2013 Colorado State football's 10 things to know: Build it, then sustain it

Brian Losness-US PRESSWIRE

Jim McElwain's first season as Colorado State's head coach could have gone a lot worse. The Rams actually played relatively well down the stretch, and after battling injury and turnover, the roster is quite a bit more experienced and healthy in 2013. Can CSU actually build and maintain momentum for the first time in quite a while?

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. It's been a while

Sonny Lubick was kind of awesome. Between 1994 and 2002, the former Colorado State head coach led the Rams to four seasons of 10 wins or more: 10-2 in 1994, 11-2 in 1997, 10-2 in 2000, and 10-4 in 2002. He won at least seven games in 10 of his 15 seasons in Fort Collins. Despite a late-career fade (17-30 in his last four seasons), he made the Colorado State job seem pretty easy.

It's not. Every other CSU coach in the last 50 years has learned that the hard way. Leon Fuller (1982-88) had one six-win season and two one-win seasons. Earle Bruce briefly found some magic (9-4 in 1990), then faded (8-15 in 1991-92). And Lubick's successor, Steve Fairchild, showed early promise (7-6 in 2008) and faded drastically (9-27 from 2009-11).

Building and sustaining momentum has been a nearly impossible task for CSU; late in 2012, as former Alabama assistant Jim McElwain finished his first season in charge, the Rams actually began to look pretty good. Can the Rams sustain that late momentum when 2013 begins?

2. Keeping your first stringers on the field

Here's a link to Colorado State's 2012 statistics. Click on it, scroll down to the individual stats, and count the number of players who actually played all 12 games for Colorado State last year. The three leading rushers played in nine, nine, and eight games, respectively. The two leading passers played in six and six. Only two defensive backs played in 12 games. The offensive line cycled through five different combinations of starters. And this came on top of CSU losing its quarterback and pass rush (to transfer and expulsion, respectively) in the offseason.

That the Rams were able to generate any momentum at all despite shifting personnel was impressive. And this season's personnel issues are next season's depth -- CSU now returns two experienced quarterbacks, three interesting running backs, six offensive linemen with starting experience, and basically the entire two-deep from what was a surprisingly strong secondary. If November's Colorado State was the real Colorado State, then the Rams could truly have a chance to improve overall in 2013. But that's still very much an if.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 5-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 119
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
1-Sep vs. Colorado 22-17 W 10.0 - 19.6 L
8-Sep North Dakota State 7-22 L 19.2 - 30.0 L
15-Sep at San Jose State 20-40 L 34.6 - 34.9 L
22-Sep Utah State 19-31 L 32.0 - 28.3 W
29-Sep at Air Force 21-42 L 28.5 - 37.1 L
6-Oct Fresno State 7-28 L 19.9 - 20.5 L
13-Oct at San Diego State 14-38 L 25.4 - 37.7 L
27-Oct Hawaii 42-27 W 31.7 - 28.2 W
3-Nov at Wyoming 31-45 L 36.6 - 29.1 W
10-Nov UNLV 33-11 W 22.1 - 16.5 W
17-Nov at Boise State 14-42 L 20.5 - 40.4 L
24-Nov New Mexico 24-20 W 26.5 - 25.6 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 21.2 102 30.3 80
Adj. Points Per Game 25.6 88 29.0 70

3. Who needs close games?

In the last three seasons, Colorado State has played in a total of just 10 games decided by one possession. The Rams went 1-1 in such games in 2010, 2-4 in 2011, and 2-0 in 2012. A little bit of bad luck in these games, and the Rams could have gone 2-10.

That said, like New Mexico, CSU truly did improve down the stretch last fall.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Opponent 29.3, CSU 24.2 (minus-5.1)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Opponent 28.0, CSU 27.5 (minus-0.5)

The improvement wasn't drastic, but it was measurable. The defense improved slightly (the improvement is more significant if you write off the Boise State game as an outlier), and the offense, with a redshirt freshman behind center, improved by about three adjusted points. And they did it over a long enough period to consider it potentially sustainable.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 102 110 114 105
RUSHING 97 115 117 108
PASSING 85 86 94 86
Standard Downs 80 89 72
Passing Downs 122 123 121
Redzone 69 77 60
Q1 Rk 108 1st Down Rk 40
Q2 Rk 106 2nd Down Rk 116
Q3 Rk 108 3rd Down Rk 113
Q4 Rk 11

4. For the love of all that is holy, stay on schedule

There is a reason why I break things into standard downs and passing downs. Almost every team in the country performs better on first downs, second-and-6 or fewer, or third-and-4 or fewer. It just makes sense. The defense cannot load up against the pass and is forced to react to what you are trying to do; on passing downs, your options are severely limited.

That said, some teams are more limited on passing downs than others. Colorado State's standard downs offense wasn't good, by any means, but it was reasonably competent. The Rams had a Top 80 offense, showing balance and decent big-play ability, on favorable downs. And if they fell behind schedule even a little bit, the drive ended almost instantaneously. CSU had the third-worst passing downs offense in the country, leaning on the run to mitigate damages and trying simply to survive and flip the field with its solid punter. When your quarterback for the first half of the season cannot avoid sacks, and when your quarterback from the second half of the season is a freshman (and your leading running back is a freshman, and your leading receiver is a sophomore), you tend to play it safe. And if you have a good defense, this is fine. CSU didn't, however, and the Rams' hopes for staying in a game hinged on staying on schedule.

With infinitely more experience this time around, CSU might open up the playbook a bit more. But as you'll recall from Jim McElwain's days with Alabama, he probably isn't going to go into super-aggressive mode anytime soon. CSU's potential success in 2013 will likely come because it is even better at avoiding passing downs, not because it is better at digging out of holes.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Garrett Grayson 6'2, 215 Jr. *** (5.6) 78 138 946 56.5% 7 3 18 11.5% 5.6
Conner Smith 6'5, 220 So. *** (5.5) 80 126 1,022 63.5% 6 6 5 3.8% 7.5
M.J. McPeek


47 85 552 55.3% 4 5 7 7.6% 5.4
Craig Leonard 6'4, 220 RSFr. NR






5. Conner might be a keeper

Going young doesn't typically solve problems, but for CSU in 2012, it almost did. For most of the first half of the season, CSU oscillated between Garrett Grayson (who broke his clavicle in the Air Force game) and senior M.J. McPeek. But when McPeek got hurt against San Diego State, Smith came in and completed 18 of 22 passes and earned the starting job. He threw a few too many interceptions, really, but he had a higher completion percentage and a much lower sack rate than either Grayson or McPeek, and CSU's offense improved overall with Smith in charge. To be sure, Smith had some ups and downs -- he threw two picks versus Hawaii and completed just four of 11 passes versus Boise State -- but he was a clear improvement over CSU's other options.

Of course, this spring Grayson battled Smith to at least a tie in the QB battle, so perhaps we shouldn't anoint Smith as CSU's savior just yet.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Donnell Alexander RB 5'11, 205 So. ** (5.4) 117 587 5.0 4.5 4 -4.9
Chris Nwoke RB 6'0, 213 Sr. ** (5.4) 116 570 4.9 3.9 2 -4.6
Tommey Morris RB 6'0, 220 So. ** (5.4) 42 211 5.0 6.8 2 +0.5
Joe Brown HB 6'3, 225 Sr. ** (5.3) 33 76 2.3 1.9 1 -9.7
Joe Hansley WR-X 5'10, 170 So. NR 22 122 5.5 5.3 0 -0.3
Garrett Grayson QB 6'2, 215 Jr. *** (5.6) 21 95 4.5 3.7 1 -0.5
M.J. McPeek QB 5 41 8.2 4.8 0 +2.2
Kapri Bibbs RB 5'11, 203 So. *** (5.5)





Bryce Peters RB 5'10, 200 Fr. *** (5.5)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Charles Lovett WR-Z 5'8, 179 Jr. ** (5.4) 51 35 428 68.6% 8.4 15.6% 56.9% 8.3 66.1
Marquise Law WR-X 51 29 387 56.9% 7.6 15.6% 43.1% 7.8 59.7
Kivon Cartwright TE 6'4, 235 Jr. ** (5.2) 43 26 310 60.5% 7.2 13.2% 74.4% 6.9 47.8
Joe Hansley WR-X 5'10, 170 So. NR 31 21 274 67.7% 8.8 9.5% 61.3% 8.8 42.3
Lou Greenwood WR 30 18 268 60.0% 8.9 9.2% 50.0% 9.0 41.4
Crockett Gillmore TE 6'6, 245 Sr. *** (5.5) 25 19 263 76.0% 10.5 7.7% 72.0% 10.3 40.6
Donnell Alexander RB 5'11, 205 So. ** (5.4) 24 17 155 70.8% 6.5 7.4% 45.8% 7.2 23.9
Dominique Vinson WR-Z 22 10 78 45.5% 3.5 6.7% 72.7% 3.1 12.0
Thomas Coffman WR-Z 5'10, 180 Jr. ** (5.4) 20 11 224 55.0% 11.2 6.1% 85.0% 11.2 34.6
Chris Nwoke RB 6'0, 213 Sr. ** (5.4) 14 10 85 71.4% 6.1 4.3% 57.1% 6.2 13.1
Tommey Morris RB 6'0, 220 So. ** (5.4) 6 4 18 66.7% 3.0 1.8% 83.3% 1.9 2.8
Austin Gillmore TE 3 2 17 66.7% 5.7 0.9% 33.3% 7.8 2.6
Jordon Vaden WR 6'3, 180 RSFr. ** (5.3)








Brett Jordan TE 6'5, 265 Fr. *** (5.5)








Elroy Masters WR 6'2, 200 Fr. *** (5.5)








Rashard Higgins WR 6'2, 177 Fr. ** (5.4)








Trae Moxley TE 6'5, 260 Fr. ** (5.4)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 99.8 3.00 3.26 36.7% 61.3% 19.5% 76.1 5.8% 12.3%
Rank 74 59 59 86 95 73 96 83 118
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Weston Richburg C 6'4, 297 Sr. ** (5.1) 36 career starts
Jordan Gragert RG 6'4, 291 Sr. ** (5.2) 23 career starts
Joe Caprioglio LT 22 career starts
Ty Sambrailo RT 6'5, 305 Jr. ** (5.1) 16 career starts
Jared Biard RT 6'7, 320 Sr. ** (5.3) 10 career starts
Brandon Haynes LG 6'3, 303 Sr. ** (5.2) 7 career starts
Mason Hathaway RT 6'5, 274 Jr. *** (5.6) 1 career start
Mason Myers LG 6'3, 302 Jr. *** (5.5)
A.J. Frieler RG 6'5, 285 So. ** (5.2)
Fred Zerblis C 6'3, 295 RSFr. ** (5.4)
Blake Nowland OL 6'6, 310 Fr. *** (5.5)

6. The line might be a strength

The winner of the quarterback battle will have a reasonably interesting, deep set of skill position players around him, but either Smith's or Grayson's biggest asset could be the five beefy guys in front of him. Grayson will need to learn to avoid playing hero on passing downs -- CSU's awful passing downs sack rate was mostly the result of Grayson's time at QB -- but the line was decent in run blocking and showed solid pass protection when Smith was behind center. And as mentioned above, last year's shuffling is this year's depth. Weston Richburg was a second-team all-conference pick in 2011 and was the steadiest piece of last year's rotating line.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 70 78 88 76
RUSHING 106 101 105 92
PASSING 26 62 63 62
Standard Downs 70 76 70
Passing Downs 87 97 79
Redzone 44 45 47
Q1 Rk 92 1st Down Rk 98
Q2 Rk 56 2nd Down Rk 48
Q3 Rk 74 3rd Down Rk 79
Q4 Rk 82

7. There's a reason why opponents ran

Despite turnover up front, CSU showed a decent passing downs pass rush, and an ultra young secondary was rather successfully aggressive for most of the season. Colorado State's pass defense, overall, was a major strength for the Rams and should be again in 2013. Shaq Bell and two youngsters make for one of the better cornerback units in the conference, and sophomore safety Trent Matthews is a hell of a ball hawk.

That's great and all, but until CSU can at least pretend to stop the run, the pass defense will only be so much of a strength. The Rams got pushed around up front, made almost no plays in the backfield, and didn't hold up well on either standard downs or passing downs. The Rams were reasonably decent at preventing opportunities for the running backs (i.e. runs of more than five yards), but they allowed you to gain five yards any time you wanted to.

To state the obvious, this simply must improve. Opponents knew they could run on CSU and did at all times, and it negated what really was a strength. If you had to put the ball into the air, CSU had the advantage. And opponents never really had to put the ball into the air.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 83.9 3.25 3.76 39.3% 68.8% 15.0% 78.4 3.9% 6.5%
Rank 118 102 111 64 72 112 96 83 60
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Lanston Tanyi DE 12 51.5 7.3% 3.5 3 0 1 0 2
Shaquil Barrett DE 6'2, 250 Sr. NR 12 50.0 7.1% 7.5 3.5 1 1 2 0
Alex Tucci DT 12 17.5 2.5% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Broderick Sargent DE 12 11.5 1.6% 2 1.5 0 0 0 0
Calvin Tonga DT 6'3, 330 Sr. *** (5.5) 12 11.5 1.6% 2 1.5 0 1 1 0
Eli Edwards DE 6'2, 245 Sr. ** (5.2) 12 10.5 1.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Zach Teidgen DT 9 9.0 1.3% 1 0 0 0 1 0
Curtis Wilson DT 6'4, 265 Sr. ** (5.1) 11 8.5 1.2% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Steven Michel DE 6'1, 225 So. ** (5.2) 3 4.5 0.6% 2 1 0 0 0 0
Cole Allenbrand DE 6'2, 254 Jr. NR 6 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Te'Jay Brown DT 6 0.5 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Martavius Foster DE 6'3, 260 Jr. ** (5.4)

Terry Jackson DT 6'1, 260 So. *** (5.5)

LaRyan King DT 6'1, 280 So. *** (5.5)

Austin Berk DE 6'5, 230 Fr. *** (5.5)






8. Bringing in the reinforcements

CSU loses three of its top four, and four of its top seven, from last year's two-deep on the line, but let's just say that "top" is used loosely here. If your line stinks, you don't really miss the guys you lose as much. End Shaquil (yes, that's how it's spelled) Barrett is a potential playmaker, but McElwain certainly did his best to upgrade the overall talent level up front. Three junior college transfers -- end Martavius Foster and tackles Terry Jackson and LaRyan King -- join the mix, as does a three-star freshman in end Austin Berk. One should never assume that newcomers will turn a unit around, but let's just say that if these four are ready to make a contribution in the fall, there will be little resistance working up the depth chart.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Aaron Davis WLB 6'0, 210 Jr. ** (5.2) 12 64.0 9.0% 5 0 0 2 0 1
Max Morgan MLB 6'1, 221 Jr. *** (5.5) 12 63.5 9.0% 2.5 1 1 2 1 2
Cory James SLB 6'0, 235 So. ** (5.4) 12 40.0 5.6% 10.5 7.5 0 1 1 1
Nu'uvali Fa'Apito WLB 6'0, 221 So. ** (5.4) 12 23.5 3.3% 0 0 0 0 0 1
James Skelton LB 10 23.0 3.2% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
Kevin Davis LB 6'3, 226 So. *** (5.6) 8 17.0 2.4% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Davis Burl SLB 9 11.5 1.6% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Jedidiah Teofilo MLB 10 0.5 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Danny Nwosu LB 6'2, 217 RSFr. NR






Kiel Robinson LB 6'1, 200 Fr. ** (5.4)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Shaq Bell CB 5'11, 195 Sr. ** (5.4) 12 55.0 7.8% 3 1 1 7 2 3
Trent Matthews SS 6'3, 210 So. *** (5.5) 12 53.5 7.6% 3 0 1 10 1 1
DeAndre Elliott CB 6'1, 180 So. ** (5.4) 11 28.5 4.0% 2 0 2 7 0 1
Kevin Pierre-Louis FS 6'1, 212 So. *** (5.5) 10 26.0 3.7% 0.5 0 0 1 1 0
Jasen Oden CB 6'1, 190 So. NR 11 22.0 3.1% 3 0 1 0 2 0
Austin Gray DB 6'3, 208 Jr. NR 5 22.0 3.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Conner Roggy FS 6'0, 195 Jr. NR 7 22.0 3.1% 1 0 0 2 0 1
Bernard Blake CB 6'0, 175 Jr. ** (5.4) 9 20.0 2.8% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Momo Thomas CB 3 8.5 1.2% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Marcus Shaw CB 12 6.5 0.9% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Nick Januska FS 6'2, 210 So. NR 10 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Justin Sweet DB 5'10, 175 Fr. ** (5.4)

Tyree Simmons DB 6'0 175 Fr. ** (5.4)






Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Pete Kontodiakos 59 46.5 14 12 19 52.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Jared Roberts 6'1, 196 Jr. 52 61.2 20 38.5%
Pete Kontodiakos 1 51 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Jared Roberts 6'1, 196 Jr. 29-31 5-5 100.0% 4-5 80.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Thomas Coffman KR 5'10, 180 Jr. 17 24.6 0
Lee Clubb KR 9 21.7 0
Jasen Oden KR 6'1, 190 So. 6 21.5 0
Joe Hansley PR 5'10, 170 So. 8 12.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 42
Net Punting 89
Net Kickoffs 73
Touchback Pct 52
Field Goal Pct 4
Kick Returns Avg 52
Punt Returns Avg 51

9. Special teams is a strength

Pete Kontodiakos was a first-team all-conference punter, and his nearly 47-yard punting average tells you why. In theory, he could be missed, but I still like CSU's special teams unit for a couple of reasons. First, look at CSU's Net Punting ranking: 89th. Kontodiakos may have had a cannon for a leg, but it appears he quite frequently outkicked his coverage. CSU opponents averaged more than 12.0 yards per punt return, and that obviously negates a lot of whatever field position Kontodiakos was able to derive. Second, everybody else of importance returns for CSU's special teams unit, including accurate (and not-so-frequently used) kicker Jared Roberts, and solid return man Joe Hansley (punts) and Thomas Coffman (kicks).

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
1-Sep vs. Colorado 115
7-Sep at Tulsa 56
14-Sep Cal Poly NR
21-Sep at Alabama 1
28-Sep UTEP 108
12-Oct San Jose State 72
19-Oct at Wyoming 109
26-Oct at Hawaii 100
2-Nov Boise State 12
9-Nov Nevada 74
16-Nov at New Mexico 122
23-Nov at Utah State 46
30-Nov Air Force 91
Five-Year F/+ Rk 110
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 103
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -5 / +1.1
TO Luck/Game -2.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 17 (9, 8)
Yds/Pt Margin** +2.6

10. Was November 2012 sustainable?

Aside from a glitch at Boise State (hey, it was their first trip to the blue field), Colorado State was downright solid through most of the final five weeks of the season. The Rams weren't great, mind you -- they did need two fourth-quarter pick sixes to hold off a bad Hawaii team, and they did lose to a bad Wyoming team (with help from a 99-yard pick six) -- but there's no denying that the level at which they finished last season was the highest level they had seen in a while. And if they can re-establish that level in 2013, they could win some games. They play host to two teams projected 100th or worse, they visit three others, and they play a sixth (Colorado) on a neutral field. Bowl eligibility is probably too lofty a goal right now, but if they were to only win four games again, that would still represent their best two-year win total since 2008-09. You've got to start somewhere, and Jim McElwain's first season saw just enough improvement (despite the personnel) issues to give hope that, in another year or two, Colorado State could find a level of play it hasn't seen for quite a while now.

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