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You can read the entire Wyoming Cowboys preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
MWC Mountain PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dave Christensen, 22-28 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jim Harding, Pete Kaligis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Tormey
One of the Mountain West’s best quarterbacks was severely limited last year, and his offense struggled as a result. Brett Smith —who spent his sophomore season dealing with, recovering from and playing through two head injuries — is healthy heading into his junior year. That’s a plus for the Pokes, considering that Smith put up these numbers in just 10 games as a sophomore: 205-of-330 for 2,837 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Smith and his stocked stable of receivers will be working in an updated offense this year. Former Wyoming offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon left Laramie to take a job at New Mexico State, and Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen has announced he will call the plays.
Christensen, who ran Missouri’s offense before taking the head job in Laramie, promises a sped-up attack that will continue to work out of the spread. Changes to watch for are the incorporation of a tight end — the Pokes signed junior college transfer J.D. Krill, who is 6'6", 255 pounds — and an emphasis on running the ball better. The Cowboys averaged 3.4 yards per carry (ninth in the Mountain West) and scored 13 rushing touchdowns (tied for eighth in the league) last season. D.J. May was the team’s top rusher, with only 374 yards, as a true freshman. May suffered an injury in offseason workouts and may miss 2013.
Wyoming’s defense is getting a reputation as one of the worst in the Mountain West, if not all of college football. In a 10-team-league last season, the Cowboys were eighth in scoring defense, eighth in passing defense and 10th in rushing defense. Wyoming surrendered 33.4 points per game. Teams torched the Pokes on the ground (232.3 ypg) and through the air (237.9 ypg).
Defensive coordinator Chris Tormey enters his second season trying to turn around a unit that was bad when he arrived and made no major gains in his first season in Laramie. The emphasis, as Tormey has said repeatedly, is getting better at stopping the run.
Wyoming went after junior college recruits in hopes of plugging the holes with ready-to-play talent, and several of the transfers enrolled in the spring. The signees include linebackers Malkaam Muhammad and Jordan Stanton, safety Jesse Sampson and defensive lineman Troy Boyland.
The Cowboys also redshirted the most players in Christensen’s tenure last year. Those freshly eligible additions — most notably defensive lineman Uso Olive — should add some depth on the defensive side of the ball.
For Wyoming to make waves in the Mountain West, the new faces and redshirt freshmen will have to make an instant impact.
There should be plenty of room for competition for the field goal kicking job. Junior Stuart Williams is most likely the man, but he made only 7-of-12 attempts last year. Sophomore punter Tim Gleeson, who came on strong to finish the year with a 43.0-yard average, left the team during the spring. Wyoming was among the best in the nation in returning punts (13.4-yard average) but among the worst in returning kickoffs (18.0-yard average).
After a 4–8 finish last fall (3–5 in the MWC), this is a pivotal season for the Pokes. And Christensen knows it. With the revamped Mountain West bringing new talent to the competition — and with more eyes focused on the league — the Cowboys need to finish in the upper half to prove that last year was a misstep, not a preview of more disappointing seasons to come.
There’s a lot on the line in Laramie this season. Expect Christensen’s team to play like it.