The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 74 Colorado State.
Previewing Colorado State’s Offense for 2014:
With running back Kapri Bibbs leaving early for the NFL after setting school records with his 1,741 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns last season, the Rams are likely to air it out a bit more this season. Quarterback Garrett Grayson, now a senior, threw for a school-record 3,696 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2013 while directing the most productive offense in CSU history. The Rams averaged 470.8 yards per game.
Coach Jim McElwain likes his receiving corps. Sophomore Rashard Higgins, last year’s leader with 68 catches for 837 yards and six TDs, is back, as are four others who caught 20 or more passes. Senior Kivon Cartwright, who had 27 catches for 462 yards and six TDs as the second tight end, should become one of Grayson’s favorite targets.
Converted safety Jasen Oden and redshirt freshman Bryce Peters battled for the starting job at running back during spring drills and will get some added competition from true freshmen Deron Thompson and Johnathan Lewis. Donnell Alexander, the leading rusher two years ago, chose to transfer with two years of eligibility remaining.
Rebuilding the offensive line will be a challenge, given that star center Weston Richburg and three of the other four starters last year were seniors. But McElwain and his staff like the players who were backing them up last year and don’t believe there will be much of a drop-off.
Previewing Colorado State’s Defense for 2014:
Although outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, is gone, seven defensive starters return, including leading tacklers Max Morgan and Aaron Davis, both inside linebackers. Morgan was in on 134 tackles, including 71 solo stops, last year, while Davis was in on 120 with 63 solo stops.
Four players who started 10 or more games return in the secondary, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for a CSU team that gave up an average of 275.7 passing yards per game and more passing touchdowns (33) than 123 other FBS teams. McElwain and his staff hope a year of seasoning and increased competition from a recruiting class that included seven defensive backs will spur improvement.
All three of last year’s starters on the defensive line were seniors, but the three players behind them all were part of the regular playing rotation, and one, junior Terry Jackson, had 29 tackles — more than all but one of the starters up front.
All-MW kicker Jared Roberts, who has made 30-of-34 field goals the past two seasons, returns. The Rams are also in good shape in the punting department; Hayden Hunt, who averaged 41.9 yards a kick with 14 inside the 20-yard line and only four touchbacks, is back for his sophomore season. Colorado State ranked second in the league in both kickoff and punt returns last season.
The Rams lost some significant star power with Bibbs’ decision to forego his final two seasons to turn pro and the graduations of Richburg, Barrett and All-MW tight end Crockett Gillmore. But they’ve still got a lot to work with in Grayson and a talented corps of receivers, including three who redshirted last fall. They’ll have to develop enough of a running threat to keep defenses honest but should be able to move the ball effectively through the air. The secondary has to improve for the Rams to be a factor in the pass-happy MW.
A favorable schedule that does not include MW West Division powers Fresno State and San Diego State gives the Rams a legitimate chance to make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2002-03, when Sonny Lubick was the coach.