1-day away Cowboy fans! Like last year, we will be bringing you game predictions every Friday, along with some other commentary. Representing Wyonation will be myself, Chad Smith and Brad Reed and special guests Brandon Foster of the Casper Star-Tribune and Robert Gagliardi from Wyosports.net will be joining us. We will keep a tally of everyone’s record throughout the season for both straight up and against the spread (ATS).

The Cowboys are taking on Northern Illinois late Saturday night, in what will be Craig Bohl’s third season as the headman in Laramie. Bohl is 1-1 in season openers since his arrival and this game will serve as a major test. The spread is at 10 points, in NIU’s favor.

Robert Gagliardi, Wyosports.net

What are your initial thoughts and feelings on the 2016 Wyoming Cowboys as we gear up for year 3 under HC Craig Bohl? 

I think this team is better — more experienced, as well as bigger, faster and stronger along both lines. However, it is still a young team with two-thirds of its roster made up of freshmen and sophomores. There is more depth at some positions, but much of that is unproven. I think the team should play better football in 2016, but I don’t know if that means a lot more victories.

Who is your pick for breakout player of 2016? 

I will give you two: Offensively, it’s redshirt sophomore quarterback Josh Allen. If he stays healthy, he may put up some impressive numbers. He likely will make his share of mistakes, but UW has not had a quarterback with his size and physical tools in a long time — if ever.

Defensively, sophomore defensive end Carl Granderson may have a breakout year after adding 40 pounds of muscle. No one could block him during camp. While he’s far from a finished product, I think he could be that edge rusher that the Cowboys sorely need. 

Poke Pick: Offensive Line

All-Conference guard Chase Roullier is now at center, and true freshman Gavin Rush replaces him at guard. In Wyoming’s pro-style offense, guard play is key — especially on run plays. Wyoming’s tackles also need to play well both in the run game and in pass protection. This is a fairly experienced group, and it needs to play like it. 

The Cowboys Win if…

They control the ball offensively — and finishes drives with points. Also, if the defense plays solid from start to finish and doesn’t allow a lot of big plays — especially early in the game. 

Game Prediction:

Northern Illinois may be the best team Wyoming faces all season. Yes, the Huskies may be better than Nebraska. I think the Cowboys play well, but they’re not at the level where the NIU program is — not yet at least. Final score: Northern Illinois 31, Wyoming 21

Brandon Foster, Casper Star-Tribune

What are your initial thoughts and feelings on the 2016 Wyoming Cowboys as we gear up for year 3 under HC Craig Bohl? 

The pieces are starting to fit in place for the Pokes in Bohl’s third year. There’s good talent at most starting spots, especially the offensive skill positions, and this year should be better than the last. Still, with a tough home slate and subpar depth, I think the Cowboys are another year away. 

Who is your pick for breakout player of 2016? 

Carl Granderson. He’s added 40 pounds of muscle and looked really solid in fall camp. Wyoming could use help in the pass rush, so the timing couldn’t be any better for a killer year from Granderson.

Poke Pick: Defensive Line

It’s probably the biggest question mark on a defense that struggled mightily last year. Though NIU did lose two four-year starters to graduation, the Huskies’ O-line will still be a good test for Wyoming.

The Cowboys Win if…

Wyoming wins if it can dominate the time of possession. NIU plays an up-tempo style of offense, and if the Cowboys can keep the Huskies’ D on the field for an extended time with their ground-and-pound approach, Northern Illinois could wear down. That said, Wyoming does need its pass game to complement the run, since handing the ball to Brian Hill isn’t going to surprise anyone.

Game Prediction:

I think Wyoming keeps it close and covers the spread. The Cowboys have improved since last season, they’re mostly healthy, and an electric season-opening environment under the lights could fuel an upset. Still, I need the Pokes to show me something before I’m picking an upset against a team as consistently competitive as NIU. Northern Illinois 31, Wyoming 24.

Brad Reed, Wyonation.com

What are your initial thoughts and feelings on the 2016 Wyoming Cowboys as we gear up for year 3 under HC Craig Bohl? 
This team has some potential to be good. Not great, not win the Mountain West, but good. If they turn in some wins, sure, they’ll go to a bowl game. If they lose some games they could or should win, we might be in for another 2-10 season. Bohl is doing good things in Laramie. His team stays out of trouble Bohl’s teams are some of the most academically intelligent in UW history. The team is more unselfish than they have been in a LONG time. There are lots of positives. In theory those positives should translate into wins and nice things for the team and the fans of UW who have stuck through this transition. However, theory never really plays out. This team will go as far as the defense (really bad in rush defense) and offensive line (really bad in pass blocking) will take them. If those things can improve, then sure.. let’s go Bohl’ing (ba-dum-pish!). If those things do not improve, welp..

Who is your pick for breakout player of 2016? 

Josh Allen is the breakout player for 2016. He’s the quarterback and brand-new on the job. Last season he lasted not many more plays in his division one playing career than I have. This season the team is 100% his. The Cowboy offense will ebb and flow with his command of the playbook and his ability to guide this offense down the field. If he can do those things the Cowboys might be good. If he cannot do those things the Cowboys will not be good.

Honorable mention: Austin Conway

Poke Pick: Running Game

The Cowboys will not beat Northern Illinois if they cannot control the football and keep the defense off the field. If you want to beat a team from the midwest at 7220 you need to keep their defense sucking oxygen from the tiny hoses on the sideline. That means a combination of Brian Hill, Shaun Wick, and Josh Allen need to keep the sticks moving up and down the field. Those are my Poke Picks.

The Cowboys Win if…

Control the ball. Don’t let their talented offense on the field. Drew Hare is pretty good at football. Don’t let him beat you, contain him.

Game Prediction:

Tough game for the young Cowboys. Tough home opener, this team is (and has been) really good for quite a while. They’re very well coached. They’re the team Wyoming should aspire to be. I don’t see the Pokes winning this one. Northern Illinois 38, Wyoming 24

Chad Smith, Wyonation.com

What are your initial thoughts and feelings on the 2016 Wyoming Cowboys as we gear up for year 3 under HC Craig Bohl? 

The Wyoming Cowboys are still a very young football team but the good news is they return 8 starters on offense and defense. In year three Wyoming should be a more competitive football team but I am not sure that will translate into more wins. I am on the fence in which direction this program is headed and we will most certainly see which way it is going in year three under Bohl.

Who is your pick for breakout player of 2016? 

This battle is too close to call so I am going to go with two new starters on the defense. Junior college transfer CB Rico Gafford and Casper native Redshirt Freshman linebacker Logan Wilson. I think both have the ability to make an instant impact on the defense and that impact could be almost as big as the impact we saw from Andrew Wingard last season. 

Poke Pick: Josh Allen

There is a lot of weight on the shoulders of QB Josh Allen. He was injured last season and Coach Bohl said he is the most improved player on the team. We will need to see that Saturday night if Wyoming has any chance to win. I think his ability to throw and run will keep defenses honest allowing them not to stack the box to stop RB Brian Hill.

The Cowboys Win if…

They run the ball for over 200 yards and do not turn the ball over.

Game Prediction:

This is a tough opener for the Cowboys and I can’t see them pulling off this type of win quite yet considering the development of the program. Northern Illinois 31, Wyoming 20

Connor Cunningham, Wyonation.com

What are your initial thoughts and feelings on the 2016 Wyoming Cowboys as we gear up for year 3 under HC Craig Bohl? 

I think the Cowboys will be much improved, but I am not sure how many wins that means. The offensive skills players are as good as the Cowboys have had since Bohl has been the HC. The defense brings back a lot of experience but they are still very young. I think the Cowboys will be more competitive in 2016, I hope that leads to more wins 

Who is your pick for breakout player of 2016? 

I am going to go with the two newest Cowboys in the secondary, Rico Gafford and Jalen Ortiz. Gafford missed all spring, because he still had to graduate from his JuCo and joined the Cowboys this summer and he was still able to make up for lost time and land himself at the top of the depth chart and should be a much needed boost at the corner spot. Ortiz, who transferred from UCLA, has experience playing big time college football. Ortiz isn’t listed as a starter, but Bohl has said he will see the field a lot and move around the field and be able to give the Cowboys different looks. These two should provide a spark, where the Cowboys most need it.

Poke Pick: Tanner Gentry

The easy pick would be Brian Hill, but I feel like we know what we are going to get out of Hill. That is why Gentry is my pick. It has been awhile since we saw Gentry on the field due to injury, but when he has been on the field in his career he has been excellent. In 7 games last year Gentry had 37 catches for nearly 700 yards and 4 scores. Gentry provides a great downfield target and is reliable, those downfield throws should be available through the play action pass.

The Cowboys Win if…

They win the time of possession battle and have more takeaways than they give. The Cowboys need to dominate these two phases in order to win the game, another key component will be third down on both sides of the ball.

Game Prediction:

I think we are going to see a competitive football team on Saturday night, but I have a hard time picking them to win after last year. I think they keep it close most of the way, but they won’t have enough to hang until the end. Northern Illinois 38 Wyoming 27

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