#81 Colorado State Football 2013 Preview

Colorado State Rams

Overall Rank: #81
#8 Mountain West

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Jim McElwain found it difficult to get his offense moving during his first season as a head coach at Colorado State. An injury to quarterback Garrett Grayson did not help matters. But now Grayson is back after throwing seven touchdowns and three interceptions in 2012. Conner Smith, who replaced Grayson, is also in the mix at quarterback, but he must find a way to avoid making mistakes if he hopes to unseat Grayson from his presumed starting spot. Either way, the depth at quarterback is strong and that should help the offense improve.

2012 Record: (4-8, 3-5)
2012 Bowl: None
Coach: Jim McElwain (4-8 at Colorado State, 4-8 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Dave Baldwin
Defensive Coordinator: Marty English and Al Simmons

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Donnell Alexander, RB, 587 yards
Passing: Conner Smith, QB, 1,022 yards
Receiving: Charles Lovett, WR, 428 yards
Tackles: Aaron Davis, LB, 84
Sacks: Cory James, LB, 7.5
Interceptions: DeAndre Elliott, CB, 2

Other Key Returnees: QB Garrett Grayson, TE Crockett Gilmore, TE Kivon Cartwright, RB Chris Nwoke, C Weston Richburg, LB Shaquil Barrett, CB Shaq Bell, S Trent Matthews, K Jared Roberts

Key Losses: WR Marquise Law, DE Lanston Tanyi, DT Alex Tucci, P Pete Kontodiakos

While the offense comes around, the defense will keep the Rams in most ball games. The front three in the 3-4 scheme will look very different, but nose tackle Calvin Tonga is a big, experienced senior who can collapse the pocket all by himself. That will create space for ends Eli Edwards and junior college transfer Terry Jackson, as well as outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Cory James, to get into the backfield. James is the sack specialist, but Barrett is the latest superstar linebacker at CSU. He has a great motor and will be among the tackle leaders on the team. On the inside, Max Morgan is expected to step into a starting job and join Aaron Davis, who led the Rams with 84 tackles in 2012. The secondary is relatively young, outside of shutdown corner Shaq Bell. The senior can lay out some big hits and occasionally looks more like an undersized safety than a corner. Bell will be joined by sophomore DeAndre Elliott, who started seven games and picked off two passes as a freshman. Safety Trent Matthews is another sophomore who started as a freshman. In fact, he started all 12 games and totaled 71 tackles and ten pass breakups. This is a secondary that is growing up fast and it should be the strength of the Colorado State defense. If they can take advantage of the pressure players like Tonga and James and get on the opposing quarterback and grab a few more interceptions than they did last year, it would go a long way in helping this group reach six wins.

Coach McElwain was the offensive coordinator at Alabama, so this is a pro-style offense that wants to utilize multiple tight ends and attempt to run the ball. The talent at Colorado State is nowhere near the same as it is at Alabama, as Coach McElwain learned quickly heading into the 2012 campaign, but at least there is potential now. The team as a whole rushed for only 129 yards per game last season, but backs Donnell Alexander and Chris Nwoke have potential. Neither was able to take over the workload last season and getting more consistency out of the ground game will be extremely important. A talented and experienced offensive line should help Alexander and Nwoke take the next step. Center Weston Richburg is the leader of the line and should garner plenty of all-conference accolades before and after the 2013 season. The questions in the passing game could remain for a while. If CSU is really going to develop the rushing attack, they need to balance things out. There really is not a go-to-receiver on the team at this point. Last year ten different players caught at least ten passes. Nobody caught more than the 35 that Charles Lovett hauled in. Lovett is back, but watch out for 6-3 freshman Jordon Vaden. Sooner or later Vaden could be the big play receiver Grayson will be looking for.

The Bottom Line:
The Rams ended 2012 winning three of their last five contests. That is some pretty good momentum to hold onto throughout the offseason and heading into the fall. The schedule is not terribly tough, although it was not last year either. CSU can beat Colorado again, but they have to take that momentum forward. It took Coach McElwain seven tries last season to get his second win as a head coach after beating the Buffaloes in the opener. They cannot afford to lose home games against the likes of Cal Poly and UTEP if there is any chance to get to six wins and go to a bowl game.

Projected Bowl: None

2012 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 128.83 (95th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 210.17 (84, 6)
Total Offense: 339.00 (100, 9)
Scoring Offense: 21.17 (100, 9)
Rushing Defense: 202.42 (103, 7)
Pass Defense: 203.17 (26, 4)
Total Defense: 405.58 (69, 5)
Scoring Defense: 30.25 (79, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.42 (88, 7)
Sacks: 1.67 (82, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 2.50 (90, 8)


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