CFN Preview 2013 - Wyoming Cowboys
Wyoming QB Brett Smith
Wyoming QB Brett Smith
Posted May 5, 2013 2013 Preview - Wyoming Cowboys

Wyoming Cowboys

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dave Christensen
5th year: 22-28
Ten Best Wyoming Players
1. QB Brett Smith, Jr.
2. CB Blair Burns, Jr.
3. WR Robert Herron, Sr.
4. OG Tyler Strong, Sr.
5. DT Patrick Mertens, Sr.
6. DE Eddie Yarbrough, Soph.
7. LB Devyn Harris, Sr.
8. WR/KR Jalen Claiborne, Jr.
9. WR Dominic Rufran, Jr.
10. SS Darrenn White, Jr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 at Nebraska
9/7 Idaho
9/14 Northern Colorado
9/21 at Air Force
9/28 at Texas State
10/12 New Mexico
10/19 Colorado State
10/26 at San Jose State
11/9 Fresno State
11/16 at Boise State
11/23 Hawaii
11/30 at Utah State
Wyoming football comes down to one thing: close games.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, every team has to win the tight battles, with the difference between a 5-7 and 7-5 often determined by a few key plays, but for the Cowboys, it really is all about winning the 50/50 games.

The program will never get the top shelf talent, and with the new and improved Mountain West, it's going to take something truly extraordinary to ever be in the hunt for the title, but success in Laramie is measured by winning seasons and going bowling. With a mere three bowl appearances since going 10-2 in 1996, getting the 13th game really is a big deal. And again, to do that, getting by in the winnable games means everything.

In 2010, UW went 1-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less on the way to a 3-9 season. A year later, the record in close calls was 5-0 and it means a bowl appearance. Last season, the momentum swung the other direction going 3-4 in the seven-point-or-fewer games, and what could've been another 2011 turned into a 4-8 dud.

So is this the type of team that can win those close ones?

Potentially, but the lines have to be stronger. There's no questioning the passing game or the offense, with quarterback Brett Smith and the loaded receiving corps destined to put on another great show. A year after the passing game started to truly click, almost all the key parts are back – only losing leading target Chris McNeill – with Smith appearing to be ready to take his game to a whole other level. The offense will do its job and should be able to keep up in shootouts. The defense and special teams … the offense will do its job.

The D needs a steadier pass rush. The secondary struggled too much with no help from the front seven, and while that might not be a big deal early on with pass-challenged offenses like New Mexico's and Air Force's to case. San Jose State, Fresno State, and all the Mountain West teams with nice quarterbacks are coming over the second half of the year.

Close games often come down to special teams, and Wyoming's are going to be a concern with a shaky kicking game and mediocre coverage teams. Basically, the problem might be that UW won't do all the little things right, and that could be the difference between a winning and losing season.

It has been in the past.

What to watch for on offense: Will the running game hold up its end of the bargain? Brett Smith and the passing game will be stellar, and that's how the O will keep up with the better teams, but it would be nice for the ground game to take the pressure off. The revamped line might need a little while to gel, and opening up against Nebraska might not be a plus. However, with Idaho and Northern Colorado to follow before diving into Mountain West play, the rotation in the backfield needs to be set with speedy D.J. May, Omar Stover and Shaun Wick each having to play a role. The less Smith has to carry the ball, the better.

What to watch for on defense: The JUCO transfers. Wyoming always has to rely on JUCO options as much as possible, and this year they really, really matter for a defense that needs playmakers and reinforcements. No area gets a bigger boost than the linebacking corps with Malkaam Muhammad – brother of last year's leading tackler, Ghaali – along with Jeffrey Lark and Jordan Stanton, who'll all be in the hunt for starting jobs right away. The more they can do, the more the coaching staff can move veterans up front – like Siaosi Hala'ai'api - to try bringing more of a pass rush on the end. Defensive tackle Troy Boyland also comes from the JUCO ranks to provide a little bulk, and Jesse Sampson might immediately take the free safety job.

The team will be far better if … the pass rush emerges. It seems so simple, but it really is a big deal for a defense needs to come up with more big plays. The pressure just wasn't there with the defense coming up with just three sacks in three games – going 2-1 in them – and even then the secondary didn't hold up well. There were two sacks in the loss to Nevada, and one or none in the other eight. Eddie Yarbrough ripped off four of the team's 14 sacks, and three of those came in one game against UNLV. Basically, the coaching staff has to manufacture pressure.

The schedule: It's easy early, brutal late. The Cowboys don't get a break to kick things off at Nebraska, and it's awful luck to get Fresno State from the West, but facing Idaho and Northern Colorado at home should give them a chance to tune things up before dealing with a Mountain divisional battle at Air Force. The next conference game doesn't come until mid-October, getting two straight home games against New Mexico and Colorado State after a week off to rest up. Those are must wins with a nasty finishing kick going to San Jose State and getting another week off before finishing up with Fresno State, at Boise State, Hawaii and at Utah State. Beating the Warriors shouldn't be a problem if everything goes to plan, but UW needs to have at least five wins banked before November.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Brett Smith. He took the program by storm as a true freshman, leading the way to a bowl appearance in 2011, and last year he was even better even though the team didn't hold up its end of the bargain. He was banged up a bit in the middle of the year, but he came back roaring, throwing 15 touchdown passes and just one pick over the final six games. A great runner, he can take off and make things happen when needed, but he's better when he uses his arm and his vision to bomb away down the field. Smart, efficient and effective, he'll be one of the stars of the Mountain West once again.

Best defensive player: Junior CB Blair Burns. He only came up with one pick, but it was a big one, taking in 99 yards for a score against Colorado State to set the tone in the win. Fast, tough and experienced, he's the team's best defensive backs, and while he had a few problems on deep plays, he was the team's best ball-hawker. With all the starters back in the secondary, he won't have to do it all and should be able to focus just on dealing with the opposing No. 1 target.

Key player to a successful season: Senior LB Devyn Harris. The pass rush is the biggest concern for the defense, but the run D allowed a whopping 232 yards per game and was almost never clutch. The line will be struggle, so the linebackers have to get the job done more often than not. Siaosi Hala'api'api will move from the middle to defensive end, meaning that Harris will fill in the role after missing almost all of last year hurt. If he's leading the team in tackles, it means everything is working right with plays being funneled his way.

The season will be a success if … the Cowboys get back to a bowl game. There are more than enough winnable games to get to at least six wins. If they can handle the home dates against Idaho, Northern Colorado, New Mexico, Colorado State and Hawaii, they'll be right there. Even if they go 4-1 in those five, there's a shot at getting to at least six wins with road games at Texas State and San Jose State to hope for wins. It's not going to be easy, and there can't be any slips, but six regular season wins is extremely doable.

Key game: Sept. 21 at Air Force. If Wyoming is good enough to beat the Falcons on the road, then it could be good enough to get by New Mexico and Colorado State at home to get with a 3-0 start in Mountain West play before an interdivisional game against San Jose State. 1-7 in the last eight games against Air Force, with plenty of painful close losses, the Cowboys will have to buck the trend.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Wyoming 2nd Quarter Scoring: 116 – Wyoming 3rd Quarter Scoring: 37
- Penalties: Opponents 72 for 642 yards – Wyoming 54 for 514 yards
- Takeaways: Opponents 22 – Wyoming 11
- 2013 Wyoming Preview | 2013 Wyoming Offense
- 2013 Wyoming Defense | 2013 Wyoming Depth Chart