The Colorado State Rams are counting on a big season from graduate transfer quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels, who signed after receiving his bachelor's degree from Washington but can't practice with CSU until fall camp. Colorado State also has holes to fill on the offensive line and among the receiving corps, so the defense will have to make significant strides if CSU hopes to compete for a Mountain Division title and sixth straight bowl appearance.
Previewing Colorado State Football's Offense for 2018
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Carta-Samuels is the heir apparent to Nick Stevens, who threw for 8,550 yards and a school-record 70 touchdowns over the past three seasons, and Collin Hill, the sophomore who was supposed to take over this year after redshirting in 2017 while recovering from a torn ACL. Hill tore the ACL in his left knee again just before the start of spring practices and could miss the entire season.
CSU also lost a 1,413-yard receiver and Biletnikoff finalist in Michael Gallup and a 1,399-yard rusher in Dalyn Dawkins, as well as three of five starters on the offensive line and the top tight end from an offense that averaged a school-record 492.5 yards per game.
There's still plenty of talent, though. Senior receiver Olabisi Johnson has caught 69 passes for 1,208 yards and six TDs over the past two seasons; sophomore Warren Jackson had two TD catches last year in a game at Alabama; and senior Preston Williams, who sat out last year after transferring from Tennessee, was one of the top prospects in the country coming out of high school.
Senior Izzy Matthews, who has run for 1,937 yards and 26 touchdowns the past three seasons, leads a strong group of running backs that also includes sophomore Rashaad Boddie and junior Marvin Kinsey, a 500-yard rusher in 2016.
Previewing Colorado State Football's Defense for 2018
CSU is completely rebuilding a defense that ranked among the Mountain West's worst last season, allowing 431.6 yards per game. New defensive coordinator John Jancek, who held the same position at Tennessee from 2013-15, has four new position coaches working with him through the transition to a 4-3 base alignment from the 3-4 the Rams had run the previous two years.
Last year's top two tacklers, senior linebacker Josh Watson (109) and senior safety Jordan Fogal (71), are back, as are a couple of other key performers in linebackers Max McDonald and Tre Thomas and safety Jamal Hicks, who missed the final five games of 2017 with a broken arm. The Rams will run more of an attacking defense, with a variety of stunts and blitzes, under Jancek than they employed under former coordinator Marty English in an effort to make more big plays.
Previewing Colorado State Football's Specialists for 2018
The Rams have two of the MW's top specialists back in kicker Wyatt Bryan, who has made 42-of-54 field goal attempts over the past three seasons, and punter Ryan Stonehouse, who averaged 45.9 yards per kick as a true freshman in 2017.
The offense might be able to avoid a significant drop-off if Carta-Samuels is able to learn coach Mike Bobo's playbook well enough to make the proper reads and check-offs. The quarterback run is likely to become part of the CSU offense, given the athletic abilities of Carta-Samuels and his top two backups -- junior J.C. Robles and redshirt freshman Justice McCoy. The Rams were even experimenting in the spring with some option plays. A difficult early schedule that includes three consecutive games against schools in Power 5 conferences -- Colorado, Arkansas and Florida -- could put the Rams into a tailspin that might be difficult to reverse.