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            ***** NCAA Football Preview - Colorado State Rams *****
 
 By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
 
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 
 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: With a new head coach in Jim McElwain, the Rams
 expected big things in 2012 following three straight seasons with a 3-9
 record, but the results were only slightly better for the former Alabama
 offensive coordinator. An offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at
 Fresno State in 2007 before heading to Tuscaloosa, McElwain's tenure in Fort
 Collins certainly got off on the right foot as he guided CSU to a 22-17
 victory over in-state rival Colorado in Denver in the opener, but still the
 coach understood that the program had a long way to go.
 
 "We did not play a good football game by any stretch of the imagination,"
 McElwain declared after his first win. "Plain and simple we have a long way to
 go. At the end of the day as good as it is for Colorado State, for our
 students, our faculty, our fans its great but its one game. As excited as I
 was for them, they have to realize we have a long, long way to go before I
 consider us a decent ball squad."
 
 The coach was somewhat prophetic in his evaluation of the opening win because
 after that the Rams lost six in a row, including a 22-7 decision versus FCS
 foe North Dakota State in the home opener on Sept. 8. The squad did manage to
 take three of the last five dates on the schedule against Hawaii, UNLV and New
 Mexico, all at home, but still the Rams finished at just 3-5 in conference to
 tie for sixth place in the standings.
 
 Colorado State finished second-to-last in the MWC in scoring with 21.2 ppg,
 placing the group 100th in the country. With just 339.0 ypg, the Rams were
 also ninth in the conference and again 100th in the nationally in that
 department as well. A big part of the problem was having almost no consistency
 at the quarterback position with Garrett Grayson, Conner Smith and M.J. McPeek
 each having at least 85 pass attempts and finishing with a collective 15
 interceptions, against only 17 touchdowns.
 
 2013 ANALYSIS:
 
 OFFENSE: Grayson and Smith are both listed as returning starters at
 quarterback for the Rams, which can be seen as both a blessing and a curse.
 Sure, they each gained valuable experience in 2012, but at the same time the
 offense failed to show much in the way of consistency as it tried to function
 for both signal-callers. After several Fall practices, there's still no clear-
 cut leader at the position, which means there is a healthy competition going
 on between the pair and a number of other hopefuls.
 
 Whether it be Grayson, Smith, or someone else altogether, the good news for
 each passer is that they have a preseason all-conference selection lining up
 in the trenches in Weston Richburg. A starter in all 36 games in which he's
 appeared Richburg, who has already graduated, has also been named to watch
 lists for the Rimington Trophy, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award.
 
 The running back position is filled with top-notch possibilities, from Chris
 Nwoke who led the team in rushing in 2011, to Donnell Alexander who grabbed
 the mantle last season. As long as the two are able to again co-exist and
 share the load, there will be plenty of opportunities for both of them to
 exploit defenses in 2013.
 
 In terms of receiving, the team has lost wideout Marquise Law, but retains
 Charles Lovett who caught a team-best 35 passes for 428 yards. Kivon
 Cartwright (26 rec., 310 yards, three TDs) will be pushed by Crockett
 Gillmore, a former all-conference player for Colorado State.
 
 DEFENSE: In addition to bringing back six starters from a year ago, the
 defense for the Rams now has the luxury of learning from one of the most
 notorious players in its history in Joey Porter. At the end of July it was
 announced that Porter, a all-pro linebacker in the NFL who won a Super Bowl
 with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005, was returning to Fort Collins to not
 only complete his undergraduate degree, but also assist the coaching staff
 while taking classes.
 
 "This is another example of reaching back into our past to help build our
 future at Colorado State," said McElwain. "It's an opportunity for him to
 complete his degree while he gains valuable experience with our coaching
 staff. We are proud to welcome one of the great Rams back to our campus, just
 as we welcome all of our former players to remain a part of the Rams football
 family."
 
 There is much that both Porter and the young players can learn from each
 other, particularly linebacker Shaquil Barrett who earned honorable mention
 All-MWC accolades last season when he made 67 tackles while battling through
 injury. Fellow linebacker Cory James set a program freshman record and ranked
 second in the Mountain West with 7.5 sacks over the course of 12 games.
 Clearly, James has great potential and can only improve with the input of
 Porter.
 
 Also returning for the Rams are Aaron Davis and Max Morgan, the top two
 tacklers from a year ago who posted 84 and 81 stops, respectively.
 
 SPECIAL TEAMS: One of the issues for the Rams a year, which has much to do
 with the defense actually, is the fact that the squad returned a mere 13
 punts, an average of barely one per contest. The unit averaged a modest 9.5
 yards per opportunity in that department, but take away the one 76-yard effort
 by Joe Hansley and that number drops considerably. Hansley is back for another
 turn according to the current roster. The team had as many as seven players
 credited with at least one kickoff return, which doesn't bode well for
 consistency whatsoever. Thomas Coffman handled more than his share and
 averaged 24.6 yards per return, but he too boosted his stats with a lengthy
 73-yard run that failed to make it into the end zone.
 
 From a kicking perspective, Jared Roberts showed that he can hit some long
 field goals in the thin air, converting all eight of his attempts between
 30-49 yards, but he was provided with just 10 opportunities because the
 offense often failed to move the ball into range. This year Roberts hopes to
 pick up more chances with an improving offense.
 
 OUTLOOK: Picked to finish fifth in the Mountain Division of the conference,
 the Rams have their work cut out for them this season. The squad has to define
 itself at quarterback and try to kick things into gear on offense after
 sputtering quite a bit a year ago.
 
 The conference schedule is riddled with tough outings and it doesn't help that
 the squad has to travel to Hawaii near the end of October to fulfill that
 obligation. Colorado State does catch both Boise State and Nevada at home, but
 those meetings come in consecutive weeks in early November, by which point the
 team might already be struggling to stay above water. The program doesn't do
 itself any favors by scheduling coach McElwain's former team, Alabama, on the
 road during the first month either.
 
 
 
 08/23 09:20:15 ET