Colorado State went 7-6 in head coach Mike Bobo’s second season, but the Rams could be poised to contend in the Mountain West Mountain Division this fall. The offense returns plenty of firepower while the defense brings back eight starters and a linebacker that missed all of 2016 because of a health issue. There are concerns along the defensive line and in the secondary, but Colorado State should be able to score enough points to earn a trip to a fifth straight bowl game, at minimum.
Previewing Colorado State Football’s Offense for 2017
Senior Nick Stevens was the best quarterback in the Mountain West after regaining the starting job midway through the 2016 season, after true freshman Collin Hill had gone down with a torn ACL. Stevens, who had thrown for 2,679 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2015, completed 119-of-173 passes for 1,859 yards with 19 TDs and three interceptions in the final seven games of the 2016 season while guiding the Rams to a fourth straight bowl game.
His top two receivers, seniors Michael Gallup (76 catches, 1,272 yards and 14 TDs) and Bisi Johnson (28, 613), are back as well. The Rams were remarkably balanced in 2016, averaging 217.8 rushing yards and 244.7 passing yards per game, and should be again with their top three running backs — senior Dalyn Dawkins (919 yards), junior Izzy Matthews (734) and sophomore Marvin Kinsey Jr. (546) — all returning. Kinsey could be slowed early while recovering from a torn ACL that kept him out of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and coach Mike Bobo might decide to redshirt both Hill and Kinsey this fall to give them additional time to recover.
Senior speedster Detrich Clark, a quarterback in high school and junior college, is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball, whether he’s lined up as a receiver, running back or taking direct snaps in a Wildcat formation. He averaged 6.9 yards on 36 rushing attempts last season.
Two starters return on the offensive line, led by senior center Jake Bennett, the team’s top NFL prospect.
Previewing Colorado State’s Defense for 2017
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The linebackers will once again be the strength of the CSU defense, with senior Deonte Clyburn capable of picking up where Kevin Davis, the leading tackler the past two seasons, left off. Clyburn was one of the Rams’ top defenders in 2015 but had to sit out last year because of blood clots. Juniors Josh Watson and Tre Thomas and senior Evan Colorito (10 tackles for a loss) return at the other three linebacker spots in the Rams’ 3-4 scheme.
Safety Jake Schlager and cornerback Kevin Nutt Jr., both seniors, anchor the secondary, and an undersized defensive line should get some needed help from 6'3", 335-pound nose tackle Christian Colon, a freshman who redshirted last season.
A young and inexperienced defense had its ups and downs throughout the 2016 season. The Rams recorded the school’s first shutout in 20 years in an early-November win over Fresno State but then gave up 31 points or more in their final four games — including 61 in the bowl game to Idaho.
Several young players who finished strong, including safety Jamal Hicks, pass-rushing linebacker Arjay Jean and cornerback Robert Awunganyi, should play key roles.
Previewing Colorado State’s Specialists for 2017
CSU lost one of the nation’s top punters to graduation in Hayden Hunt and is counting on true freshman Ryan Stonehouse, rated the No. 1 punting prospect in the country by 247Sports, to fill the void. Junior Wyatt Bryan has made 27-of-36 field goals the past two seasons with only three misses from inside 40 yards. Clark is back to return kickoffs.
The Rams should contend for a fifth straight bowl appearance and challenge Boise State for the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title. The high-powered offense should put up plenty of points, but a defense that still has holes on the line and in the secondary is likely to give up plenty of points, too.
Three of the biggest games of the season fall in the first four weeks — against Oregon State to open Colorado State’s new on-campus stadium, vs. Colorado in Denver and at Alabama.
National Ranking: 58
MW Mountain Prediction: 2
(Michael Gallup photo courtesy of Colorado State/Abbie Parr)