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Colorado State Rams 2016 Preview and Prediction

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#89 Colorado State Rams

NATIONAL FORECAST

#89

MW Mountain Division PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Mike Bobo, 7-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Will Friend | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marty English

The Mike Bobo era got off to a good enough start with a 7-6 season with a third consecutive bowl game. The Rams were close in three losses, losing in overtime to Minnesota and Colorado in September and then losing by 5 to Mountain West foe Nevada in a bowl game. Bobo will have his challenges in Year 2, losing standout receiver Rashard Higgins to the NFL Draft and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers to Georgia Southern.

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Previewing Colorado State’s Offense for 2016  
 

Record-breaking receiver Rashard Higgins skipped his senior season to jump to the NFL, and all-conference tight end Kivon Cartwright graduated. But the quarterback who delivered the ball last season returns in junior Nick Stevens. And Stevens, who threw for 2,679 yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago, should be far more effective in his second season running coach Mike Bobo’s offense than he was in his first. If not, the Rams can turn to Faton Bauta, a graduate transfer who spent three years learning Bobo’s offense as a backup at Georgia.

The Rams also have four starters back on the offensive line along with last year’s leading rusher, junior Dalyn Dawkins, who ran for 867 yards while sharing carries. Sophomore Izzy Matthews, who came on late in the year and averaged 6.1 yards a carry, also returns.

Colorado State showed the kind of physical ground game Bobo was hoping for late last season en route winning its final four regular-season games — with a 100-yard rusher in each — to become bowl-eligible. But Bobo is a big believer in offensive balance and says the Rams need to run and pass effectively to keep defenses off balance.

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Previewing Colorado State’s Defense for 2016 
 

To say the Rams are rebuilding their defense would be an understatement. They not only lost coordinator Tyson Summers, now the head coach at Georgia Southern, but they also lost their entire defensive line and some key pieces in the secondary.

New coordinator Marty English, who coached the Rams’ linebackers last season, is bringing back the 3-4 defense he helped run as the co-coordinator under former coach Jim McElwain from 2012-14. That should serve the Rams well, given their strength at the linebacker spots, where they return leading tackler Kevin Davis (101 in 2015), a senior, and hard-hitting senior Deonte Clyburn. They’ll have to be solid to bolster an inexperienced front line.

CSU is counting on help in the secondary from converted receiver Jordon Vaden, a senior, as well as junior college transfers A’Keitheon Whitner, Houston Haynes and Devron Davis. Whitner and Haynes were both with the team for spring practices.

Related: Athlon's 2016 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Colorado State’s Specialists for 2016  
 

Senior Hayden Hunt was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter in 2015 when he averaged 46.0 yards per kick. Twenty-four of his punts forced opponents to start drives inside their own 20-yard line. The Rams have some proven returners back, as well, in Vaden and Kevin Nutt, who both averaged better than 30 yards on a combined 13 kickoff returns last season, and Preston Hodges, who returned three punts. Sophomore kicker Wyatt Bryan missed three field goals in an overtime loss to Colorado last year but made 12 of his last 15 and 16-of-22 for the year. Braxton Davis, also a sophomore, will likely handle kickoff duties again this season.

Final Analysis
 

Knocking off Boise State for the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title is probably too tall an order for the Rams this season, but a fourth straight bowl appearance is well within reach.

The Rams should be much better offensively in their second year under Bobo, who serves as his own play-caller. Despite the losses of some talented receivers, CSU is deep there and still has plenty of targets for Stevens in the passing game. And a stronger running game to start the year should ease the pressure the quarterback felt early last year, when his arm often was the only offense.

The defense, though, is basically starting over with a new scheme, new coordinator and at least eight new starters. How quickly it comes together will either make or break the season.