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2019 Wyoming Season Preview

The outlook on the Cowboys for this fall.

NCAA Football: Boise State at Wyoming
Go Pokes!
Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 season was a mixed bag for Wyoming. The Cowboys went 6-6, including marks of 2-2 in non-conference and 4-4 in conference. Wyoming did not beat anyone all that impressive in 2018, yet they only lost to winning teams that made bowl games. Overall, it felt like a season of treading water. While Wyoming failed to make a bowl game and finish with a winning season (after having done so the previous two seasons), the Cowboys managed to play well enough to avoid a losing season and become bowl eligible again (despite not receiving a bowl invite). Overall, 2018 ended with the arrow neither pointing up or down for Wyoming’s future.

Going into 2019 now, the Cowboys will try to get the program trending back upward again. Craig Bohl seemingly had Wyoming on the right path after consecutive, 8-win seasons in 2016 & 2017. Hopefully, 2018 was just a slight bump on the road in producing winning seasons. I tend to believe it will be since Bohl has been a program builder (previously at North Dakota State) who has had sustained success as a head coach. In this case, the arrow for Wyoming will start pointing up again.

On the other side of things, Wyoming has struggled to produce a winning football program in the Mountain West. In 20 seasons in the Mountain West, Wyoming only produced consecutive winning seasons once (in 2016 & 2017 under Bohl). Some might wonder if this was simply an aberration for the Cowboys buoyed by the super-rarity of a 1st-round pick QB (Josh Allen) playing under center those seasons. In this case, the arrow for Wyoming likely starts pointing down again.

The 2019 season will tell us a lot about which way the arrow is still pointing for the Cowboy football program.


Reasons for optimism: Wyoming goes into the fall much more confident that they have found their next QB. Sean Chambers emerged as a true freshman last season over the course of 4 games at QB, giving the offense a spark as a threat in the running game that made Wyoming that much more dynamic every time he was on the field.

Cause for concern: The running game carried the Wyoming offense last season and most of that production graduated with Nico Evans. Xavazian Valladay is back to carry the starting load in 2019, but Wyoming is short of depth at RB. Jevon Bigelow has left the team, so Valladay constitutes all of the returning experience at RB. The good news is that Trey Smith comes over from Louisville as a graduate transfer to give Wyoming some immediate depth for this fall. Still, Wyoming is not deep at a position of vital importance for what should be a run-first offense.

Key stat: 124th. That’s where Wyoming finished in total passing offense in 2018. That was tied with Air Force and only ahead of Army, Navy, Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern. All of those other teams ran the triple-option. So, we can basically say Wyoming had the worst passing offense in the country as Wyoming does not run the triple-option. While Wyoming will continue to lean on the running game, an improvement in passing offense would go a long way towards Wyoming improving in 2019.

Wildcard: Wyoming receivers. Along with the stats above, Wyoming returns several seniors who could be key in improving the passing offense for a young QB like Chambers. Wyoming returns Josh Harshman at TE along with John Okwoli, Austin Conway, and Raghib Ismail Jr. at WR. This experience might be able to help the Cowboy offense find some consistency and respectability in the passing game.


Reasons for optimism: The Wyoming defense returns key starters in seniors: Tyler Hall, Antonio Hull, Cassh Maluia & Logan Wilson. Additionally, experienced players (such as Josiah Hall, Garrett Crall, Alijah Haliburton, Ravontae Holt & Javaree Jackson) appear ready to step into starting roles. That returning production should keep a strong defense going as the Cowboys have finished 23rd and 19th, respectively, in total defense over the past two seasons.

Cause for concern: The Cowboys lost several good football players to graduation. The biggest losses will be at safety. Rarely do you have two players that start for 4 years next to each other at safety. That both of those players did so and were very good football players will be tough to replace. Marcus Epps was drafted in the 6th round by the Vikings in April. Andrew Wingard left Wyoming as the leading tackler (tied with Carmen Messina) in Mountain West history.

Key stat: 20. That’s how much the turnover differential swung from 2017 (+24) to 2018 (+4). One of the big reasons Wyoming fell to 6-6 in 2018 was their failure to win the turnover battle as well as they did in 2017. If the defense can get back to creating more turnovers in 2019 (along with the Wyoming offense taking care of the ball), the Cowboys should get back to finishing with a winning season.

Wildcard: Redshirt Junior, Braden Smith. Smith goes into the fall as the likely starter at Free Safety. Smith will be tasked with replacing the leadership and production of Marcus Epps, who was Wyoming’s lone draft pick in 2019. That will be a tall task for a player who comes into the fall with just 10 career tackles over 23 games played as a reserve.

Schedule Analysis

August 31st - Missouri

September 7th - @ Texas State

September 14th - Idaho

September 21st - @ Tulsa

September 28th - UNLV*

October 5th - BYE

October 12th - @ San Diego State*

October 19th - New Mexico*

October 26th - Nevada*

November 2nd - BYE

November 9th - @ Boise State*

November 16th - @ Utah State*

November 22nd - Colorado State*

November 30th - @ Air Force*

*Conference game

Thoughts: The Cowboys have 6 home games and 6 road games. The non-conference is easier since Wyoming only faces one Power 5 team, instead of two (Missouri and Washington State in 2018). That one team is Missouri, but the Cowboys will get them in Laramie this year after playing at Missouri last year. Wyoming also has a road game at Texas State (3-9 in 2018), a home game against Idaho (4-7 in FCS in 2018), and a road game against Tulsa (3-9 in 2018). Wyoming will see a change in West Division opponents. Gone are Fresno State, Hawaii and San Jose State. In are San Diego State, Nevada and UNLV. Mountain Division teams just flip home field versus last season. That means Wyoming will have to travel to Air Force, Boise State and Utah State.

Best case scenario: The offense starts the year with the stability they lacked much of last season as the Cowboys prove a capable, stable unit with Sean Chambers under center. Meanwhile, the defense continues to play at a top level, and the Pokes get back to winning the majority of their games. Wyoming finishes with 9 wins, wins (or challenges for) the Mountain Division to possibly play in the MWC Championship game again.

Worst case scenario: The offense struggles again with consistency and injuries. The Wyoming defense fails to maintain their recent success and regresses. Wyoming loses their close games and gets blown out by the better teams they face. The Pokes fall back to a losing record winning only 5 games.

What’s probably going to happen: Wyoming had a fairly difficult schedule in 2018. All of their losses came against winning teams that made bowl games. Additionally, the offense really struggled to get going most of last season. This year Wyoming goes into the fall with what appears to be an easier schedule, and a more certain identity on the offensive side of the ball. There is always the risk of injuries derailing a season for any team. Outside of that, Wyoming likely gets back to a winning season. Overall, 7 wins feels about right for this Cowboys team. That should be enough to get Wyoming a bowl invite and possibly an 8th win in the bowl game. If so, the arrow will be pointing back up for the Cowboys.