2014 CFN Preview - Colorado State Rams
Colorado State QB Garrett Grayson
Colorado State QB Garrett Grayson
Posted Jun 5, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - Finally, Colorado State is starting to win. Can the success continue? (Getty Images)

Colorado State Rams

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Jim McElwain
3rd year: 12-14
Lettermen Returning: 46
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Ram Players
1. QB Garrett Grayson, Sr.
2. TE Kivon Cartwright, Sr.
3. OT Ty Sambrailo, Sr.
4. RB Jasen Oden, Jr.
5. LB Cory James, Jr.
6. LB Max Morgan, Sr.
7. LB Aaron Davis, Sr.
8. PK Jared Roberts, Sr.
9. S Trent Matthews, Jr.
10. WR Rashard Higgins, Soph.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Colorado (Denver)
Sep. 6 at Boise State
Sep. 13 UC Davis
Sep. 27 at Boston College
Oct. 4 Tulsa
Oct. 11 at Nevada
Oct. 18 Utah State
Oct. 25 Wyoming
Nov. 1 at San Jose State
Nov. 8 Hawaii
Nov. 22 New Mexico
Nov. 29 at Air Force

Now that's more like it.

Colorado State was too good a program for too long to be a perennial also-ran at best, doormat at worst, and now head coach Jim McElwain might be on the verge of doing something big in the Mountain West.

It's his third year at the helm, and while it took a little while to get the right guys and the right pieces in place, last year the running game started to work again like it did in the Sonny Lubick days. Kapri Bibbs helped the attack blow up for over 200 yards per game, while the passing game was efficient and effective. The wins started coming again, and while there weren't any major regular season shockers, that's okay – beat the bad teams in the new, bigger Mountain West and you'll be okay.

And then came the comeback, and the season was defined.

Bowl games are supposed to be self-contained entities, and the success or failure doesn't translate into anything the following season, but Colorado State's shocking comeback win to beat Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl was, if nothing else, a chance for Ram fans to have something big to celebrate with the first winning season and the first bowl victory since 2008. It also gave the program something to rally around.

Yeah, winning is fun. Now it's time to do more of it.

Momentum is whatever the next opponent is, and while Colorado State has a difficult schedule to deal with, and no more Bibbs to hand off to, the team and the program appear to be on the rise. The passing game might be more of a factor this year with QB Garrett Grayson back along with most of this top targets.

Six starters are back on a defense that wasn't exactly a rock, and it wasn't consistent, but was stronger than it was a few years ago with a better run defense to make up for a shaky secondary. But all that matters is the win-loss column, and the Rams came up with the most since 2002, and now there's the infrastructure to do far more.

What to watch for on offense: Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin's attack should be extremely interesting, but it'll take a little bit of luck and a few tweaks to match the tremendous production of 2012. The quarterback situation is set with Garrett Grayson ready to become a Mountain West star with a nice group of receivers to play around with. Star RB Kapri Bibbs might be gone, but there are options including former safety Jasen Oden, who could turn into more of a receiver. The problem? The line that loses four starters and only welcomes back Ty Sambrailo on the left side.

What to watch for on defense: The defense that was so rough for so long wasn't a rock, but it had some positives. The pass rush was great, the run defense was terrific, and the pass defense … the run defense was terrific. The secondary, though, should be a wee bit better if experience means anything, but the real strength is a loaded linebacking corps with the trio of Max Morgan, Aaron Davis and Cory James forming one of the best in the Mountain West. The big concern is a line that loses all four starters, but it has just enough decent prospects returning to not fall completely off the map.

The team will be far better if … the offensive line comes together in a hurry. For all of the excitement and all of the positives, the lines needs an overhaul losing everyone on the defensive front and only getting back one starter on the offensive line, senior Ty Sambrailo. Last season the veteran front five allowed just 21 sacks on 480 passes while pounding away for 2,861 rushing yards and 37 scores. Considering the pass protection was a complete and utter disaster in 2010, giving up 44 sacks, and improved steadily since then, this might be the year when the production reverts to previous form unless the coaching staff gets creative. Also, the running game that ran for just 1,546 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012 can't take a step back.

The schedule: Get through the first half of the season, and then it should be smooth sailing. The Rams will know where they stand right away in the Mountain West chase with a road trip to Boise State after kicking off the season with the annual rivalry date with Colorado. With a road game at Nevada and a showdown with Utah State to follow the week after, the conference campaign could be made or broken by mid-October. Things up in a big, big way over the second half of the year facing five straight teams that didn't go bowling with four games in five before closing out against Air Force.

Best offensive player: Senior OT Ty Sambrailo. The hope is for QB Garrett Grayson to play like an all-star, and there's a chance new running back Jasen Oden turns into another Kapri Bibbs, but the best player on the line should be the veteran left tackle who has to be even better with the other four starters gone. An all-star, he has turned into a terrific pass protector while also using good technique to improve as a pass blocker. The line is his, and he needs to play like the leader up front.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Cory James. Add fellow liinebackers Max Morgan and Aaron Davis into the ring, too. With a new front line that needs to get its feet wet, the linebacking corps should be able to take care of most of the problems, let by the pass rushing James from the outside. Big, and more than strong enough to handle himself on the inside against the run, he's at his best when he's turned loose into the backfield. With Morgan and Davis taking the pressure off, James should be a force.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Terry Jackson. End Joe Kawulok has experience and turned in a nice year as a pass rushing end, but the Rams need bodies on the inside to hold up and rock against the run with Calvin Tonga and Curtis Wilson gone. While he's not huge, the 6-1, 275-pound Jackson is active making 29 tackles in the rotation with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. He's not going to be an anchor, but he has to be a solid factor for the run D.

The season will be a success if … the Rams win the Mountain. It might take an upset win on the road over Boise State to get it done, and going to Nevada won't be fun, but schedule is just good enough for an above-average team to do big things with. A second straight winning season for the first time since 2002-2003 would be a major positive, but McElwain will have his team shooting for more.

Key game: Sept. 6 at Boise State. Utah State should be very, very good, but the Rams get the game in Fort Collins. The Boise State game is the big one – lose that, and CSU probably has to be perfect the rest of the way. A win, though, announces that yeah, this is the team to beat for the Mountain and should make some national noise. One problem – Boise State is 3-0 over the last three years in the series winning by a combined score of 147 to 57.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Rushing Yards Per Game: Colorado State 204.4 – Opponents 140.6
- Fourth Down Conversions: Colorado State 15-of-25 (60%) – Opponents 14-of-29 (48%)
- Rushing TDs: Colorado State 37 – Opponents 16

- 2014 Colorado State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players