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Buffaloes non-conference snapshot: Colorado State

Digging into Colorado’s non-conference opponents.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

For the third straight season the Colorado Buffaloes will open with in-state rival Colorado State in Denver. Colorado holds a 65-22-2 edge in the Rocky Mountain Showdown and has won three straight games against the Rams, including a penalty-filled 17-3 victory last season.

Here’s a look at the 2018 Colorado State Rams.

OFFENSE (Returning Starters: 4)

CSU’s all-time leader in touchdown passes Nick Stevens and his go-to wide receiver Michael Gallup, a third-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in April’s NFL Draft, are gone. The duo replacing them however might just be more talented. K.J. Carta-Samuels, a former four-star recruit and grad-transfer from Washington is expected to take over for Stevens. Samuels could have some competition from redshirt-sophomore Collin Hill who is recovering from a torn-ACL suffered just prior to the start of spring practices. Replacing Gallup will be former five-star recruit Preston Williams, who sat out last season after transferring from Tennessee and is already drawing comparisons to the 2017 Fred Biletnikoff award finalist. The Buffaloes secondary will also have to contend with senior wideout Olabisi Johnson, who caught 69 passes for 1,208 yards the last two seasons. NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein listed both Rams receivers among his Top 10 wide receivers to watch this season. With 2017 leading rusher Dalyn Dawkins gone, senior tailback Izzy Matthews should see a bulk of the carries for the Rams this fall. Matthews rushed for 1,352 yards and 21 touchdowns the last two seasons. Sophomore running back Rashaad Boddie and junior Marvin Kinsey should also see plenty of touches.

DEFENSE (Returning starters: 5)

Expect Colorado State’s defense to have some growing pains this season. John Jancek, a defensive consultant for Kentucky in 2017 and former Tennessee defensive coordinator, takes over a unit that returns only five starters and allowed 431.6 yards per game last season. Under Jancek, the Rams will be moving from a 3-4 to a more aggressive, attacking 4-3 scheme. “We really want to emphasize tackling, and we have some guys who made some really significant strides as it relates to tackling.” Jancek told the Reporter Herald last month. CSU’s new 4-3 defense will be aided by the return of their leading tacklers from last season, senior linebacker Josh Watson (109 tackles) and former Utah safety Jordan Fogal (72 tackles). The Rams will need to replace their top two pass rushers from last season’s squad, Evan Colorito (5.5 sacks in 2017) and Jakob Buys (3.0 sacks). Perhaps the biggest area Jancek will need to shore up is their 3rddown conversion percentage defense. Last season opponents converted 44 percent of their third down chances against Colorado State, ranking the Rams a dismal 108thnationally in this category.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Lou Groza Award semifinalist Wyatt Bryan returns. The redshirt senior connected on 15-of-18 field goal attempts and 53-of-55 PATs last season and is currently the Rams career leader in field goal percentage (79.2 pct.) As a true freshman in 2017, punter Ryan Stonehouse ranked fifth nationally with a 45.9-yard average. Wide receiver Olabisi Johnson should double as the Rams punt returner, while Marvin Kinsey is expected to return kickoffs.

PREDICTION

The Buffaloes have outscored their Centennial State rivals 61-10 the last two seasons, but the 90thedition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown will have a much closer result. Both defenses are still trying to find themselves after sub-par performances in 2017 and as a result I’m expecting a high-scoring affair compared to last year’s contest. Despite the Rams slight advantage of opening their season a week earlier, it won’t take long before Colorado fans have the answer to the question, ‘How will the Buffaloes replace Phillip Lindsay?’. Virginia Tech grad transfer Travon McMillian will fill the Lindsay void and torch Colorado State’s weak defensive front for 150-plus yards, leading the Buffaloes to a 31-24 victory.