The much anticipated 2017 Wyoming football season is almost here. Wyoming will travel to Iowa City, Iowa tomorrow in preparation to open their season against the Big 10’s Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa will provide a big test for the Cowboys. I am going to be doing my weekly 5 Things I Think again this year. I have a lot of thoughts on the upcoming year, but here are the 5 Things I Think about the season opener:
1.Josh Allen will live up to the hype
This has been the off-season of Josh Allen. Most “experts” have the 6’5″ gunslinger as the number 1 or 2 overall prospect for next spring’s NFL Draft. That has brought plenty of attention and media to Laramie to see Allen and Wyoming. The attention adds a lot of pressure to the Cowboys’ most important player to perform well. I for one think Josh Allen is the real deal and he will live up to all the hype this season and that will start on Saturday @ Iowa. Allen has the ability to make a big play anytime he has the ball in his hands, whether it is using his arm or legs. He will look to build on his first season as a starter, when he threw for 3,203 yards and 28 TDs and added 523 yards and 7 TDs on the ground.
One thing to note is that Allen has only played one P5 program and that was at Nebraska last year in his 3rd career start. Allen made some plays, but fell apart late and finished the game with 189 yards passing, one touchdown, 5 interceptions and one lost fumble in a 52-17 loss. Allen has grown and improved exponentially since that game and I think he comes out with something to prove Saturday in Iowa City. Look for him to play a smarter football game while still making big plays with his arm that so many scouts have fallen in love with as well as his legs.
2. Milo Hall and Co. will fill the void at running back.
Wyoming enters the 2017 season with experience at the running back position and have the challenge of replacing the programs most productive rusher in program history in Brian Hill. The likeliness of one guy replacing Hill’s production of 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns is slim to none. With that being said, the Cowboys appear to have a trio of backs capable of putting up good numbers.
The trio is headlined by sophomore Milo Hall, who will start on Saturday. Hall came to UW out of Cherry Creek HS in Denver where he was the 5A player of the year in 2014. He appears to be a very talented runner, but has only appeared in 3 games last year and his first carry on Saturday will be the first of his career. The other two running backs are Jr. Nico Evans and So. Kellen Overstreet. Evans has 25 career attempts for 89 yards and should provide some power as opposed to Hall, who is a little bit smaller back. Overstreet rounds out the trio. He missed last season with a torn ACL, but did play as a true freshman and showed flashes in 2015 when he ran 16 times for 84 yards and a score.
Hall is getting the most attention during fall camp but all 3, along with Allen’s ability to run should complement one another. It would be unfair to expect any one guy to perform like Hill, but as a three headed monster they should provide a nice balance for the offense.
The Wyoming defense is expected to be better and deeper this season. Last year’s defense gave up a lot of yards between the 20’s but did well limiting damage most of the time and came up with timely turnovers.
The D is led by two preseason all-conference picks, Jr safety Andrew Wingard and So. LB Logan Wilson. Wingard’s first two seasons in brown and gold have been nothing but productive. He already has 253 career tackles, 14.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 int, and 3 FF. Wilson had a monster freshman season. The Casper native finished the season with 94 tickets, 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 int (1 TD), 3 FR, and 1 FF. It is easy to see why these two guys have garnered a lot of attention and we know what we will get from them. But they need someone else to step up.
The obvious candidate is Jr. DE Carl Granderson. Granderson was having a breakout season as a sophomore before his season was cut short with a torn ACL in the 6th game vs Air Force. Granderson, who is listed at 6’5″ 255 and has 5 career sacks and 12 TFL. I would expect him to be very good this year, but it may take a little time for him to knock off some rust as he comes back from his knee injury. Other candidates to contribute in a big way are LB Jalen Ortiz (Senior), DT Youhanna Ghaifan (So.), and CB Antonio Hull (Jr.). All three have starting experience and flashed signs of being good players. I especially like Ortiz. The UCLA transfer will fill the role of D.J. May and play a hybrid position.
4. The offense needs guys to step up as pass catchers.
The Cowboys lost their 3 pass catchers, Tanner Gentry, Jake Maulhardt, Jacob Hollister, from a year ago to graduation. The three combined for 143 catches (68% of 2016 total), 2455 yards (76.5%), and 25 TDs (86%).
Their departures will open the door for others. The best of the bunch is C.J. Johnson. As a freshman, Johnson caught 21 balls for 304 yards and 3 TDs and at 6’2 204 is a big target for Allen to throw to. As the season went on Johnson got more involved and made more plays, I would expect him to be among the top pass catchers in the MWC this year. The other 2 WR’s with experience are soph. Austin Conway (11 rec., 103 yards) and jr. James Price (18 career rec., 218 yards, 1 TD). Conway is a smaller receiver and an x-factor, he is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. OC Brent Vigen will be creative in ways to get him the ball. Price unfortunately suffered a broken collarbone in fall camp and will miss at the very least all of September but should be a reliable target when he returns. Other WR that will figure into the mix are Soph. John Okwoli (6’2″, 207), and freshmen Avante’ Cox (5’11″, 158), Jared Scott (6’6″, 215), Parker Dumas (6’5″, 216).
The Pokes will also need to find a new top TE to replace Jacob Hollister, who was 1st team all-conference. Jr. Tyree Mayfield (7 career rec., 54 yards, 1 TD) is listed as the starter but is expected to split time with jr. Josh Harshman (7 career rec. 89 yards, 1 TD). Both Mayfield and Harshman appear to be capable TE’s and should be big, reliable targets. Austin Fort (Jr.) should be able to work his way into the mix once he returns from a PCL injury. The Gillette native was listed as a co-starter coming out of spring ball and is expected to be back by mid-September.
5. The Cowboys are ready for Saturday
I think this football team is going to come out on Saturday with a little of a chip on their shoulder. They seem motivated to prove that last year’s Mountain West championship appearance wasn’t a fluke but a sign of things to come and Craig Bohl has the program headed in a positive direction. The Cowboys are led by one of the best quarterbacks in the country and he has proven that anytime the ball is in his hand something special can happen, combine that with a better defense led by 2 all conference players and good things should happen. I don’t know if they will win, but they will compete and be in the game deep into the fourth quarter.