The Wyoming Cowboys kick-off the 2018 college football season this Saturday night in a “Week Zero” game against New Mexico State on the road in Las Cruces. ESPN2 will have the national broadcast and the game will be the chance for Wyoming fans to have some questions answered about the Cowboys prospects for the fifth season under head coach Craig Bohl.
Going into most seasons, I usually have a pretty clear opinion of what I think the Pokes will or can accomplish. This season is quite different though because I have no clear set of expectations for Wyoming football this year. There are three general paths the Pokes could take this season:
- Play solid football on both sides of the ball and contend for a divisional title and thus a conference title, 8 or 9 wins.
- Middle of the road with a strong defense and a continued lack of consistent production from the offense, 6 or 7 wins.
- No bowl berth, with a weak offense and regression on defense, 4 or 5 wins.
Of the three options, number two is the most likely followed by one and then number three. I view the chances of number three happening as very low due to the quality of coaching from Bohl and his staff coming off back to back 8 win seasons and because the program has more depth and quality athletes than they have had for years.
Breaking down the three components of the Wyoming football team this is a snapshot of how I see things.
After averaging just 23.5 points per game with a first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback, the offense is the number one concern entering this season. Tyler Vander Waal a redshirt freshman has won the starting QB position over senior Nick Smith. In front of him is a reshuffled offensive line that includes two seniors and three redshirt freshman starters. While lined up behind him at running back is an unproven group of runners (currently paced by a bigger, faster and stronger Nico Evans) who must establish a consistent running game for Wyoming to have any chance of offensive improvement in 2018.
The Defense returns 8 starters from last season that ranked 9th in the country in scoring defense allowing just 17.5 points per game. Playing the percentages, one would think there would be some regression with this unit when replacing both the starting corners. Yet, at the same time, it’s certainly possible another spring and fall camp under the coaching of Defensive Coordinator Scottie Hazelton could improve this group. The Pokes defense lead the nation forcing 38 turnovers and they will be looking to do much the same in 2018. The question is can they force turnovers at anywhere near the same rate?
The Cowboys are in great shape on special teams. They return both their kicker and punter in Cooper Rothe and Tim Zaleski (AKA: Big Z) who should improve with another year of college experience. The Cowboys return two dynamic returners in Tyler Hall on kickoffs and Austin Conway on punts who should give the Wyoming offense a good chance at starting drives with good field position. At long snapper true freshman Jesse Hooper has had an impressive fall camp and Coach Bohl is pleased with his consistency in practice.
Even after talking through things and writing all of this, I still have no real feeling what we will see or what I should expect this season from Wyoming football because of the questions on offense. The conference media have had their say earlier this summer picking the Pokes to finish 2nd in the Mountain Division behind Boise State. This shows the respect that the media has for what Coach Bohl is building in Laramie. I for one would be very happy with that considering this is a transition year on offense and I think most of the fans would be pleased with a 2nd place finish as well.
The question portion of the 2018 season is wrapping up and in the hot desert of New Mexico on Saturday night, we will start to get some answers about where this Cowboy football team can go this season.
What are your thoughts? Where can the Cowboys go in 2018 and what are your season expectations? Have a say in the comments section, on the message board or find me on Twitter: @WyoNationBlog