The Rams boast Justin Holland at quarterback, and a solid group of running backs in Tristan Walker, Jimmy Green, Marcus Houston and Uldis Jaunarajs.
Holland, who spent his boyhood in Colorado as a Buffs fan, was the most highly touted recruit in Rams history, and is a gifted dropback passer.
Green was running first team through August until suffering a high-ankle sprain in recent days. His availability may be decided Saturday. One report had Houston starting, but we won't really know until game time Saturday. Either way, it'll mark Houston's return to Folsom for the first time since transferring from CU and being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA.
The senior was benched late last season after developing a case of fumble-itis. But he was the leading rusher in the 42-35 CU win over CSU last year at Invesco (15-104), and looked like the best running back on the field that day.
The biggest question mark for CSU on offense will be the offensive line, which replaces two starters and a coach. Tackle Erik Pears could be one of the best in the country. But WG Clint Oldenburg is a converted tight end starting for the first time, while the other guard, sophomore Josh Day, is also a first time starter.
David Anderson is poised for a big year at wideout and the speedy receiver, along with H-back Joel Dreessen, will provide a big test for the CU secondary right off the bat. Anderson had 4 catches for 142 yards in the '03 game; Dreessen added 5 for 42.
Player to watch
CSU coaches kicked themselves for not throwing the ball more to Anderson when they went back and watched game film from 2002. He was featured in the '03 offense, catching 72 passes for nearly 1,300 yards (ninth best in the country). You can bet he'll be featured again.
DE Patrick Goodpaster leads a group of mostly inexperienced defensive linemen. The 275-pound end had 10 tackles for loss in 2003. Redshirt-frosh Blake Smith has been a pleasant surprise after starting fall camp at No. 3 on the depth chart. He's a strong kid (450BP) and will start at DT. His emergence led coaches to move senior Jonathan Simon to nose tackle. Still, the Rams feature three redshirt freshmen in their two-deep along the font line.
Courtney Jones and Jamahl Hall saw playing time at linebacker last season after injuries decimated the unit. However, the Rams will be somewhat untested at the position heading into Saturday's game.
Likewise, there are questions about the CSU secondary, where only Ben Stratton returns as a starter from 2003. But Stratton is playing safety, his more natural position, after playing cornerback last year. He's the player that Jeremy Bloom beat late in the game for what proved to be a pivotal play.
Player To Watch
Hall is woefully undersized, playing outside linebacker at 6-0, 183 pounds. (Welcome to football Mountain West Conference style!) He will try and make up for it with his speed. He'll line up across from Colorado tight ends, which outweigh him by as much as 65 pounds in some cases. This match-up will be one to watch.
Anderson takes over Dexter Wynn's job as punt and kickoff return man for CSU. He's got the speed to take it to the house. PK Jeff Babcock is a good one, and CSU will use redshirt frosh Jimmie Kaylor at punter.
CSU RETURNING LEADERS
Passing: Justin Holland, 37-55-381, 2 INT, 3 TD
Rushing: Marcus Houston, 158-636/4.0, 9 TD
Receiving: David Anderson, 72-1,293/18.0, 9 TD
Scoring: Jeff Babcock, 85 points
Kickoff returns: David Anderson, 13-174/13.4
Punt returns: David Anderson, 3-16/5.3
Punting: Jeff Babcock, 50/42.1
Kicking: Jeff Babcock, 13-19 FG, 46-48 PAT
Tackles: Ben Stratton, 50 UT, 29 AT, 79 T, 4 TFL
Tackles for loss: Patrick Goodpaster, 10-44
Sacks: Patrick Goodpaster, 4-33
Interceptions: Ben Stratton, 4-35, I TD
Three Colorado Questions
1) Hank's back! How much more effective will the defense be?
Colorado defensive players have been talking since April about how much they like Mike Hankwitz' defensive philosophy. They certainly have confidence about their ability to be more effective in the 4-3 scheme as they head into the 2004 season.
One thing MUST happen for it to be successful: CU has to get a better pass rush than they did a year ago. This will enable better coverage in the secondary, and perhaps force Holland into turnovers. They'll try and do that by disguising blitzes along the front seven.
2) Does the Colorado running game return Saturday?
If this year's offensive line is truly better than last year's, it should be able to take advantage of a largely inexperienced CSU defensive front. And that could mean the beginning of a much-improved running attack, after last year's struggles.
Bobby Purify had 13 carries for 31 yards vs. the Rams last season. Will his stat line look like that again, or closer to 2001, when he rambled for 191 yards on 21 rushes?
3) How crazy will Folsom get?
Despite an offseason of bad publicity about the Colorado program, the CU students grabbed up their allotment of season tickets and are absolutely amped for the first game of the year. A record turnout at Thursday's Kickoff Luncheon in Boulder hints that BuffNation is right there as well.
CSU fans rioted at Invesco after the 1999 game, which was played under the lights. That fiasco caused administrations from both schools to agree to hold the annual game earlier in the day in subsequent games in order to keep game day drinking to a minimum and hopefully control the craziness.
Now, with a day to party prior to Saturday's 6 p.m. kickoff, things could get interesting at Folsom.