It may be the heart of ski season, but it's never too early to start thinking about next fall and CSU Ram football.
Capping off a 6-6 record with an embarrassing 51-30 loss to Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl left a bad taste in the mouths of every CSU fan. In case you missed it, the Rammies gave up 467 yards on the ground to Navy, an exaggerated example of CSU's inability all season to limit their opponents' ground game.
Sonny Lubick and his staff will spend a great portion of the remaining off-season trying to find a way to fix the problem. Other than the loss of middle linebacker Courtney Jones and defensive end Terrance Carter, the front seven will remain fairly intact from this season. The Rams will get even deeper at the linebacker position with two talented incoming freshmen: local Nick Eaton from Loveland High School has given CSU a verbal commitment and Michael Johnson, a speedster from Weston, Fla. has already committed to suit up in green and gold next year.
The departures of senior safeties Miles Kochevar and Travis Garcia (due to graduation) should be eased by the return of playmaker Ben Stratton (who was sidelined this season due to injury). The team has also received a strong commitment from Mullen High School's star safety Ricky Brewer.
So with few changes in personnel, it will be interesting to find out if defensive coordinator Steve Stanard can find a way for his players to limit their opponents' production rushing the football. If that can be done, then the Rams may have a chance to separate themselves from the logjam in the middle of the Mountain West and into a spot to contend with TCU.
Offensively, the Rams will miss the arm of Justin Holland and the hands of the greatest receiver to ever play in Fort Collins, David Anderson. However, Kyle Bell stepped up in a huge way and will be counted on next year to be the center of attack for the offense. It will be exciting to see if Bell can improve on his first year as a starter, in which he ranked in the top 25 in yards per game.
The Rams will get immediate help on the offensive line with junior college transfer Marvin Arnold. Arnold is a versatile lineman who can play all line positions and will come to CSU with two years of eligibility.
The most intriguing change for the offense will be at the quarterback position. Nobody can deny the big numbers that Holland put up this year, but I am excited to see the return of a mobile signal caller in the form of sophomore Caleb Hanie. At 6'2", 230 pounds, Hanie has already proven to be a capable player. He stepped in for the injured Holland in 2004 and gave a game winning performance against UNLV this year, the game that made CSU bowl-eligible, when Holland struggled.
Hanie may not have an Anderson-esqe player, but he will have the likes of Johnny Walker, Dustin Osborn, George Hill and a potentially future NFL player, Kory Sperry.
Call me crazy, but I'm already looking forward to celebrating our win in the season opener over CU, a team who lost their final three games this season by a combined score of 119-16.