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Minnesota Football Preview: Colorado State Rams

The Gophers head up to the Rockies for a Week Two road tilt.

All-American Wide Reciever Rashard Higgins will be a stiff task for the Gopher Secondary.
All-American Wide Reciever Rashard Higgins will be a stiff task for the Gopher Secondary.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In the next three weeks as we move closer to the start of the 2015 Gopher Football season, we here at The Daily Gopher will give a quick preview of the Gophers opponents. Next up is the Gopher's first road game of the year in Fort Collins, Colorado against the Colorado  State Rams.

Name: Colorado State Rams

Location: Fort Collins, Colorado

Enrollment: 31,725

Conference: Mountain West

Notable Alumni: Becky Hammon (WNBA/NBA), Anwar al-Awlaki (Terrorist), Leslie Jones (SNL), Jason Momoa (actor), Joey Porter (NFL), Amy Van Dyken (Swimmer)

SB Nation Blog: Mountain West Connection (Entire MWC)

Bill Connelly Preview: Here!

Last Season:

Well that was certainly a surprise.  Colorado State shocked most everyone by going 10-3 last season dropping two games to conference foes Air Force and Boise State plus a bowl loss to Utah.  This season CSU will have to try and do it all again under a new head coach. Mike Bobo who was the former OC at Georgia and was a constant lightning rod for the Bulldog fans.  He replaces Jim McElwain who gets to try and see if the magic he had at Colorado State will be enough to bring respectability back to the Swamp and Florida....good luck with that.

Key Losses:

Bill C's Wisdom & Statistical Wizardry

Besides McElwain in the sidelines, the biggest loss will be quarterback Garret Grayson who has moved onto the NFL.  Grayson threw for over 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns last season, so that production will definitely be hard to replace.  Backup QB and probable starter Nick Stevens threw 25 passes all he will have to prove he can produce under fire right away.  The next biggest loss to the Rams will be starting running back Dee Hart.  Hart is also off to the NFL after finishing last season with 1,275 yards and 16 TDs on the ground.  CSU loses two starting o-linemen, most notably First Team all MWC left tackle Ty Sambrailo who had 41 career starts.  That could be a big hole.

CSU had issues on defense a year ago, most notably up the middle where they had one of the worst sack rates, and THE WORST run stuff rate in the nation.  Losing nose tackle LaRyan King will not help.  The Rams also lose tier top two linebackers from a year ago in Aaron Davis and Max Morgan who combined for nearly 170 tackles with 10 for loss.  The Rams will need a new placekicker as Jared Roberts departs, but that may not be all bad as while he was nearly perfect on PATs (57-58) he was much less so on field goals (12-20). However, Roberts did have a big leg (coupled with the atmosphere) as he has almost a 50% touchback rate on kickoffs.

Key Returners:

Scouting The Enemy

The biggest and most notable offensive returned would be All-American, and Preseason MWC Player of the Year receiver Rashard Higgins.  Higgins was insane in 2014 with 1,750 yards on 96 catches.  Having a great quarterback in Grayson helped, but this will be one stiff task for either Murray or BBC to contain.  The next three top receivers all return as well in WR's Joe Hansley and Xavier Williams, and TE Kivon Cartwright (who may or may not be healthy enough for the start of the season).

On defense the Rams return DT Terry Jackson and DE Joe Kawulok.  Kawulok led all d-lineman for the Rams with 3.5 sacks a year ago.  He is one of their main pass rushers coupled with linebacker Cory James.  James led the Rams in sacks with 6.5 and TFL with 8.5  However, both players are not great against the run, something Minnesota will surely do often.  The strength of the Rams defense will be its secondary where both starting safeties and one cornerback return.  Trent Mathews and Tyree Simmons both had three interceptions to lead the Rams a year ago.  Big legged punter Hayden Hunt also returns for CSU.

Question Marks??

The major question mark for the Rams will be trying to find the magic they did a year ago?  If Stevens can't rival Grayson's production, and with Hart missing from the backfield, the offense will most definitely take a step back.  Figuring out how to consistently get the ball into Higgins's hands will be a necessity for success.

The next question is can the Rams improve on their awful run defense a year ago?  Finishing last in FBS in stuff rate is not good, especially in going against a team like Minnesota that run you over if you let them. If CSU can find a way to stop the run and make Mitch throw in the mountain atmosphere then things could be interesting with CSU's excellent secondary.

What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?

The Gophers will most likely be bouncing back after an opening loss to TCU, so they will need to get over that hangover fast.  The question will be if the high atmosphere affects them at all, and if so, how do they plan on coping with it.  I would imagine we will see lots  of substitutions from the Gophers in this game, and with weakness up the middle for CSU I believe this is where we could first see Rodney Smith shine. Add in potential big days from whatever tight end wins the pass catching role (probably either Duke Anwaynu or Nate Wozniak).

Defensively, the Gophers will need to stop Higgins.  It will be a tall task for either Murray or BBC, but if they can control him, they should be able to stop any Big Ten receiver they see later in the season.  Getting pressure on Stevens will be key as well, making him make bad decisions.  The Ekpe brothers, Galen Elmore and Therien Cockran will all need to find the ability to get in the backfield early and often.  If they can slow down CSU's passing attack, they should be able to take home a fairly easy win.

Final Analysis:

The Gophers will probably need to bounce back after week one, and this looks like as good a chance as any.  CSU opens with patsy for hire Savannah State, so they will not be battle tested like the Gophers.  If they can overcome the elevation by rotating players smartly, the match-ups work in Minnesota's favor.  CSU has a great receiving corps, but the Gophers stud secondary can counter that.  CSU is poor up the middle against the run...well, we know what Minnesota can do with that.  If Minnesota plays up to their expectations there is no reason the Gophers should not be able to go home with a nice road win.  I see them pulling away at the end and taking home a 31-13 victory.