The Rams should be higher with most of key offensive players returning, but the loss of QB Caleb Hanie is huge.
96. COLORADO STATE COACH: Steve Fairchild (first season).
LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall; 2-6 in the Mountain West Conference (tied for eighth in league).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 94th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Senior tailback Gartrell Johnson played fullback and was a backup at tailback through the first five games of last season. But he was moved into the starting lineup at tailback in the seventh game of the year and averaged 126.1 yards for the rest of the season. He finished with 957 yards while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Senior linebacker Jeff Horinek has started 26 games in a row and led the Rams with 94 tackles last season. He leads what should be a solid linebacker corps.
STAR POWER: Senior tight end Kory Sperry was considered the Rams' top pro prospect before a torn ACL in the second game last season ended his year prematurely. Sperry had eight catches, including three for touchdowns, in the season-opener against Colorado last season. He needs nine touchdown receptions to equal the school career record of 23.
<!-- End Image-->STRENGTHS: Although All-MWC guard Nick Allotta completed his eligibility, the Rams have four senior starters returning on the offensive line. Johnson and Kyle Bell, who rushed for 1,288 yards in 2005, ensure the Rams are deep at tailback. Dion Morton is back after leading the MWC is kickoff-return yardage with a 26.8-yard average. The linebackers should help the Rams improve their cruddy run defense.
WEAKNESSES: The loss of Caleb Hanie leaves a huge void at quarterback and no one with significant experience is ready to step in. Senior Billy Farris, who was 9-for-20 last season, is the likely successor - but it's not assured. Three defensive line starters must be replaced. Both starting cornerbacks will be new. The passing attack must be upgraded.
THE BUZZ: After last season's disappointing showing, longtime coach Sonny Lubick stepped down and in stepped Fairfield, once an ultra-successful Colorado State offensive coordinator who has spent the past several years in the NFL. With Fairchild guiding the offense from 1997-2000, the Rams were 37-12 and set school records for points in a season. His return has sparked a return of expectations at Colorado State, which has endured four consecutive seasons without a winning record. Four of the first six games are at home, and most of the top-level MWC teams have to play in Fort Collins, too.
– OLIN BUCHANA