Herz: CSU Rams will fall back due to tough out-of-conference matchups

Eddie Herz

Uncertainty surrounds the Colorado State Rams for the 2018 season.

The Rams’ five-year streak of reaching a bowl game is up in the air with plenty of questions looming. The culprit is that a plethora of key players, both on offense and defense, have graduated.

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Of course, CSU’s offense carried the team last season while the defense struggled significantly. Led by Nick Stevens and one of the most productive offensive lines in program history, the Rams had the 11th best offense last season in terms of total yardage.

Stevens and the bulk of that front five have graduated. Star receiver Michael Gallup, along with leading rusher Dalyn Dawkins is gone as well.

It’s extremely difficult to imagine the offense improving from last season considering so many new roles will have to be filled. However, that is not to say the offense will not be productive. It actually should be pretty solid as the season goes on and players adjust. It just will not be as good as last season’s.

Washington graduate transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels looked good in the spring and has earned the coaching staff’s full trust in running the offense. His experience practicing against Washington’s defense, which was the eighth best in the country last season, should bode well for him in the Mountain West.

K.J. Carta-Samuels makes a pass during a drill at practice on August 2. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Collin Hill will also be in the starter discussion once he is fully cleared to play.

Once again, CSU will also have lethal options throughout the air. Even though Gallup is gone, the Rams’ wide receiver situation has the potential to be the best since Bobo arrived in 2015.

After being the second option for the last two seasons, Olabisi Johnson is more than ready to be the go-to guy through the air. Tennessee transfer and former four-star recruit Preston Williams is eligible as well. Williams was listed as the fifth-best incoming freshman at his position in 2015 and possesses impressive speed for his big frame.

Sophomore wide receiver Warren Jackson is set to have a breakout season as well.

Jackson caught two touchdowns against Alabama last season and overall gathered 265 receiving yards as a true freshman. CSU coaches could not be higher on Jackson. Bobo and wide receiver coach Alvis Whitted have stated on numerous occasions that Jackson has the potential to be the best receiver in program history.

The size and quickness throughout the wide receiver core will give opposing defense a lot of trouble this season.

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Jackson catching a ball
Freshman Warren Jackson (9) makes a grab over an Air Force defender during the first half of the Rams’ 28-45 loss to the Falcons. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

Defensively, CSU ranked 97th in yards allowed per game last season and was victim to many explosive plays. Though the defense has lost some key names, it may actually be improved this season.

In new defensive coordinator John Jancek’s 4-3 scheme, the Rams’ linebackers provide the most depth.

Josh Watson, the leading tackler from last season, is returning and has All-Mountain West honors on his mind. Redshirt senior Tre Thomas and junior Max McDonald round out an experienced unit.

CSU line backer Josh Watson (55) makes a tackle at Hughes Stadium during the boarder war against Wyoming. CSU lost 38-17 on October 1st, 2016 (Luke Walker | Collegian).

Returning safeties Jordan Fogal and Jamal Hicks, who are both coming off of injuries, have been leaders in camp and will play crucial defensive roles as well. 

Schedule-wise, the Rams will not have an easy start. After facing basement-dwelling Hawaii to open the season, winning any of the next three games for CSU will be difficult. The Rams play Colorado, Arkansas, and Florida to complete the first four games of the season.

CSU is fortunate enough to avoid San Diego State and Fresno State. However, the Rams do have to travel to Idaho to face No. 22 Boise State. Frankly, CSU has a lot of games within the Mountain West that could go either way.

Hawaii, San Jose State, and New Mexico should not be difficult for the Rams to handle. On the other hand, Wyoming, Utah State and Air Force will pose a threat. 

Record Prediction: 6-6

Biggest win: Wyoming