Wyoming Cowboys 2016 Preview and Prediction
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#114 Wyoming Cowboys
MW Mountain PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Craig Bohl, 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Vigen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Stanard
Wyoming took a step backwards in Craig Bohl's second year, winning just two games. The Cowboys have plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball. Bohl oversaw the start of North Dakota State's dynasty (five straight FCS national titles), but he appears to be just getting started on turning around Wyoming.
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Previewing Wyoming’s Offense for 2016
Wyoming will have a different starting quarterback for the third time in Craig Bohl’s three seasons and the fourth in four years overall. Sophomore Josh Allen looked good in 13 plays in Week 2 last year before he broke his right collarbone in seven different places and missed the rest of the season. Allen, a former junior college transfer, will head into preseason camp as the favorite to start over sophomore Nick Smith.
The Cowboys return one of the most productive running backs in the nation in junior Brian Hill, who led the Mountain West and ranked eighth nationally with 135.9 yards per game in 2015. Hill’s 1,631 yards set a single-season Wyoming record, and he enters this season as the fifth-leading rusher in school history (2,427). Hill is joined in the backfield by senior Shaun Wick, who missed the final eight games last season due to a concussion. Wick is Wyoming’s ninth-leading career rusher with 2,179 yards.
Wyoming returns one of the best wide receiver duos in the MW in seniors Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt, who combined for 94 catches for 1,331 yards and 12 TDs last season. Senior tight end Jacob Hollister also is a reliable target. He caught 26 passes for 355 yards in 2015.
The Cowboys return five offensive linemen who started at least one game last season. The anchor is senior guard Chase Roullier, a second-team All-MW pick in 2015. Wyoming made a move with its two starting tackles, flipping junior Ryan Cummings to the right side and sophomore Zach Wallace to left tackle. Wallace started the last 10 games at right tackle last season as a 265-pound true freshman. He is now up to 295.
Previewing Wyoming’s Defense for 2016
Six starters return from a unit that allowed 34.0 points and 422.1 yards per game last season.
The secondary is the most experienced group, led by free safety Andrew Wingard. As a true freshman in 2015, Wingard earned second-team All-MW honors after leading the league with 6.9 solo tackles per game. Walk-on strong safety Marcus Epps led the team with two interceptions as a redshirt freshman. Junior Jalen Ortiz, a transfer from UCLA, is expected to push for playing time as a safety or a nickel back. Four cornerbacks who started games last season return. Junior Robert Priester is the most experienced of that group.
Senior middle linebacker Lucas Wacha, a captain last season, recorded 96 tackles. Senior outside linebacker D.J. May had a productive 2015 after moving from running back. He had 69 tackles and broke up a team-best 10 passes.
Wyoming will be young and on the small side along the defensive line. This group’s progression is critical to the defense’s overall improvement. So is generating more turnovers — Wyoming forced only 10 last season.
Previewing Wyoming’s Specialists for 2016
Ethan Wood returns for his fourth year as the Cowboys’ punter. He averaged a respectable 41.8 yards per punt as a junior. Wood also is expected to handle kickoffs. True freshman Cooper Rothe is expected to step in and handle field goal duties. The Cowboys’ coverage units were strong last season, finishing first in the league in opponent kickoff returns (21.3-yard average) and second in punt returns (4.6).
Wyoming went from four wins in Bohl’s first season to just two last season — the fewest for the program since 2002. This team should be improved, especially on defense, but the Cowboys need to keep Allen healthy and establish some continuity at the quarterback position.
Bohl has described Wyoming as a developmental program. Sometime soon, he will need to find a way to develop some more wins.