2012 Colorado State Preview
Colorado State RB Chris Nwoke
Colorado State RB Chris Nwoke
Posted Jul 31, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Colorado State Rams

Colorado State Rams

Preview 2012

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Jim McElwain
1st year
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 18, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best CSU Players
1. RB Chris Nwoke, Jr.
2. C Weston Richburg, Jr.
3. CB Momo Thomas, Sr.
4. LB Shaquil Barrett, Jr.
5. LB James Skelton, Sr.
6. TE Crockett Gillmore, Jr.
7. CB Shaq Bell, Jr.
8. P Pete Kontodiakos, Sr.
9. OG Jordan Gragert, Jr.
10. DE John Froland, Soph.

Unit Rankings
QB - 6
RB - 7
WR - 5
OL - 5
DL - 5
LB - 5
DB - 5
ST - 7
2012 Schedule
Sep. 2 Colorado (Denver)
Sep. 8 North Dakota State
Sep. 15 at San Jose State
Sep. 22 Utah State
Sep. 29 at Air Force
Oct. 6 Fresno State
Oct. 13 at San Diego State
Oct. 27 Hawaii
Nov. 3 at Wyoming
Nov. 10 UNLV
Nov. 17 at Boise State
Nov. 24 New Mexico
The effort and desires are there for Colorado State to turn into a Mountain West power again, but it always seems like every big step forward is followed up by a giant leap off a cliff.

Steve Fairchild seemed like a perfect fit to restore the glory with his desire to create a more physical team that pounded away with the ground game and was more aggressive on defense. The 7-6 first season appeared to be just the start of big things, and then it really seemed time to get fired up after a 3-0 start to the 2009 campaign with wins over Colorado and Nebraska. And then came the disaster with nine straight losses to kick off a run of three straight 3-9 seasons.

Pete Thomas was considered an elite quarterback get who could be a franchise-maker to build around. He never progressed and struggled behind a leaky line. Now he's at NC State.

Nordly Capi was one of the best out-of-nowhere stories of 2011, cranking out ten sacks and looking like the next big thing defensive lineman to be the star the D needed for the next few years. Now he's gone after being dismissed for his part in a brutal off-the-field incident involving an on-campus assault, with promising tackle Colton Paulhus and third-leading tackler Mike Orakpo also booted. Orakpo is going to Baylor, while C.J. James, who looked this offseason like he was going to be able to pick up the slack of lost production, stunningly left the team.

New head coach Jim McElwain isn't exactly walking into a perfect situation. The former Alabama offensive coordinator has a ton of work to do on both sides of the ball, even with most of the starters returning, and he has to it all with facilities and a budget that pale in comparison to what he got to work with at his old gig.

He has to find a good, steady quarterback to work with and develop, and he needs an offensive line to block a pass rusher for the first time in several seasons. Fortunately, he has a good back in Chris Nwoke to start with.

Finding productive defensive linemen will be a must after so many losses, and he needs his new schemes to start working for a D that finished 116th in the nation against the run and did nothing to get behind the line when Capi wasn't producing.

And more than anything else, he has to deal with the past. Colorado State was great a long, long time ago, and while Ram fans are looking for a return to the successful Sonny Lubick days that started to hit their downfall at the end of the 2002 season. McElwain is an extremely promising head coaching prospect, but he's going to need more time. There's no quick fix for the Rams.

What You Need To Know ...
Offense: Jim McElwain has to work some offensive magic for an attack that finished 101st in the nation and struggled to score. Gone is Pete Thomas, the supposed franchise quarterback who took off to NC State, and in steps either Garrett Grayson or big-armed redshirt freshman Conner Smith to try to turn things around. Bruising running back Chris Nwoke will be the featured star of the offense with workhorse ability and surprising speed, but the proven depth is lacking. The receiving corps has veterans with the top three targets returning and a star in the making in Marquise Law. The line has to be more physical and more consistent, and it could be with three starters returning and a good center in Weston Richburg to lead the transition. However, the pass protection that was a nightmare last season didn't make a big improvement this offseason.

Defense: The run defense was among the worst in the nation and the pass defense was statistically okay because everyone spent time pounding away. The one positive was Nordly Capi and the pass rush, but he was kicked off the team along with third-leading tackler Mike Orakpo after their part in a fight. Using a 3-4, the Rams have a few big ends but desperately needs Arizona State transfer Calvin Tonga to show up in the interior. With more good linebackers than linemen, the new alignment works helped by the return of the team's two leading returning tacklers Shaquil Barrett and James Skelton. Momo Thomas and former safety Shaq Bell are better corners than the stats might indicate, and while the safeties are questionable, they can run.

What to watch for on offense: The running game might really be back. The goal under Fairchild and the dream was to get back to days when Colorado State would blast away with a dominant running game, and the team started to get there with 213-pound back Chris Nwoke running for 1,130 yards and nine scores. The O line needs to be far, far better in pass protection and has to be far more consistent, but it should be solid in the interior with the return of Weston Richburg at center and Jordan Gragert at guard. There will be more rushing from the quarterbacks if Garrett Grayson ends up getting the job – that's not a given – and there's depth at running back with former Texas A&M Aggie Mister Jones joining 225-pound Dorian Brown to work behind Nwoke.

What to watch for on defense: The move to the 3-4. Defensive coordinators Al Simmons and Marty English were going to change things around no matter what, but now it's a must with the loss of Capi, James and Paulhus. It's not like linebacker is a major strength, but there are more decent options to play around with and more promising veterans to rely on. Shaquil Barrett and Broderick Sargent know what they're doing on the outside and James Skelton was the team's second-leading tackler last season. However, big stats for the linebackers might not be a plus if they come because the front three isn't doing anything to stop anyone. After finishing 114th in the nation in tackles for loss, everyone up front must be far more productive.

The team will be far better if … the defense can be a wee bit stronger. There were chances last season for a far, far better season record-wise losing winnable games against San Jose State, UNLV, San Diego State and Wyoming all by a touchdown or less. There were tight wins over New Mexico and Utah State, and while it might have been a problem giving up five rushing scores against the Aggies, two of them came in overtime. The run defense was ripped apart throughout the season allowing 240 yards or more six times and almost never came through in the clutch. If the defensive front can be a bit more physical, there should be a few more wins and 6-6 might be possible.

The schedule: The new era starts out with the annual showdown against Colorado, but things ease up with North Dakota State, San Jose State and Utah State before kicking off Mountain West play at Air Force. The Rams miss Nevada, which isn't bad, but they have to go to Boise State and San Diego State. Getting Hawaii, UNLV and New Mexico at home over the last half of the season should help the record.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Chris Nwoke. The Rams needed something to count on offensively, and Nwoke turned out to be exactly what they needed leading the team in rushing with 1,130 yards and nine scores to go along with 23 catches for 143 yards. At 6-0 and 213 pounds he's a big thumper who proved he could rip off a few big runs now and then with 232 yards on 22 carries against San Diego State and 269 yards on 29 carries against Air Force. The second-team All-Mountain West performer only carried the ball 200 times last season, and now his workload will be increased throughout the year.

Best defensive player: Senior CB Momo Thomas. Junior linebacker Shaquil Barrett is the team's leading returning tackler making 99 tackles with 2.5 sacks and three broken up passes, and the second-team All-Mountain West performer should be the team's top all-around statistical stars once again. Call him the team's top defensive player No. 1A. Gerald "Momo" Thomas isn't huge at 5-9 and 185 pounds, but he's a nice tackler making 31 stops in 11 games to go along with two interceptions – including a pick-six against UTEP – and has elite speed and athleticism. More than just a good defender, he's a great punt returner averaging ten yards per try.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Garrett Grayson or redshirt freshman QB Conner Smith. Grayson stepped in late in the year and finished third on the team with 193 yards and a touchdown. His passing skills aren't good enough to make him a bomber, completing 56% of his passes for 542 yards and two scores with six picks, but he brings more athleticism to the equation. However, Smith is a better fit for what McElwain wants to do. The 6-5, 220-pound redshirt freshman is a pure passer with all the tools and all the potential to be a big-time bomber. Recruited to go to Alabama, McElwain knows him well and should turn him into a star over the next few seasons.

The season will be a success if … The Rams win six games. Even with all the problems and all the issues they were close to doing it last season, and if McElwain can get a little more production out of the passing game and if the defense can come up with a few more stops against the run, winning more of the 50/50 games against teams like UNLV, Fresno State and San Jose State could lead to a bowl bid and a good turnaround.

Key game: Sept. 2 vs. Colorado. It used to be one of the best early games of the college football season, but it has slipped over the last few years with both program crashing. Colorado has won four of the last five and is the better of the two going into this year, but if the Rams can somehow come up with the win it might be exactly the sort of spark to show that things really are changing around in a hurry. Even a good battle might be enough to prove that McElwain has things on the right track right away.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Colorado State sacks in the first five games: 19 – sacks in the last seven games: 7
- Penalties: Colorado State 82 for 729 yards – Opponents 66 for 676 yards
- Colorado State red zone scores: 27-of-40 (68%) scoring touchdowns just 47% of the time.
- 2012 Colorado State Depth Chart