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Wyoming, can you come up with a second straight good season and not be so … so … Wyoming?
Head coach: Dave Christensen
4th year: 18-20
Off. 17, Def. 24, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Wyoming Players
1. QB Brett Smith, Soph.
2. S Luke Ruff, Sr.
3. DT Mike Purcell, Sr.
4. C Nick Carlson, Sr.
5. S Luke Anderson, Sr.
6. WR/PR Chris McNeill, Sr.
7. OG Tyler Strong, Jr.
8. CB Marqueston Huff, Jr.
9. LB Korey Jones, Sr.
10. CB Blair Burns, Soph.
QB - 7
RB - 5.5
WR - 5.5
OL - 5.5
DL - 5
LB - 5.5
DB - 6
ST - 7
Sep. 1 at Texas
Sep. 8 Toledo
Sep. 15 Cal Poly
Sep. 22 at Idaho
Sep. 29 OPEN DATE
Oct. 6 at Nevada
Oct. 13 Air Force
Oct. 20 at Fresno State
Oct. 27 Boise State
Nov. 3 Colorado State
Nov. 10 at New Mexico
Nov. 17 at UNLV
Nov. 24 San
Following a 7-5 2004 season and a thrilling bowl win over UCLA, Wyoming was one of the hot new teams coming into 2005. There were magazine covers and some believing that the program was about to return to the heyday of the 1990s when it was a WAC powerhouse and then a decent player in the Mountain West. And then came the 2000s.
The Cowboys collapsed in 2000 going 1-10 and have had just three winning seasons since. There hasn’t been any consistency going 6-6 in 2006 only to follow it up with a losing season. There was hope in 2009 going 7-6 only to go 3-9 with no offense whatsoever the following year. 2011 was the shocker of all shockers with no one believing the Cowboys would do anything in the conference and were destined for a disaster, but head coach Dave Christensen pulled off a shocker and now the hope is that a new trend is starting.
All of a sudden, if UW can come up with a good year, Christensen could make it three winning seasons in four years to change around the team from being inconsistent to steady. He did more with less last year – starting freshman Brett Smith at quarterback and coaxing wins with mediocre talent – and now he’ll have to do it again.
But here’s the key question: can Wyoming win all the close games again?
Unlike the 2004 season with no wins over anyone who finished with a winning record, there were some legitimately solid victories last season against San Diego State and Air Force, along with building up the base with a slew of wins over the weak and the sad.
Two of the wins came over non-FBS teams Weber State and Texas State, and getting to face UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico certainly helped the cause, but there were way too many close calls beating Weber State, Bowling Green, Colorado State and San Diego State by a grand total of ten points. Wyoming went 1-3 in 2010 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and finished 3-9, but was 4-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer and went 8-5. There’s no margin for error.
The offense has to find more options than Smith for the running game – he got banged up and has to stay in one piece – and he needs to add more pop to a passing game that was fine, but needs to be more efficient.
The defense was a disaster at times finishing 115th in the nation against the run and doing nothing to get into the backfield even with a good group of veterans up front. With seven starters returning there’s hope for more consistency with the call going out to make even more big plays after the Cowboys finished ninth in the nation in turnover margin.
So can Christensen crank out another winner? Considering what he and the team were able to do last year with far more problems and concerns, don’t sell the Cowboys short.
What You Need To Know …
Offense: The offense did a nice job running the ball, and while it was inconsistent and struggled with the better teams, it took a big step forward thanks to the emergence of quarterback Brett Smith. While he provided just the spark needed as a dual threat playmaker, he made too many true freshman mistakes and struggled with ball security. Smith will be the team’s best runner, and while top back Alvester Alexander might be gone there are several veterans to work into the rotation led by sophomore Kody Sutton. Chris McNeill is a good No. 1 target who should be Smith’s go-to guy, while Robert Herron and Trey Norman are speedsters who can stretch the field. The problem could be up front with a shuffling line that needs Nick Carlson to grow even more after showing he could handle the work at center. Only two starters are back on the line that will move around the parts when needed.
Defense: The line has to be more aggressive and it has to start doing more against the run after being gouged for 232 yards per game and failing to get into the backfield on a regular basis. New defensive coordinator Chris Tormey has a few decent veterans in tackle Mike Purcell and end Ben Durbin to start with. The linebackers can move and has maturity in the middle in Oliver Schober who should be one of the team’s leading tacklers now that he knows what he’s doing. The strength of the defense and possibly the team could be at safety if all-star candidates Luke Ruff and Luke Anderson can come back healthy after missing most of the offseason hurt. The coaching staff is trying to form a steady rotation at all four spots and needs to come up with a shut-down corner.
What to watch for on offense: Will there be more help for Smith? Alexander was a speedy back who took off early for the pros, and while there are other options waiting in the wings, it’s not going to be easy to not let the star of the show get to operate as much as possible. He was able to fight though a thumb injury that required surgery, and while Colby Kirkegaard looks able to run the offense if needed, keeping the starter in one piece is a must. That means Ghaali Muhammad and Kody Sutton have to handle more of the rushing workload, and Smith has to learn how to get the ball out of his hands faster. He was good at not taking sacks, and he didn’t make a slew of mistakes, but he used his mobility to get out of trouble rather than dump the ball off more often than not.
What to watch for on defense: Can the D stop anyone’s running game? The line lost tough veterans Josh Biezuns and Gabe Knapton and will be without three of the top four tacklers. So how is one of the worst run defenses in college football supposed to be any better when it has to go against Texas, Toledo, Nevada, Air Force, Fresno State and Boise State before November? Last season the Cowboys gave up 300 rushing yards four times in six games – giving up 292 yards in one of the other games – and allowed 200 yards or more in nine of the 13 games. The linebacking corps should be okay with Oliver Schober and Korey Jones returning, but the line has to be far stronger.
The team will be far better if … it continues to dominate the turnover margin. The Cowboys aren’t good enough to win games when it loses the turnover battle on a consistent basis. Last year they came up with six takeaways against Bowling Green and still only won by a point. They came up with three picks against Colorado State and beat a bad team 22-19. Even with five takeaways against TCU they still lost by 11 and four takeaways against Air Force still weren’t enough in a 25-17 loss. Last year, UW came up with 13 picks and 18 recovered fumbles, and there needs to be at least that many to come up with a winning season.
The schedule: The Cowboys were the big surprise last year by coming up with several shockers, and they're going to have to do it again. The season starts with the payday at Texas, and the Toledo game at home won't be a lock in any way. Missing Hawaii isn't necessarily a bad thing, and having to go on the road to face New Mexico and UNLV - the two league layups - in back-to-back weeks isn't too daunting. However, it's going to take a few big upsets to get back to a bowl.
Best offensive player: Sophomore QB Brett Smith. The team desperately needed an option to step up and shine with Austyn Carta-Samuels shockingly leaving the team. Smith got to school early and was in the hunt for the starting quarterback job with Emory Miller, and then Miller chose to leave. The 6-3, 195-pound Smith is built like a pure passer, but he’s a strong runner taking off for 710 yards and ten scores while throwing for 2,622 yards and 20 scores with 11 picks. He had a nice stretch of five games with no interceptions, and then finished up with six interceptions in the final three games. For any of the issues, though, he was a true freshman and had to fight though the first season. Now that he knows what he’s doing he should be even more consistent.
Best defensive player: Senior SS Luke Ruff. The second-team All-Mountain West performer finished second on the team with 102 tackles to go along with two broken up passes. While he didn’t come up with any picks, he was terrific against the run five double-digit tackling games and great hitting ability in the open field. At 5-11 and 200 pounds he has decent size and great range, and now he has the experience to be an even better leader and statistical star in his final season if he comes back healthy after missing time this offseason hurt.
Key player to a successful season: Senior DT Mike Purcell. The 6-3, 303-pound veteran is the bulk on the inside coming off a 48 tackle, two sack season. He’s not much of an interior pass rusher, but he has to be able to hold up on a regular basis against the run and be more of an anchor to work around. With good quickness to go along with his bulk and three years of experience, he has to play at an all-star level for the team to make any sort of improvement.
The season will be a success if … the Cowboys go back to a bowl game. While there might be dreams of winning the Mountain West title, just getting an extra game would be enough considering the program hasn’t gone to back-to-back bowl games since 1987 and 1988. It’s not going to be easy with a nasty stretch of midseason games, and it’s going to take a few upsets, but anything less than a bowl appearance will be a step back.
Key game: Sept. 22 vs. Idaho. The Cowboys haven’t played the Vandals since 1999 – a 28-13 Idaho win – but this year it could be a must-win game with Nevada, Air Force, Fresno State and Boise State coming up next. Wyoming needs to make sure it doesn’t miss any three-foot putts, but Idaho is going to look at this as a necessary home game to have any shot of going to a bowl. Wyoming also might need this to get a 13th game.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: Opponents 88 for 780 yards – Wyoming 63 for 603 yards
- Punt Return Average: Wyoming 12.8 yards – Wyoming 5.3 yards
- Sacks: Wyoming 22 for 140 yards – Opponents 12 for 99 yards
Wyoming Depth Chart