberts, receiver Charles Lovett, defensive lineman LaRyan King, linebackers Max Morgan and Aaron Davis and defensive back Bernard Blake.

''It's going to be emotional,'' Blake said of his final contest at Hughes. ''The last five years of my life have been with these guys. Being around this campus and in this locker room - those are some of the things you don't want to end.''

But all things do eventually end. And Blake takes comfort in knowing he helped restore the luster to Colorado State.

''When Coach Mac first came in, when he spoke to the team, you could tell the vibe in the room was he believed in others and you could believe in him,'' Blake said. ''He put his faith in us that he could turn things around.''

New Mexico coach Bob Davie applauded McElwain for what he's accomplished at Colorado State in a short time.

''He's put a system in at a place that gives him a chance to have long-term success,'' Davie said on the team's website. ''It's really what I think we have tried to do here. I think it's interesting to just put some context to it. They have done a great job.''

Here are some things to consider as the Lobos try to halt a four-game skid against the Rams:

RUMORS: The season hasn't even ended and already McElwain's name is popping up for other positions. Like at Florida, which recently fired coach Will Muschamp. ''I hate this time of year for the people I know,'' McElwain said.

PITCH PERFECT: Colorado State will receive a double dose of the option, first with New Mexico on Saturday and then against Air Force to close out the regular season. The Lobos average 318 yards rushing per game. ''We've got a lot that we need to work on ... to get ready to face a very explosive offense,'' McElwain said.

PRIME TIME: Rashard ''Hollywood'' Higgins is up for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given annually to the nation's top receiver. Higgins has 67 catches for 1,280 yards and 13 TDs. ''His numbers prove that he should be in that company,'' McElwain said.

PASS PERFECT: Asked if he was encouraged by the passing game, Davie chuckled, ''Anytime we complete a pass it's like we won the Super Bowl.'' The Lobos have 67 completions this season.

PRESSLEY'S RETURN: Davie said Jhurell Pressley, the team's leading rusher, went home this week because his grandmother died. Pressley is dealing with an ankle injury and will be a game-time decision. ''I think he is going to be healthier and I think he is going to be pretty close to letting it rip,'' Davie said.

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AP freelance writer Dale Bublitz in Fort Collins, Colorado, contributed to this report.

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