NCF Nation: Lou Greenwood

Colorado State started the 2009 season 3-0 before a stumble at BYU began a nine-game losing streak. Coach Steve Fairchild made some key moves on his coaching staff and thinks he can put his team back in contention for a bowl. There’s a lot of work to do this spring, but there’s also a lot of returning talent on the roster.

Here’s a look at the strongest and weakest positions for Colorado State this spring:

Strongest position: Running back

Key returners: Senior Leonard Mason (156 carries, 766 yards, two touchdowns), senior John Mosure (124 carries, 650 yards, seven touchdowns), sophomore Lou Greenwood (42 carries, 147 yards, two touchdowns)

Key departures: None

The skinny: The Rams return 92 percent of their running game, including the team’s top two rushers in Mason and Mosure. The depth at running back is probably better than any other position for the Rams when you include Greenwood, UCLA transfer Raymond Carter, redshirt freshman Chris Nwoke and true freshman Tony Drake. The Rams rushing offense averaged 144.25 yards per game last season, but might have some trouble keeping those numbers high if they can’t fill some holes on the offensive line.

Weakest position: Offensive line

Key returners: Junior tackle Paul Madsen

Key departures: Tackle Cole Pemberton, guard Shelley Smith, center Tim Walter, guard Adrian Martinez

The skinny: In 2009, the CSU offensive line was the deepest and most experienced position on the team. This year, not so much. Madsen returns, but he didn’t even start all of 2009. However, coach Steve Fairchild and offensive line coach Pat Meyer have been preparing for this since last spring and have made sure that there was depth on the line. Players such as Jake Gdowski and Mark Starr have experience and the other positions will be filled by redshirt and true freshmen. Getting the offensive line together will be key for both the running game and the Rams’ new quarterback.
One of the great parts of the spring is watching the various position battles unfold and reading the quotes from the coaches criticizing the poor play of the competitors (talking to you, Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild).

There are a lot of teams with questions and below I look at some of the bigger ones as we head into spring practices.

1. BYU quarterback: Three players will be vying for the starting quarterback role left vacant by Max Hall this spring. Riley Nelson is the incumbent since he was the backup last year, but he’ll be challenged by true freshman Jake Heaps and James Lark, who is returning from his mission.

2. Louisiana Tech quarterback: Ross Jenkins has been the starting quarterback for the past season and a half and has done a decent job, but with a new head coach, new coordinator and new system, the starting quarterback role is going to go to the player who wings the ball around Texas Tech-style.

3. Central Michigan quarterback: With Dan LeFevour gone and a new head coach, Central Michigan is basically entering a new era. Ryan Radcliff and Derek Rifenbury will be the top two competitors for the starting position, but don’t count out Kyle Smith and A.J. Westendorp.

4. Colorado State running back: The Rams know they have a competent running game, but picking the player to spearhead that running game will be a challenge. Both John Mosure and Leonard Mason return as seniors, but the Rams also have Lou Greenwood, Raymond Carter (a transfer from UCLA), power back Chris Nwoke (a redshirt freshman in 2010), and true freshman Tony Drake, who was one of the top all-purpose backs in the country.

5. TCU defensive end: Jerry Hughes is gone and Braylon Broughton is next in line on the depth chart, but don’t rule out any of the other athletes on the roster. The Horned Frogs signed a lot of running backs and they won’t all stay at that position. Remember, Hughes was a running back before turning into an All-America defensive end.

6. Utah running back: It looked like Eddie Wide was going to be the premier back, but with Matt Asiata applying for a sixth season things could get dicey in the backfield. Add Sausan Shakerin to the mix and the Utes have a trio of guys who could start in the backfield for many teams. Which one will start for the Utes, though, is up for competition.

7. San Diego State running back: The running game has been downright awful for the Aztecs the past few years, so coach Brady Hoke has brought in a stable of running backs to find the right one. SDSU could be auditioning as many as nine running backs this year in an effort to find one who will get the Aztec running game out of the cellar.

8. North Texas receivers: The Mean Green struggled last year, but return their top six receivers and add Oklahoma transfer Tyler Stradford, who was the offensive scout team player of the year last year while sitting out, and junior college transfer Christopher Bynes. But finding the go-to receiver will be a chore this spring and into fall camp.

9. East Carolina running back: Giavanni Ruffin returns, but the rest of the running back depth is a little sketchy to replace 1,000-yard rusher Dominique Lindsay. Senior Norman Whitley, senior Jonathan Williams and junior Brandon Jackson are the other running backs on the rosters, but both Whitley and Williams have had trouble with suspensions and Jackson was inconsistent last year.

10. Southern Miss O-line: The Golden Eagles must replace four offensive linemen from last year’s squad, which is no easy task. Guys who will be competing for spots include senior R.J. Brown, redshirt freshman Ed Preston, senior Trevor Newsom and junior Ben Schoenberger as well as early enrollees Jamar Holmes and Jason Weaver and four other freshmen signed in this year’s class.