2011 Record: (3-9, 1-6 in MWC)
Head Coach: Jim McElwain (first time head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2008 New Mexico Bowl: beat Fresno State 40-35
Big Name Opponents: 9/2 vs Colorado, 11/17 at Boise State
Must Win: 9/8 vs North Dakota St, 11/10 vs UNLV, 11/24 vs New Mexico
Stat to Cheer: their new coach won a National Championship last year with Alabama as their offensive coordinator (while not really a stat it should be something to “cheer” about)
Stat to Fear: Allowed 35 sacks (last in the MWC)
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 8; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Shaquil Barrett (99 tackles), LB James Skelton (91 tackles), DE CJ James (5.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Chris Nwoke (1130 yds, 9 TD), TE Crockett Gillmore (45 rec, 5 TD), C Weston Richburg, OG Jordan Gragertp
Colorado State went just 3-9 last year but they did have five losses where they were within one score in the final quarter. After going 3-9 for three straight years, Steve Fairchild was shown the door. Enter Jim McElwain. He was the offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide when they won two National Championships under Nick Saban. The Rams liked what they saw and they showed McElwain the money by signing him to a base salary of $1.3 million per year with $150K extra in bonuses.
The offense is a major question-mark. QB of the future, Pete Thomas dealt a blow to the team when he transferred in January leaving the QB position in question for 2012. Sophmore Garrett Grayson saw a little action last year (542 yds, 2 TD, 6 INT) after Thomas got hurt but he didn’t have a great spring. The good news for Grayson is that he has a workhorse running back in Chris Nwoke. Nwoke had two eye-popping games last year when he ran for for 232 yards against SDSU and 269 against Air Force. Look for McElwain to build the offense around him.
The defense took a big hit this spring when McElwain dismissed three defensive players for their part in a beating of other students. Two of those three players (Nordly Capi and Mike Orakpo) were a big part of a defense that finished 116th against the run last year. Don’t expect a big improvement with the loss of two impact players.
There are a few positives for the Rams. According to Phil Steele they play the 114th toughest schedule in the FBS so wins will be available on the schedule. They also had the sixth most starts lost to injury in 2011 with 52. If they can stay healthy this season that will also have a great impact. I think McElwain finds a way to win a game or two more than they did last year as they start the rebuilding process.
2012 Prediction: 5-7
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