Tide schedule preview: Colorado State

Editor's note: The season is nearly upon us and TideNation is taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Tuesday and Thursday we'll go through each week of the Crimson Tide's schedule, starting with the season-opener against Virginia Tech and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown

2012 overall record: 4-8

2012 Mountain West record: 3-5, seventh overall

Record all time against Alabama: N/A

Last meeting: N/A

Starters returning

Offense: 9; Defense: 6; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

LB Shaquil Barett, TE Crocket Gilmore, OL Jordan Gragert, LB Cory James, S Trent Mattews, RB Chris Nwoke, OL Weston Richburg

Key losses

WR Marquis Law, OL Joe Caprioglio, DL Zach Tiedgen, LB James Skelton, DL Tanyl Lanston, P Pete Kontodiakos, CB Momo Thomas

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Donnell Alexander (587 yards)

Passing: Conner Smith (1,022 yards)

Receiving: Charles Lovett (428 yards)

Tackles: Aaron Davis (84)

Sacks: Cory James (7.5)

Interceptions: DeAndre Elliott (2)

What they're saying:

"We’re a long ways ahead of where we were last year, but we still have a long ways to go. As I said, these are guys who are getting it, and who understand what it means to be successful, and what it takes," -- CSU coach Jim McElwain after the Rams spring game.

Three things to watch:

1. Coach McElwain returns: In his time at Alabama, former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said he actually took notes from the coach he calls "the master." He told ESPN.com that he was "able to, over those four years, sit and observe and take notes on how he really successfully ran an organization." And while his first year in Fort Collins wasn't overwhelmingly successful, he did lay the ground work for what appears to be an up-and-coming program. In returning to Tuscaloosa, McElwain will get a measuring stick on the progress he's been able to achieve.

2. A trap game?: Give McElwain and CSU's athletic director a bit of credit in scheduling this one. Not only do the Rams get the money and exposure of playing a championship program in Alabama, but they also get to play the defending champions at a relatively favorable time. The Tide might not be thinking all about the green and gold in the middle of a four game stretch that starts with Virginia Tech, is followed by Texas A&M and after CSU, wraps up with Ole Miss, who gave Alabama arguably its most difficult game last season other than Texas A&M and Georgia.

3. Plenty coming back: The quarterback situation isn't quite settled as junior Garrett Grayson and Conner Smith continue to duke it out, but whoever lands the job will inherit plenty of veteran skill position players. Donnell Alexander and Chris Nwoke are a nice tandem at running back, Charles Lovett is a go-to guy at receiver and tight end Crocket Gilmore was good enough to be named to Phil Steele's all-conference first team squad. On defense, there's plenty to be excited about as well, notably linebacker Cory James who was an All-American as a freshman.