No. 74 Colorado State
Colorado State senior quarterback Nick Stevens and a gluttony of offensive playmakers have the firepower to challenge Boise State in the Mountain West Mountain Division. Can their defense tighten in the red zone, generate more turnovers and avoid 40-point games to ensure that happens?
2016 Record: 7-6 (5-3, Mountain West)
Colorado State won seven games and reached a bowl game for the fourth season in a row, the first such streak since they did it five-straight years between 1999-2003. However, they narrowly missed a Power Five road win (Minnesota, 31-24), lost one-score games at Air Force and Boise State and gave up 61 points in a bowl loss.
Head Coach: Mike Bobo (3rd year, 14-12 overall)
He was replaced by another SEC offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo, who's now looking for a similar huge step forward in year three. The 43-year-old former Georgia quarterback and longtime Bulldogs' assistant is 7-6 in each of his first two years, both of which ended in bowl losses.
Key Returning Offensive Players
Colorado State has some big-time upperclassmen offensive talent returning, led by senior quarterback Nick Stevens, who took over for Collin Hill when the freshman tore his ACL in early October.
Stevens, the former starter who lost to the job to Hill, threw 14 touchdowns to one interception over a six-game stretch that included wins over New Mexico and San Diego State. He was 10-for-15 for 210 yards, four touchdowns and zero picks in the 63-point outburst against the Aztecs.
“I’m really proud of Nick and the way he played,” Bobo said in January. “Our success largely, offensively, had a lot to do with his play. It was a big difference from the previous year to this year in how he played the quarterback position."
Stevens' top three running backs return, all of whom averaged at least 4.8 yards per carry and two of whom averaged better than 5.7 (Dalyn Dawkins and Marvin Kinsey). Also, keep an eye on Dawkins in the passing game; he had 20 receptions last year.
JUCO transfer Michael Gallup went ballistic in his first season, earning all-conference honors after 76 receptions for 1,272 yards and 14 touchdowns. He had 13 catches for 213 yards in a three-point loss to Air Force.
The offensive line lost three starters but return two seniors, center Jake Bennett and tackle Zack Golditch. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Bennett is playing for a spot in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Key Returning Defensive Players
Colorado State yielded an average of 41.8 points in their six losses (including 61 in the Potato Bowl loss to Idaho), generate only 14 turnovers and allowed opponents to score on 94 percent of their red-zone possessions.
They did lose Kevin Davis at linebacker but the group will still be the strength of a defense that needs a step forward. Thomas, Watson and Colorito combined for 24.5 tackles for loss.
In front of them, freshman Christian Colon and senior Jakob Buys will anchor the middle, while senior end Darnell Thompson is back in search of a breakout campaign. At times Thompson was dominant, attracting double teams and allowing their talented linebackers to roam freely on the edge.
The secondary will showcase a lot of young talent in 2017 but it's still led by upperclassmen in seniors Nutt, Schlager and Sweet and junior Braylin Scott. Scott led the team with three interceptions and Sweet had six passes defended.
Notable Player Losses
Receiver Robert Ruiz is gone after a breakout senior season but the Rams' biggest offensive loss is two-time all-conference lineman Fred Zerblis. The three-year starter helped them rank fourth nationally in red-zone offense with a 94.3-percent success rate.
The most glaring defensive loss is leading tackler Kevin Davis. Another all-conference pick, the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder had 221 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and two interceptions the last two years. Tyree Simmons, who tied for the team lead with six passes defended, is also gone.
One of the nation's best punter Hayden Hunt graduated after four superb seasons. He's competing for spot in the NFL this summer.
Notable Player Additions
WR Preston Williams, OT Ben Knox, G Tyler Bjorklund, DT Christian Colon
This area is reserved for players making their program debut in 2017, yet Preston Williams must be mentioned. The former five-star prospect transferred to CSU after two seasons at Tennessee and will sit out 2017. Look for him in 2018.
They added two JUCO transfers on the offensive line in tackle Ben Knox and guard Tyler Bjorklund. Both are competing for starting jobs but will need huge fall camps to win them.
Get to know Christian Colon now before he becomes a force and legit NFL prospect. The massive (6-foot-3, 335 pounds) interior lineman redshirted last season and will make an immediate impact this year.
Colorado State has an extremely unusual schedule.
The Rams are one of nine FBS teams to open a week early on Aug. 26, have a rare three-game road trip (including a visit to Alabama), get two non-road games against Power Five teams (home vs. Oregon State and neutral site vs. Colorado), have just one road game after Oct. 20 and finish the season on Nov. 18.
If they were to get the Mountain West's slot in the Arizona Bowl on Dec. 30, they would go a whopping 40 days between games.
|Saturday, Aug. 26||vs. Oregon State|
|Friday, Sept. 1||vs. Colorado|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Abilene Christian|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||at Alabama|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Hawai'i|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at Utah State|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. Nevada|
|Friday, Oct. 20||at New Mexico|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||vs. Air Force|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at Wyoming|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. Boise State|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. San Jose State|