Continuing our team-themed questions as we inch closer to the start of the season, this one will focus on the Cowboys. The topic is: Will Wyoming Take a step forward, a step backward, or be the same now that Josh Allen has gone on to the NFL?
Jeremy: On the surface, it’s a silly question. Just about any program in America can expect to take a marginal step backwards (or a major one in some cases) after seeing a special quarterback taken 7th overall in the draft. Historically among Mountain West programs, there is at least a small drop off. Hawaii after Colt Brennan. Boise after Kellen Moore. Nevada after Colin Kaepernick. Fresno after Derek Carr. Not missing a beat or improving, is unlikely. This case is unique because Wyoming’s offense was dreadful even with Josh Allen. That said, the loss to San Jose State (the Spartans lone FBS win in 2018), in which Allen missed the game with injury suggests that ohhhh yes, things can get worse.
Here’s my take: I think the offense will be better in some respects because I think running back Kellen Overstreet wins the majority of the carries. He’s going to be a star. That said, while Tyler Vander Waal has potential, expecting him to mitigate the loss of Allen right off the bat is optimistic. I also think that while the Wyoming defense will be one of the countries best, I think that turnover ratio (a largely fluky statistic) comes back to Earth this fall.
We caught a lot of flack from Wyoming fans a few weeks back for suggesting there might be some growing pains post-Allen, even with a top notch defense. The early Vegas over/under totals are around 6.5 for the Cowboys. That seems about right. Could they shock us? They’ve done it before, see 2016. That said, it’s far from an unreasonable take to suggest that the Cowboys struggle to replace a quarterback of Allen’s abilities. The defense gives them a chance to beat anyone on their schedule, and their offense gives anyone on their schedule the chance to beat them.
Zach: Wyoming lost one of the most prolific players to ever don a Cowboy uniform. You can’t just replace a guy like Josh Allen. Craig Bohl is one of the best coaches in the Mountain West and he is going to have to pull of a masterpiece for the Cowboys to compete for a division title. Wyoming games are going to be interesting to watch this year. They return most of a great defense that is getting a ton of preseason recognition. They are going to have to lean on their defense if they are going to be competitive with teams like Boise State.
Offensively, the Cowboys struggled last year and that unit featured the future 7th pick in the NFL draft. It is no secret that Bohl was searching for a quarterback on the grad transfer market and that alone would have me concerned about how their offense will be able to produce. I think the Cowboys go 6-6 and slip their way into a bowl.
Chris: Josh Allen being absent is obviously a big step back offensively, but Wyoming’s offense was already not great. Even with Josh Allen running the offense, the Wyoming 2017 defense was the responsible for their 5-3 conference record. The defense returns 8 starters so an 8-5 overall and 5-3 conference is very attainable for this years Wyoming squad. Washington State, Boise State, Utah State, and Air Force are all home games. Wyoming’s toughest conference away games are Fresno and Colorado State (Who also lost their record setting quarterback, Nick Stevens) and both are winnable games. If Wyoming grabs some of these home wins, and a few road wins like Colorado State and Hawaii they have a chance to have be in the MWC Championship.
Matt: Easiest thing to do is start dissecting the schedule, then going from there. We can see 3 games they definitely should absolutely win, being Wofford, Hawaii, and New Mexico. Then we’ve got another 3 that are should win games in Hawaii, SJSU, and USU. Give them 2 toss-up games against Air Force and CSU, and we could see an 8 win campaign. But to get there requires winning all of the winnable games, and stealing a couple coin-flip ones. While we know Wyoming should remain elite on defense, the offense is a massive question mark. The QBs have a total of 136 attempts between them (Nick Smith played in 2015 as well), while Allen had 251 by himself last season. We have a decent amount of film on Nick Smith by now, given the two games he started in 2017, and the two he started in 2015, and what’s there isn’t great. All 4 games were losses, including one to an abysmal SJSU team.
Now, there are options on the table for QB though. Tyler Vander Waal will be a redshirt freshman this season, and apparently rose to the top of the depth chart during Spring. If anyone can unseat Smith, it will be the RsFr. The other option under center would be true freshman Sean Chambers, but he won’t be joining the program until Fall Camp. So it looks like it’ll be a two horse race between Vander Waal and Smith, with VW having the edge right now.
While QB is a scary commodity for the Cowboys, they should have a lot more experience scattered around the rest of their offense. After a reset at skill positions last season, those players have a year of experience under their belts. Kellen Overstreet and Trey Woods split carries last season, and it looks to be more of the same this year*. While Overstreet seems more likely to be a feature back, wouldn’t be shocked to see a platoon system for this season. For the receiving end, do-everything-guy Austin Conway is only a sophomore, and looks ready for a breakout. Having continuity at QB will be necessary here, but he’s shown he can also rush if needed, and toss the ball for a wrinkle with his 192QBR.
I didn’t address the defense much, because that’s the known commodity here. There was only one G5 defense better than Fresno State’s monstrous unit last season, and they lived in Laramie. Per S&P+, they were 7th overall, sandwiched between Ohio State and Washington. Good company to be in, and almost everyone returns. Wyo does lose two backups that combined for 8 TFLs, but have the rest of their production back. Carl Granderson should be a household name by the end of the season, and Youhanna Ghaifan was only a sophomore last year. Andrew Wingard will continue to anchor the mid-line of the defense, but things get a bit more shaky in the secondary. Two corners are gone, and one safety is recovering from an injury. Secondary play is usually the biggest indicator of defensive improvement or regression, so the back end will be the question going into the season.
Hopefully that covers everything, except the prediction. I can see Wyo sneaking into a bowl game this year at 6-6 or 7-5 again, but they’ll have to make sure they don’t slip up, and take down all of their winnable games. Probably a year or two out from them competing for another conference title, but still remaining bowl eligible after losing a good QB is important for a program looking for competitiveness and staying power in the conference.
Mike: First thing is first. I want to point out that there is a difference between taking a step back and being a bad team. While I do think Wyoming will take a step back without Josh Allen, that doesn’t mean I think they will be a bad team.
Losing a multi-year starting QB is always tough. When that QB is also a first-round draft pick, it’s even tougher. The optimists would hope for something like Boise State’s first season post Kellen Moore. They had a tremendous defense and just enough offense to finish with just two losses. Now the pessimists only have to point to the Cowboys lowly loss to the Spartans in their game without Josh Allen. Not even their great defense could save them from not being able to move the ball.
Realistically, it’s likely the 2018 Cowboys are more talented than their showing against SJSU, but will probably end up with more than 2 losses. The 6/7 wins sound pretty on point; although seeing a few upset wins or heartbreaking losses would not be a surprise. Again, a step back this season does not mean the program isn’t continuing to move forward.
Terrance: I’ll be honest, I think they’re going to take a significant step backwards. Last season that team was mediocre at best. Yes they finished 8-5 but a lot of those wins were squeakers. They showed that without Allen they couldn’t even beat teams like San Jose State. This reminds me a lot of post Derek Carr years for Fresno State. They went 11-2 his senior year, then the next year they finished 6-8. They made the MWC title game, but they weren’t a good team that season. Then began a slow decline that ended with a 1-11 season before a revival. Back to Wyoming, I believe they will be solid defensively however offensively they could be challenged again.
With a new QB coming in after a first round pick is always tough because of the drop off. Their offensive players are more experienced but there will be some growing pains the first few weeks. The defense probably will continue to not miss a beat due to the depth. Also Andrew Wingard will very much be drafted in the early rounds next year. The good news is most of their tough games are at home. Aside from road games in Fort Collins and Fresno it should me a manageable schedule. Final verdict I believe they will finish 6-6. Allen is too big a hole to fill but they should make another bowl game due to the defense.