2015 CFB Preview – Colorado State

    Colorado State RamsGo to Team Page RamsGo to Selection Page           The program is in a far better spot than it was a few years

    July 1, 2015

    Colorado State
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    The program is in a far better spot than it was a few years ago.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    Now it’s up to new head man Mike Bobo to take Colorado State to a Mountain West title.

    After struggling way too much for a program that’s known plenty of success, Colorado State brought in Jim McElwain and got exactly what it needed. He built things back up over his three years, leading to a 10-3 2014 season and parlaying it into the Florida head coaching gig.

    Enter Bobo, another upwardly mobile head coach who appears to be destined for an SEC job at some point, but first, he has to take a good situation and make it even better.

    The former Georgia quarterback and offensive coordinator knows how to get an attack moving, and he knows how to make a quarterback shine having worked with Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray, helping to turn the talented players into stars. Now he becomes the right hire for a program that seems to be the right ying to everyone else’s yang.

    With all of the spread offenses and all the different quirky formations being used across the college football landscape, CSU was able to shine last year by utilizing more of a pro-style quarterback in Garrett Grayson and pounding away with a good, strong ground attack. Bobo will continue with that, but even more so as he utilizes a fullback to help the running game even more.

    Even more than just the style is the perception. Pro teams want pro-ready guys. Grayson is hardly a top NFL prospect, but he got on the radar because he was what Marcus Mariota and other quarterbacks weren’t in terms of looking the pro part. Colorado State has proven it can win without going gimmicky, and now it appears to have the coach who can fit in right away.

    It also helps to have a strong, loaded team returning. Grayson might be gone, but seven starters are back on an offense that finished 18th in the nation and fifth in passing efficiency. Throw in the return of injured players like TE Kivon Cartwright and center Jake Bennett, and there’s even more to get excited about.

    The defense was inconsistent and struggled at times, but it has the experience to make a big improvement with everyone back in the secondary and a strong line returning.

    And it has a great-looking young head coach. 10-3 last year was good, but Bobo might be expected to do even better.

    What to watch for on offense: More of the same. Colorado State isn’t going to start messing around with any sort of hurry-up spread attack, and it’s not going to get gimmicky. Expect more running, efficient passing, and more of a pro look than most college teams run. Without Garrett Grayson under center, and with a receiver like Rashard Higgins along with a loaded group of tight ends, the Rams will crank up the passing attack without missing a beat. The midrange passing game should be impressive from the start.

    What to watch for on defense: More of a pass rush and more production behind the line. The Rams didn’t attack as much as they probably should’ve last season considering they needed to give the secondary more help. The defense only came up with 19 sacks, but 17.5 of the production is returning, led by linebacker Cory James. It’s not going to look like a fire drill with players all over the place flying around, but defensive coordinator Tyson Summers knows how to get to the quarterback. His UCF defense last year came up with 36 sacks, led by the defensive front, and now he’ll find a way to make the Rams more disruptive.

    The team will be far better if … the running game has to work. Garrett Grayson was fantastic last season and was easy to rely on to make the offense move, but the Rams were really rocking and rolling when they were able to balance things out. They lost three games last year, and two of them came when the ground game was held to under 100 yards, rushing for 28 on 23 carries against Boise State and ran 19 times for 12 yards in the bowl loss to Utah. The other loss came to Air Force, running for 106 yards and no scores. On the season, Colorado State went 10-0 when running for a touchdown, and 0-3 when it didn’t.

    The schedule: It’s a sneaky-tough non-conference schedule. Savannah State should be a 60-point blowout – if the Rams take it easy – but even with Minnesota at home and the Colorado game in Denver, those are going to be tough. Going to UTSA won’t be a layup.
    – Playing Fresno State and San Diego State from the West stinks. Getting UNLV at home is a plus.
    – It’s not like any of the late games aren’t manageable, but three of the last four games – the November dates – are on the road going to Wyoming, New Mexico and Fresno State.
    – The midsection is nice with three straight home games and four in five weeks. Getting Boise State and Air Force at home helps.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … the road trip to New Mexico. It’ll be late in the year and just before a possible showdown at Fresno State, and the Rams will need to handle the Lobo running game. The focus has to be there.

    Best offensive player: Junior WR Rashard Higgins. It’s salary drive time for one of the nation’s most productive receivers. He might not be all that physical and he might not have elite of elite speed, but he’s always open and he’s always making things happen deep. The Biletnikoff finalist – and the only one returning to college football this year – is exactly the type of star weapon who can help make life easier for a coaching staff and help ease in a new starting quarterback.

    Best defensive player: Senior LB Cory James. At 6-1 and 240 pounds he’s built to be a whale of a run-stopping linebacker, and he did just that coming up with 165 tackles over the course of his career in his 37 games of work. More than that, though, he’s been a whale of a pass rusher with a team-leading 6.5 sacks last season and 22 in his three years. With veteran linebackers Max Morgan and Aaron Davis done, James has to do even more as the leader and star of the defensive front.

    Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Nick Stevens. Assuming that he’ll end up taking over the job, the world is on his shoulders to try replacing Garrett Grayson, arguably the best quarterback in Colorado State history. He doesn’t have to be Grayson right away, and he doesn’t have to make CSU the fifth-most efficient passing team in the country. Keep the chains moving and take advantage of the tremendous receiving corps to be explosive once in a while – if he can do that, the O will be terrific again.

    The season will be a success if … the Rams win the Mountain West title. This was the second-best team in the league last season, but it didn’t get a shot at playing for the Mountain West championship. It might be a bit of a push without QB Garrett Grayson, RB Dee Hart, and a few other key parts, but the new coaching staff should be strong, there are too many good players not to think big, and the expectations are high after Jim McElwain was able to point things in the right direction.

    Key game: Oct. 10 vs. Boise State. Going to Utah State is going to be a bear to start out the Mountain West season, but the loss to Boise State last year set the tone for the rest of the campaign and should this year, too. The Rams have to take care of their two 2014 MW losses – Boise State and Air Force – in back-to-back weeks before getting a week off to prepare for San Diego State. Beat the Aggies, beat the Broncos, beat the Falcons, and the Mountain division race could be over by mid-October.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Penalties: Colorado State 72 for 713 yards – Opponents 59 for 560 yards
    – Average Yards Per Pass: Colorado State 9.4 – Opponents 6.7
    – Punt Return Average: Opponents 7.0 – Colorado State 3.9

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: Will Friend worked on the Georgia offense with Mike Bobo, and now he’s going to take over the Ram attack. Don’t expect too many massive changes from last year’s attack that finished 18th in the nation in total offense and eighth in passing. There will be a fullback and more of an emphasis on the ground game, but the passing attack should be deadly again with WR Rashard Higgins back along with a loaded group of tight ends. The line should be among the most effective in the Mountain West, but the quarterback situation has to be settled with Garrett Grayson gone. A steady rotation of running backs has to emerge with Dee Hart gone, but there are several quick options ready to take over.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: New defensive coordinator Tyson Summers led the way for UCF last season, creating an attacking D that turned out to be among the best in the American Athletic. He inherits a good-looking line that has to do more to get into the backfield and make more big plays. The secondary has experience and should be a rock at times after doing a tremendous job of keeping the big plays to a minimum. Cory James is one of the Mountain West’s top defensive players, but the other two spots need to be filled.

    Players You Need To Know
    1. WR Rashard Higgins, Jr.
    Higgins showed glimpses of greatness as a true freshman catching 68 passes for 847 yards and six touchdowns, showing off decent deep speed and a world of upside. And then the 6-2, 188-pounder blew up into one of the nation’s best receivers putting it all together with a 96-catch season for 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns – and that was without playing against Hawaii with a shoulder injury. Unstoppable after the one-catch, 16-yard, one touchdown day against Colorado to start the season, he cranked out 100 yard or more in every other game he played in except for a nine-catch, 98-yard, one touchdown day against Boston College. He wasn’t just a big catch target, he cranked out home run after home run, averaging 18.2 yards per catch despite being keyed on by every defensive scheme.

    2. LB Cory James, Sr.
    The most disruptive force in the linebacking corps over the last few years, he made 60 tackles with eight sacks two years ago and followed it up with 51 tackles and 6.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 240 pounds he has good size and a great burst into the backfield with a sack in three straight games and four in the last five regular season outings. One of the team’s leaders, this is his defense to run, and now it’s his linebacking corps with Aaron Davis and Max Morgan gone. It’s going to be an all-star season, and he could be in the mix for ten sacks if turned loose.

    3. DE Joe Kawulok, Sr.
    One of the team’s better pass rushers, he came up with 33 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss highlighted by a dominant ten-tackle, 3.5 sack day against Tulsa. At 6-6 and 260 pounds he has great size and a terrific motor and phenomenal speed for his size. He needs to be a bit more consistent, but there will be times he’ll dominate at an all-star level with a veteran group up front to help take the pressure off.

    4. TE Kivon Cartwright, Sr.
    The 6-4, 245-pound deep threat got a sixth-year of eligibility after suffering an ankle injury and missing most of last year. With NFL size and great hands, he’s a dangerous go-to target averaging 17.1 yards per catch two years ago on 27 grabs for 462 yards and six touchdowns. He might not be an elite blocker, but he’s fast and great at getting open down the field. A dangerous athlete, if he’s 100% and back to form, he should be an all-star lock as a midrange threat with good toughness when the ball is in the air. He’s what you want in a receiving tight end.

    5. SS Trent Matthews, Sr.
    The 6-3, 210-pound versatile safety has played both strong and free, with the size and hitting ability to be strong against the run and the athleticism and range to get around well and make plays when the ball is in the air. Great as a sophomore, he finished sixth on the team with 69 tackles with a sack and a team-leading four picks and followed it up with 54 tackles with three interceptions. While he’s not a blazer, and he gives up a few deep balls, he’s a good veteran to work the secondary around no matter where he plays.

    6. FS Kevin Pierre-Louis, Sr.
    Built a bit like a smallish linebacker, the 6-1, 215-pound has put together a nice career making 85 tackles last season after coming up with 77 as a sophomore. He doesn’t do enough against the pass – especially for a free safety – he’s at his best against the run and getting in on tackles, making ten tackles against Tulsa and nine stops five times. With 4.5 speed and good toughness, he has next-level potential if he can be a little more of a ball hawk, breaking up just five career passes and coming up with one pick.

    7. OG Fred Zerbils, Jr.
    A 6-3, 295-pound power blocker at right guard, the all-star performer was big and strong for the ground game as one of the team’s most dominant forces. Also quick, he’s good on the move and can play either guard spot without a problem or even be tried out at center. His best football might be ahead of him as he gets even stronger and gets more experience. He’ll be a mainstay of the line and a leader who might be even better with excellent center Jake Bennett ready to return next to him.

    8. RB Treyous Jarrells, Sr.
    Soaking wet he might be 5-7 and 185 pounds, but the former JUCO transfer has a bigger game than his size. Dangerous no matter how he gets the ball, he ran 81 times for 437 yards and six touchdowns to go along with ten catches for 81 yards. Smart, quick, and very, very strong, he finished second on the team in rushing behind Dee Hart despite missing three games and being a bit banged up throughout the year. His high point came in the opener with 121 yards and a score on 17 carries against Colorado, but now he’s expected to be the No. 1 rusher. He’s not a workhorse, but he’ll be dangerous whenever he gets his chances.

    9. QB Nick Stevens, Soph.
    While freshman Coleman Key looked fine at times this offseason, Nick Stevens took the opportunity to become the starting quarterback and locked it away. The 6-3, 190-pound sophomore is a far better runner than Garrett Grayson was, and he has the tools to grow into an elite passer with a little bit of time. He was a wee bit erratic this offseason, but he got it together by late spring and showed that he’s ready to be the triggerman for the attack. With a live, accurate arm, and a great group of targets to throw to, he should put up massive numbers in the system.

    10. P Hayden Hunt, Jr.
    While he only put eight kicks inside the 20, and he wasn’t needed nearly as much as he was in 2013, he came up with a tremendous year despite playing in only nine games. He has a good leg for his 5-11, 180-pound size, averaging 45 yards per kick and coming up with nine of his 34 kicks going for over 50 yards. With 102 kicks under his belt, he’s a proven blaster who has turned into a consistent weapon.

    Head Coach: Mike Bobo
    1st year
    Sept. 5 Savannah State
    Sept. 12 Minnesota
    Sept. 19 Colorado (in Denver)
    Sept. 26 at UTSA
    Oct. 3 at Utah State
    Oct. 10 Boise State
    Oct. 17 Air Force
    Oct. 24 OPEN DATE
    Oct. 31 San Diego State
    Nov. 7 at Wyoming
    Nov. 14 UNLV
    Nov. 21 at New Mexico
    Nov. 28 at Fresno State
    Ten Best CSU Players
    1. WR Rashard Higgins, Jr.
    2. LB Cory James, Sr.
    3. DE Joe Kawulok, Sr.
    4. TE Kivon Cartwright, Sr.
    5. SS Trent Matthews, Sr.
    6. FS Kevin Pierre-Louis, Sr.
    7. OG Fred Zerbils, Jr.
    8. RB Treyous Jarrells, Sr.
    9. QB Nick Stevens, Soph.
    10. P Hayden Hunt, Jr.


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