CFN Preview 2013 - Colorado State Rams
Colorado State RB Donnell Alexander
Colorado State RB Donnell Alexander
Posted Jul 16, 2013 2013 Preview - Colorado State Rams

Colorado State Rams

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Jim McElwain
2nd year: 4-8
Returning Lettermen: 45
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best CSU Players
1. RB Donnell Alexander, Soph.
2. LB Shaquil Barrett, Sr.
3. CB Shaq Bell, Sr.
4. LB Cory James, Soph.
5. C Weston Richburg, Sr.
6. TE Crockett Gillmore, Sr,
7. LB Aaron Davis, Jr.
8. LB Max Morgan, Jr.
9. S Trent Matthews, Soph.
10. K Jared Roberts. Jr.
2013 Schedule
9/1 Colorado
9/7 at Tulsa
9/14 Cal Poly
9/21 at Alabama
9/28 UTEP
10/12 San Jose State
10/19 at Wyoming
10/26 at Hawaii
11/2 Boise State
11/9 Nevada
11/16 at New Mexico
11/23 at Utah State
11/30 Air Force
Okay, Colorado State. Enough is enough.

The program that used to be the crown jewel of the Mountain West in the Sonny Lubick years is now three years removed from the one winning season since 2003. It's been a transition and it's been a process, but it looks like the program has found a good one in head coach Jim McElwain and now it's just a question of when everything finally starts to come together.

Last year McElwain and his staff couldn't get past the same issue Colorado State has had for the last several years: the lines.

When everything was rocking and rolling, the Rams would line up and blast away with a brutal running attack, while the defense was a rock against the run and phenomenal at getting into the backfield. While the pass rush had its moments early on, it fizzled late – oddly enough, it was about the time the team started winning – while the ground attack never seemed to find anything that consistently worked until it was too late. But there's hope.

Running back Donnell Alexander came on late in the year to show off the talent and skill that made him a BCS-level recruit, and now he and bruising back Chris Nwoke get to work behind a veteran line that gets four starters back and should finally start to be a positive. The receiving corps has upside and speed, and the quarterback situation is promising with McElwain a top teacher with some nice young players to work with including big bomber Conner Smith.

The defense has the potential to enjoy one of the Mountain West's best linebacking corps with big hitters across the board in the versatile 3-4 and lots of speed on the outside. The secondary was a strength last season – mostly because it didn't have to face a slew of top passers – and most of the key parts are back, but they'll all need to be stronger with a sketchy defensive front that needs to find tough tackles to hold up against the run.

Throw in the good special teams, and it's a strong enough Ram team to come up with a few extra wins to take last year's 4-8 up to 6-6, but the consistency has to be there. Beating up pathetic Hawaii, UNLV and New Mexico teams late last year was nice, but there's no excuse to keep getting blown away by the Wyomings and Air Forces of the world, and the 22-7 loss to North Dakota State all but ended the year before it really began.

It's still a rebuilding project, but this is the season the corner has to finally be turned. It's time for Colorado State football to be good again.

What to watch for on offense: The rushing tandem. The offensive line might not blast away and barrel through the stronger defensive fronts, and the passing game might still be a work in progress, but Colorado State should start to look like the good old days at times of Kevin McDougal and Damon Washington with former 1,000-yard back Chris Nwoke healthy good enough to start taking on more of the workload again after getting 20 carries just once last season – he hit the 20-carry mark six times in 2011 – and Donnell Alexander showed what he could do late in the year with three 100-yard games in the final four. As long as these two are working, the rest of the offense should fall into place.

What to watch for on defense: The linebackers. Shaquil Barrett is listed as a linebacker, but he works mostly like a pass rushing defensive end when the line needs some help, and it always seemed to need some help. Aaron Davis is a smallish speedster on the other side who gets all over the field leading the team with 84 tackles, while Max Morgan and Cory James are decent inside defenders who'll clean up several messes left by a shaky line. These are four good, emerging playmakers who should take the defense from good into potentially great against the Mountain West's mediocre attacks.

The team will be far better if … the defensive line shows up. The defense never seemed able to come up with the same performance twice, and it has to start with getting something more out of a shaky line in transition. All the starters are gone up front making the linebackers responsible for the getting into the backfield. The coaching staff hit the JUCO ranks to help out at tackle, but finding ends who can get behind the line is a must after coming up with fewer than two sacks six times and coming up with more than two in just two games – wins over Colorado and Hawaii.

The schedule: The Rams have to take advantage of a rebuilding Colorado in the opener, because it's going to be a fight to get out of September alive with road trips to Tulsa and Alabama. Closing out the month against UTEP will help the cause before getting a week off to prepare for Mountain West live. Missing Fresno State and San Diego State is a nice break, and facing Hawaii on the road and San Jose State at home isn't a bad deal in interconference play, but dealing with Nevada after the Mountain battle with Boise State won't be fun. It's going to be an endurance test with eight straight games - all in conference play - after the week off in early October.

Best offensive player: Sophomore RB Donnell Alexander. The son of the late NFL superstar Derrick Thomas started to make his own name late last season as he barreled to a huge final month after Chris Nwoke suffered an ankle injury. A great recruit with elite speed and athleticism in a 5-11, 205-pound frame, he's quick, tough and has the type of moves to become a featured playmaker who carries the offense for stretches. For those Ram fans looking for the return to the old days, Alexander is the first freshman to run for mover than 500 yards since Damon Washington.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Shaquil Barrett. The former Nebraska-Omaha star was asked to do a little bit of everything. The All-Mountain West star works on the outside as the tone-setting leader of a great-looking linebacking corps, cranking out 67 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Corey James led the team in sacks and tackles for loss, and he's emerging as the new star, but it's Barrett who has the most overall responsibility and has to do far more to help out the mediocre line.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore DT LaRyan King. The Rams have to come up with an interior presence on defense, and it has to start with the big JUCO transfer who needs to be active and consistent. Extremely tough and strong, he could be the anchor the line desperately needs, and he showed at City College of San Francisco the ability blow into the backfield and be disruptive from the start. Everything could work around him.

The season will be a success if … the Rams get to a bowl game. It won't be easy with few sure-thing wins - and even Cal Poly will be a fight. Beat the Mustangs, get by UTEP, and hope to come up with key road wins against Wyoming, Hawaii and New Mexico is a must, and then it'll come down to pulling off an upset or two. The team is in place to sneak its way to six wins and a bowl, but everything will have to break right.

Key game: Oct. 12 vs. San Jose State. The Spartans might be coming off a huge year, but they're rebuilding with a new coach in a new league. The Rams have to come up with the home victory with road games at Wyoming and Hawaii to follow. Lose, and the pressure is on to sweep the road games with Boise State and Nevada waiting to come to Fort Collins.

2012 Fun Stats:
- First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 131 – Colorado State 52
- Time of Possession: Opponents 32:03 – Colorado State 27:57
- Third Down Conversions: Opponents 91-of-188 (48%) – Colorado State 53-of-154 (34%)
- 2013 Colorado State Preview | 2013 Colorado State Offense
- 2013 Colorado State Defense | 2013 Colorado State Depth Chart