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Michigan football opponent preview: Colorado State has new coach, scheme

MLive Ann Arbor logo MLive Ann Arbor 7/7/2022 Andrew Kahn,

In its final game of the 2021 season, Colorado State lost to Nevada 52-10. Colorado State athletic director Joe Parker must have been equally disappointed and impressed.

A week after the loss, the team’s sixth straight, Parker fired head coach Steve Addazio. A few days later, he hired Nevada coach Jay Norvell.

Norvell will bring the Rams to Ann Arbor for the 2022 season opener on Sep. 3 (noon ET, ABC).

Colorado State finished 3-9 last season, including a 2-6 record in the Mountain West. Boise State and San Diego State have had the most recent success in that conference; Utah State won the championship last season.

The Rams are 11-29 over the past four seasons and were 7-6 each of the three years before that. Adazzio lasted just two seasons before Parker, a former All-American swimmer at Michigan who was a senior associate athletic director at the school from 2003 to 2011, pried Norvell from a conference foe.

Norvell has been coaching since 1986, once his playing career at Iowa ended. He’s had stops in the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 with a six-year NFL stint in the middle. Nevada was his first head job. He reached four bowl games and went 33-26 over five seasons, culminating with an 8-4 regular-season record last year.

He brought his Air Raid offense and several Nevada transfers with him to Fort Collins. Quarterback Clay Millen was a four-star recruit according to 247Sports, and though he only threw two passes as a true freshman last season, early reviews are promising. He figures to be Colorado State’s starter.

“Clay is a really smart player. He’s kind of your thinking man’s quarterback,” Norvell said after the spring game, per the Denver Post. “He understands how to use the offense and he’s just really starting to feel comfortable playing.”

Wide receivers Tory Horton and Melquan Stoval, who combined for 108 catches and 1,302 yards last year, and running back Avery Morrow also came over from Nevada. The starting offensive line could feature four transfers, including two from Nevada.

The Rams lost leading receiver Trey McBride, who was named the nation’s top tight end last season and was the first at his position taken in April’s NFL draft, but the top two wideouts are back. This could be a dangerous passing game.

The defense, which will also be overhauled schematically, is a mix of returners and transfers. Much like the other side of the ball, how those two groups blend will go a long way in deciding Colorado State’s season.

The Rams shared one opponent with Michigan last season, losing 24-14 at Iowa. The Wolverines dominated Iowa in the Big Ten championship.

Michigan faced Colorado State once before, in the 1994 Holiday Bowl in San Diego, a 24-14 Michigan victory. The Wolverines are 7-1 all-time against teams who were in the Mountain West at the time of the matchup, with the only loss against Utah in Rich Rodriguez’s first game as Michigan’s coach in 2008.

Michigan will host another Mountain West program, Hawaii, the week after playing Colorado State. (A home game against Connecticut the next week wraps a dismal nonconference schedule; see the entire schedule below.)

Michigan will be a heavy favorite against the Rams, with oddsmakers currently setting the line around 28 points. The matchup should provide an early test for Michigan’s revamped defense, which lost pass-rushing sensations Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, linebacker Josh Ross, and safeties Daxton Hill and Brad Hawkins, among others. The offense is expected to be elite, making Michigan a top-10 team in early preseason rankings.

Colorado State is trying to get to a bowl for the first time in five years. Michigan, which won the Big Ten and made the playoff last year, has much bigger goals.

Michigan football 2022 schedule:

Sep. 3: Colorado State

Sep. 10: Hawaii

Sep. 17: Connecticut

Sep. 24: Maryland

Oct. 1: at Iowa

Oct. 8: at Indiana

Oct. 15: Penn State

Oct. 29: Michigan State

Nov. 5: at Rutgers

Nov. 12: Nebraska

Nov. 19: Illinois

Nov. 26: at Ohio State

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