"We did not play a good football game by any stretch of the imagination," McElwain declared after his first win. "Plain and simple we have a long way to go. At the end of the day as good as it is for Colorado State, for our students, our faculty, our fans its great but its one game. As excited as I was for them, they have to realize we have a long, long way to go before I consider us a decent ball squad."
The coach was somewhat prophetic in his evaluation of the opening win because after that the Rams lost six in a row, including a 22-7 decision versus FCS foe North Dakota State in the home opener on Sept. 8. The squad did manage to take three of the last five dates on the schedule against Hawaii, UNLV and New Mexico, all at home, but still the Rams finished at just 3-5 in conference to tie for sixth place in the standings.
Colorado State finished second-to-last in the MWC in scoring with 21.2 ppg, placing the group 100th in the country. With just 339.0 ypg, the Rams were also ninth in the conference and again 100th in the nationally in that department as well. A big part of the problem was having almost no consistency at the quarterback position with Garrett Grayson, Conner Smith and M.J. McPeek each having at least 85 pass attempts and finishing with a collective 15 interceptions, against only 17 touchdowns.
OFFENSE: Grayson and Smith are both listed as returning starters at quarterback for the Rams, which can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. Sure, they each gained valuable experience in 2012, but at the same time the offense failed to show much in the way of consistency as it tried to function for both signal-callers. After several Fall practices, there's still no clear- cut leader at the position, which means there is a healthy competition going on between the pair and a number of other hopefuls.
Whether it be Grayson, Smith, or someone else altogether, the good news for each passer is that they have a preseason all-conference selection lining up in the trenches in Weston Richburg. A starter in all 36 games in which he's appeared Richburg, who has already graduated, has also been named to watch lists for the Rimington Trophy, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award.
The running back position is filled with top-notch possibilities, from Chris Nwoke who led the team in rushing in 2011, to Donnell Alexander who grabbed the mantle last season. As long as the two are able to again co-exist and share the load, there will be plenty of opportunities for both of them to exploit defenses in 2013.
In terms of receiving, the team has lost wideout Marquise Law, but retains Charles Lovett who caught a team-best 35 passes for 428 yards. Kivon Cartwright (26 rec., 310 yards, three TDs) will be pushed by Crockett Gillmore, a former all-conference player for Colorado State.
DEFENSE: In addition to bringing back six starters from a year ago, the defense for the Rams now has the luxury of learning from one of the most notorious players in its history in Joey Porter. At the end of July it was announced that Porter, a all-pro linebacker in the NFL who won a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005, was returning to Fort Collins to not only complete his undergraduate degree, but also assist the coaching staff while taking classes.
"This is another example of reaching back into our past to help build our future at Colorado State," said McElwain. "It's an opportunity for him to complete his degree while he gains valuable experience with our coaching staff. We are proud to welcome one of the great Rams back to our campus, just as we welcome all of our former players to remain a part of the Rams football family."
There is much that both Porter and the young players can learn from each other, particularly linebacker Shaquil Barrett who earned honorable mention All-MWC accolades last season when he made 67 tackles while battling through injury. Fellow linebacker Cory James set a program freshman record and ranked second in the Mountain West with 7.5 sacks over the course of 12 games. Clearly, James has great potential and can only improve with the input of Porter.
Also returning for the Rams are Aaron Davis and Max Morgan, the top two tacklers from a year ago who posted 84 and 81 stops, respectively.
SPECIAL TEAMS: One of the issues for the Rams a year, which has much to do with the defense actually, is the fact that the squad returned a mere 13 punts, an average of barely one per contest. The unit averaged a modest 9.5 yards per opportunity in that department, but take away the one 76-yard effort by Joe Hansley and that number drops considerably. Hansley is back for another turn according to the current roster. The team had as many as seven players credited with at least one kickoff return, which doesn't bode well for consistency whatsoever. Thomas Coffman handled more than his share and averaged 24.6 yards per return, but he too boosted his stats with a lengthy 73-yard run that failed to make it into the end zone.
From a kicking perspective, Jared Roberts showed that he can hit some long field goals in the thin air, converting all eight of his attempts between 30-49 yards, but he was provided with just 10 opportunities because the offense often failed to move the ball into range. This year Roberts hopes to pick up more chances with an improving offense.
OUTLOOK: Picked to finish fifth in the Mountain Division of the conference, the Rams have their work cut out for them this season. The squad has to define itself at quarterback and try to kick things into gear on offense after sputtering quite a bit a year ago.
The conference schedule is riddled with tough outings and it doesn't help that the squad has to travel to Hawaii near the end of October to fulfill that obligation. Colorado State does catch both Boise State and Nevada at home, but those meetings come in consecutive weeks in early November, by which point the team might already be struggling to stay above water. The program doesn't do itself any favors by scheduling coach McElwain's former team, Alabama, on the road during the first month either.