The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 105: Colorado State
Coach: Jim McElwain (0-0, first season at UAB)
2011 record: 3-9 (1-6 in Mountain West, tied for sixth in MWC)
Look back: Former Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild struggled to take over for legendary Rams coach Sonny Lubick, who led the program to nine bowl appearances and won nearly 75 percent of home games in the stadium that eventually be renamed in his honor. Fairchild posted a 16-33 overall record at Colorado State, stumbling to a 3-9 record during the 2011 season.
The team opened the season with a narrow 14-10 win at struggling New Mexico, then claimed a 33-14 win at Northern Colorado. The Rams lost 28-14 at Colorado before bouncing back for a 35-34 double overtime win at Utah State. It would be the Rams’ final win of the season.
Colorado State lost 38-31 at Utah State, 63-13 to powerhouse Boise State, 31-17 at rebuilding UTEP, 38-35 at UNLV, 18-15 against San Diego State, 34-10 at TCU, 45-21 against Air Force and 22-19 against rival Wyoming in the annual Border War. It was no surprise Fairchild was fired shortly after the loss to the Cowboys.
The school hired Jim McElwain to take over the program. The former Eastern Washington quarterback has extensive experience as an assistant coach at the college and pro level. Colorado State is his first head coaching opportunity. He worked as an assistant coach at Louisville, Michigan State, Fresno State and was offensive coordinator at Alabama before being introduced as the Rams’ new head coach.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 4/7
Defensive starters lost/returning: 4/7
Key losses: QB Pete Thomas, OL Jake Gdowski, OL Paul Madsen, DE Nordly Capi, LB Mike Orakpo, SS Ivory Herd, DL Nunu Latu
Top returnees: RB Chris Nwoke, WR Charles Lovett, TE Crockett Gillmore, LB Shaquil Barrett, LB James Skelton
Strengths: McElwain brings a new energy to the Colorado State campus and has the potential to rejuvenate a program that has had tremendous success in the past. Colorado State returns seven starters on offense and seven starters on defense, including some key offensive leaders in running back Chris Nwoke and tight end Crockett Gillmore. The Rams also have two strong linebackers in Shaquil Barreett and James Skelton. The team’s biggest strength during the 2011 season was its pass defense. The Rams ranked No. 13 nationally in pass defense, limiting opposing teams to 179.6 yards per game.
Weaknesses: The Rams lost starting quarterback Pete Thomas and entered spring practice with holes at a long list of key positions. Colorado State was so short on linemen due to injuries entering spring workouts, McElwain invited any interested current students to visit the football complex and practice with the team.
Colorado State struggled on both sides of the ball in 2011. The team ranked No. 116 in rushing defense, giving up 233.7 yards on the ground per game, and No. 114 in tackles for a loss, averaging just 4.3 per game. The Rams also ranked No. 101 in scoring offense, managing just 21.4 points per contest.
Outlook: Lubick proved Colorado State can hold a tremendous home-field advantage and be a player in the Mountain West Conference standings. Following the departure of many of the conference’s powerhouses and the likely revamped lineup, the Rams should once again be able to compete for league titles. However, it will likely take McElwain and his staff more than just one year to turn around the program.
Sept. 2 Colorado
Sept. 8 North Dakota State
Sept. 15 At San Jose State
Sept. 22 Utah State
Sept. 29 At Air Force
Oct. 6 Fresno State
Oct. 13 At San Diego State
Oct. 27 Hawaii
Nov. 3 At Wyoming
Nov. 10 UNLV
Nov. 17 At Boise State
Nov. 24 New Mexico
Rest of the countdown:
No. 106 Miami (Ohio)