The Central Michigan Chippewas and Wyoming Cowboys will square off on the famous blue turf at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho, on Friday in what could be one of the more entertaining matchups of the 2017 bowl season.
Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen — predicted by many to be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft — has expressed interest in playing in the game if he is healthy. Allen suffered a shoulder injury back on Nov. 11 against Air Force.
Even if backup Nick Smith ends up under center for the Cowboys, there is enough talent and playmaking ability on both rosters to make this one worth your time.
Wyoming is in back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1988. This will be the program's 15th bowl in its history. Central Michigan is making a fourth straight trip to a bowl game and the 11th overall in program history. This will be only the third meeting between the two programs, with all three games happening since 2000. The series is currently tied at one game apiece with the Chippewas winning at home 32-20 back in 2002.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Wyoming
Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 22 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Albertsons Stadium (Boise, Idaho)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Wyoming -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Josh Allen's status
Wyoming obviously has a better chance of winning this thing if Allen plays. His shoulder injury and future NFL dollars could be enough to keep him out. When healthy and playing, some might call him a poor man's Carson Wentz — and it certainly doesn't hurt the comparison that both were recruited and coached by the same guy. Craig Bohl was Wentz' head coach at North Dakota State in 2012-13 before Bohl took the job at Wyoming prior to the 2014 season. In looking at the two quarterbacks, their physical attributes and playing styles are similar, which is why Allen's presence completely changes the Cowboys' offense and makes it more effective and dangerous. How much? Wyoming scored 24.4 points per game when Allen played in 2017. In the two games he missed, the Cowboys scored a total of 24 points combined in losing to Fresno State and San Jose State to close out the regular season.
Whether Allen plays or not, awaiting Wyoming's quarterback is a defense that is tied for second nationally with 19 interceptions. Six different Chippewas have picked off a pass this season, with Josh Cox leading the way (tied for fourth in the FBS) with six. Sean Bunting has five and first-team All-MAC performer Amari Coleman has three, including one returned for a touchdown. Overall, CMU is tops in the MAC and 23rd nationally against the pass (188.2 ypg), so if Allen does indeed play, he better be at his best or this Chippewas defense will make things very tough for him and the Cowboys' offense.
2. Shane Morris vs. Andrew Wingard
Morris — a Michigan graduate transfer — has played in bigger stadiums in arguably bigger games. He also has flourished in his final collegiate season, throwing for more than 2,900 yards and a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (26:13). He'll be staring across the line of scrimmage at Wingard — a two-time first-team All-Mountain West honoree and the quarterback of Wyoming's defense. The junior safety also is one of the best defenders in all of college football and a big reason why the Cowboys enter this game ranked fifth in the nation against the pass. Besides giving up just 160.7 yards per game through the air, Wyoming is one of just 12 FBS teams that have more interceptions (16) compared to touchdown passes allowed (10). Central Michigan (13 TDs, 19 INTs) also is in this group. Morris' ability to make plays against the Cowboys' secondary, particularly Wingard, could very well be what decides this game.
3. NFL talent on the field
Unless you are a fan or alum of one of these teams, you might be thinking that you will need a reason to watch this game. If you are a fan of the NFL draft, there are several reasons. In addition to the aforementioned Allen and Wingard, there are several other players in this game who will likely hear their names called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the future. Central Michigan tight end Tyler Conklin fits the mold of the modern tight end — functioning as an oversized receiver. Central Michigan running back Jonathan Ward has the look of a guy who will play on Sundays as well. Additionally, Wyoming defensive end Carl Granderson and linebacker Logan Wilson are a couple of names you'll hear on Sundays in the future. It will be these top-level talents who will ultimately decide the outcome.
Even if Josh Allen plays, Wyoming figures to have a tough time matching the offensive output of Central Michigan. The Chippewas have won five in a row, scoring more than 41 points per game during that stretch. As good as Andrew Wingard and the Cowboys' defense is, it's a tall order to ask of them to keep that offense in the low 20s. That's about Wyoming's offensive scoring ceiling at this point. Cowboys head coach Craig Bohl will have his team prepared as always, but in the end, talent and momentum will turn this one in Central Michigan's favor.
Prediction: Central Michigan 34, Wyoming 20
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott