August 25, 2013 Updated: August 25, 2013 at 5:55 pm
FORT COLLINS - Jim McElwain was more concerned with preparing Colorado State both mentally and physically for a demanding schedule than with choosing a starting quarterback when he opened his second training camp.
Not only did the first scrimmage fail to distinguish a front-runner at QB, it produced a new challenger.
Freshman Nick Stevens competed 16 of 23 passes for 226 yards with two TDs and an interception to thrust himself into the mix with junior Garrett Grayson and sophomore Conner Smith, each of whom completed 10 of 16 passes with no touchdowns and an interception.
That was just fine with McElwain, who has preached that competition at all positions is the key for the Rams to get better and surpass last year's four-win season.
"I think it created some great problems," McElwain said.
As camp hit the midway mark, McElwain invited Trevor Moawad, vice president of Mindset Programs at Athletes Performance, to speak to his squad, reiterating the points McElwain's been preaching since he first came to Fort Collins. McElwain knew Moawad, who works with some of the top college programs in the country as well as NFL teams, from his time as Alabama's offensive coordinator.
His players aren't just focused on physical conditioning but mental conditioning, and it's that attention to detail that McElwain hopes will help turn the program around.
"A lot of the coaches that are continuing to evolve through coach (Nick) Saban's system and go out on their own, I think they look at things differently," Moawad said. "I think most coaches don't even know what they're not doing. As coach McElwain, (Florida) coach (Will) Muschamp, and (Florida State) coach (Jimbo) Fisher, these guys have stepped on and they're looking to build an infrastructure that is similar to what they experienced at LSU or Alabama.
"The mental piece is an enhancing piece. It can be that extra 3 to 5 percent or that 4 yards between Georgia and Alabama, and (coach McElwain) is doing a great job doing it."
Five things to know about the Rams this season:
1. GROUND GAME: No matter who's under center, he'll have a deep corps of running backs behind him. Donnell Alexander and Chris Nwoke lead a solid group and Bryce Peters, a freshman from Houston, has turned some heads this summer, adding more depth and options in the backfield.
2. NO CUPCAKES: The Rams have a tough schedule. They face top-ranked Alabama on Sept. 21 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Boise State, the Mountain West favorite, came in at No.?19 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll released last week. The Broncos visit Fort Collins on Oct. 2.
3. GROWING UP: Against Fresno State last season, the Rams had eight freshmen on the field on defense. Now, it's time for that trial by fire to pay off, co-defensive coordinator Marty English said. "It's huge; it's a year of maturity, a year of understanding what we are looking for," he said. "That's what we are excited for, and we're still young. We're excited for the progression and maturity they are starting to take. We're still young, but we are mature way beyond our years from last year."
4. COLORADO RIVALRY: McElwain said he's glad the Rams play arch rivalColorado every year, saying it's healthy for football in Colorado and great for recruiting. "I would love to see both programs become perennial Top 20 teams. I know they are headed in the same direction we are," he said, adding he doesn't care where it's played. "I just know this: it should be played. Doesn't matter where it fits on the schedule, but it is a game the state of Colorado deserves." This year's game is Sept. 1 in Denver.
5. WELCOME BACK: Joey Porter is helping as an undergrad assistant coach while he gets his degree. Porter starred for the Rams before playing 13 seasons in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl with Pittsburgh in '05. He'll be inducted into CSU's sports Hall of Fame this winter.
Predicted finish: Fifth, Mountain West.
Sep. 1 Colorado (Denver), 4 p.m.
Sep. 7 at Tulsa, 5 p.m.
Sep. 14 Cal Poly, 1:30 p.m.
Sep. 21 at Alabama, TBA
Sep. 28 UTEP, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 San Jose St., 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 at Wyoming, TBA
Oct. 26 at Hawaii, TBA
Nov. 2 Boise St., 6 p.m.
Nov. 9 Nevada, TBA
Nov. 16 at New Mexico, 1 p.m.
Nov. 23 at Utah St., 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 30 Air Force, TBA