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Wyoming Football: 2017 Cowboys Preview and Prediction

Josh Allen, Wyoming Football

Josh Allen, Wyoming Football

In head coach Craig Bohl’s third year, Wyoming surprised many by going 6-2 in Mountain West play and earning a spot in the conference championship game. The Cowboys have a quarterback that NFL scouts are going to pay close to attention to, but new playmakers need to emerge around him. The defense struggled mightily but returns nine starters and has a new coordinator. Wyoming should be able to stay in the hunt in the Mountain Division once again, but for how long will likely depend on the progress the defense makes.

Previewing Wyoming Football’s Offense for 2017

Josh Allen made a huge splash in his first full season as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback. The 6'5", 230-pound Allen completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,203 yards with 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and was the team’s second-leading rusher with 523 yards and seven TDs. Allen toyed with the idea of turning pro but decided to come back to Laramie to hone his skills while trying to lead UW to its first back-to-back bowl berths since 1987-88. He could be a first-round pick in 2018.

Allen will have a lot of new weapons around him as Wyoming lost its career rushing leader — Brian Hill ranked third nationally with 1,860 yards on the ground — and top three pass catchers from 2016. There could be a three-headed monster at running back consisting of junior Nico Evans and sophomores Kellen Overstreet and Milo Hall. The top returning wide receiver is sophomore C.J. Johnson, who caught 21 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns last season.

The offensive line must replace all-conference center Chase Roullier. Sophomore Gavin Rush was moved over from guard.

Previewing Wyoming Football’s Defense for 2017

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Wyoming returns nine starters from a unit that allowed 34.1 points and 453.1 yards per game and struggled more as the season progressed. Coaches hope that the experienced returning players, along with new defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton, will give the Cowboys a boost in overall performance and consistency.

The Cowboys lose only one defensive lineman, but a key will be the health of junior end Carl Granderson, a disruptive force at 6'5", 243 pounds who tore an ACL in the sixth game last season.

Logan Wilson, an in-state product from Casper, was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year as an outside linebacker last season but was moved to middle linebacker in the spring and has adapted well. Sophomore Cassh Maluia replaces Wilson at one outside linebacker spot. UCLA transfer Jalen Ortiz is the favorite to play on the other side.

Wyoming returns its entire secondary, which is anchored by safeties Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps. Wingard earned first-team All-MW honors last season and Freshman All-America honors in 2015. Combined, Wingard and Epps have 447 tackles and eight interceptions.

Previewing Wyoming Football’s Specialists for 2017

Kicker Cooper Rothe made 13-of-20 field goals last season as a true freshman, including seven of his last eight. Wyoming must replace two four-year starters in punter Ethan Wood and long snapper Brendan Turelli. True freshman punter Tim Zaleski and graduate transfer long snapper Kolton Donovan from Southern Utah are expected to fill those spots. Sophomore wide receiver Austin Conway led the Cowboys with 31 punt returns last season, including one for a touchdown. Conway originally signed with Wyoming to play basketball but switched to football last spring. Conway also could return kickoffs along with Evans and cornerback Rico Gafford.

Final Analysis

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Wyoming was picked last in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West last season but ended up in a three-way tie for first and played in the league title game.

The offense will be formidable once again, but Allen still has to improve while making those around him better. One thing Wyoming did well defensively last season was force turnovers (27 compared to 10 in 2015). But it must cut down on points and yards allowed per game. Hazelton figures to mix coverages in the secondary, which should take pressure off the Cowboys’ corners, who played exclusively man last season. If Allen has a big season and the defense improves, Wyoming will be in the hunt for another division title.

National Ranking: 72

MW Mountain Prediction: 3