Their top offensive weapons from last year are gone, the defense has plenty of holes to fill, and they’re still getting used to a makeover of the coaching staff, but Colorado State’s football team hasn’t changed its annual approach.
“The only thing I’m focused on is today,” Rams head coach Mike Bobo told local media in the spring. “I don’t ever go into a year thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going to rebuild,’ or go into the year, ‘Hey I think we’re going to win them all.’ It’s focusing on today and trying to get better today.
“Our goals have not changed. It’s to compete for our conference championship and win a conference championship and win our rivalry games. But … it’s a new year and the most important day is today.”
Beginning with the Rams, Buffzone.com will take a look at each of Colorado’s opponents over the next 12 days. CU and CSU will square off on Aug. 31 in Denver, and it’ll be a Rams team that must navigate through some growing pains to reach a bowl game for the sixth year in a row.
In each of Bobo’s three seasons with the Rams, they’ve finished 7-6 overall, 5-3 in the Mountain West and capped the season with a bowl game loss.
Last year was particularly disappointing because they felt they had the tools to challenge for a New Year’s Six bowl game, but a three-game skid late in the year ended those hopes and took them out of Mountain West title contention.
Led by all-Mountain West quarterback Nick Stevens, all-American receiver Michael Gallup and running back Dalyn Dawkins (1,399 rushing yards), the Rams had good weapons on offense. Unfortunately for the Rams, all three — as well as four starting linemen — are gone from last year.
Going into the fall, the Rams aren’t really sure who will lead the offense.
Washington grad transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels is a good bet to take over as the starting quarterback, but he has yet to officially practice with the Rams and has very little college experience, so it’s difficult to anoint him the starter just yet. Of the quarterbacks that did participate in spring, freshman Justin McCoy may have been the best of the bunch.
At receiver, the Rams are expecting a lot from Preston Williams, a transfer from Tennessee, who was once one of the top recruits in the country. The running game should be in good shape with senior Izzy Matthews, junior Marvin Kinsey and sophomore Rashaad Boddie.
Defensively, the Rams overhauled the staff and eventually settled on John Jancek as defensive coordinator. He was the coordinator at Tennessee from 2013-15. Under Jancek, the Rams are converting from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3, and hope to be more of an attacking defense than they’ve been in the past.
Just five starters are back on defense, but the middle is anchored by a pair of talented senior linebackers, Josh Watson and Tre Thomas.
During the spring game in April, the defense was the better side of the ball. That could speak to the struggles on offense, but Bobo felt it was also a good sign for his defense.
“I liked the energy and effort from the defense throughout the spring,” he said. “When there’s change, it’s always difficult, but … I like the way the defense is going right now.”
As far the Mountain West goes, Boise State is the preseason favorite to win the Mountain division. The Rams, however, are hoping they can jell in time to make a run.
“You’ve got a new mindset every year to work and to get better and learn from your mistakes,” Bobo said.
For the second year in a row, the Rams will open their season early, hosting Hawaii on Aug. 25 before taking on the Buffs six days later. … After facing CU, the Rams host Arkansas and then visit Florida. … In three years at Washington, Carta-Samuels completed 27 of 47 passes for 310 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. In all three years, he backed up starter Jake Browning. … The Rams’ current streak of five consecutive bowl appearance ties a school record. … CSU is 1-7 against Power 5 conference teams over the past three years, including three consecutive losses to CU. The Rams haven’t lost four in a row to the Buffs since CU’s eight-game win streak from 1987-1998. … Including newcomers and injured players, the Rams will add more than 30 scholarship players to the mix in fall that did not participate in spring. … Although there are question marks on offense and defense, the Rams are set in the kicking game. Sophomore punter Ryan Stonehouse and senior kicker Wyatt Bryan are among the best in the MWC. Bryan was 16-for-22 on field goals last year, while Stonehouse averaged 45.9 yards per punt. … According to the experience chart in Phil Steele’s preseason publication, the Rams rank last in the country (No. 130) overall. The offensive line, with only 22 career starts, ranks 125th in experience.”