Disclaimer: I won’t claim to know the ins and outs of the Wyoming football program so I’ll be the first to admit my knowledge is limited, but it wasn’t intentional.
The upcoming 2021 season for Wyoming is the eighth one under head coach Craig Bohl. In the pandemic shortened 2020 season, the Cowboys went 2-4, although that doesn’t tell the entire story. They opened the year with a heart-breaking overtime 37-34 loss to Nevada before taking out their frustrations in a blowout win against Hawaii. They followed that up with a head-scratching loss to Colorado State before two games were canceled (not their fault) in mid-November. Wyoming returned with a vengeance, destroying UNLV before ending their season with back-to-back close losses to New Mexico and Boise State. It’s fair to call the Cowboy’s 2020 season a disappointment while also not ignoring how the pandemic played a factor to some degree.
Heading into the 2021 season, the same questions remain as they have for the past few seasons. The defense is always ranging from great to outstanding. The run game and offensive line play will be the backbone of the offense, and the passing game is a big question mark more often than not. Wyoming has struggled to produce a winning football program in the Mountain West, and Bohl has built the program into a consistent bowl team pretty much every season, despite the fact that they can’t seem to get over the hump as a championship contender. There is no shame in that, but it should be their ceiling until proven otherwise.
Reasons for optimism: Wyoming has arguably the best offensive line in the conference and a solid one-two punch in the running game in Xavazian Valladay and Trey Smith. They have a potential breakout player at wide-receiver in Isaiah Neyor and a few others who could become a factor this year as well. Plus, they’ll have two talented quarterbacks with starting experience in Sean Chambers and Levi Williams.
Cause for concern: Chambers has had three season-ending injuries, so it is hard to count on him. Williams was hurt much of last year, too, so the passing attack remains a huge question mark. Opposing teams know how to scheme against the Cowboy offense and shut down the passing game while not letting the run-game beat them.
Key stat: 1. That’s how many passing touchdowns Wyoming had last season. Total, for the entire season. That number needs to drastically improve if they want to be a contender this season. While Wyoming will continue to lean on the running game, and an improvement in passing offense would go a long way towards a successful year.
Wildcard: Treyton Welch. The tight-end only played in three of the six games last year, but he made it count with 5 receptions for 95 yards. If he could burst on the scene as a reliable pass-catcher in the passing game, it gives the offense another weapon and another dimension teams have to scheme for. The Bohl regime is known for big receiving targets, and Welch could be the next one.
Reasons for optimism: The Wyoming defense was a top unit last season and should be just as good or better in 2021. The Cowboys only allowed 21 points per game in 2020, containing some of the best offenses in the league. They are led by Chad Muma, Garrett Crall, CJ Coldon, and Jordan Bertagnole. Plus, other players are emerging stars after getting needed experience last year. That core is more than another to keep the defense running.
Cause for concern: Wyoming’s defense was middle of the road in key defensive stats like sacks and interceptions. The bend but don’t break defense is susceptible to getting worn down. If an injury occurs to Muma, things could get dicey in a hurry. The depth chart is on the young side, so there is still room for growing pains. Plus, they will get worn down and ineffective if they are on the field a lot due to the offense.
Key stat: 0. Zero is the number of defensive touchdowns the Cowboys scored last year. While they don’t need to have any to be considered a top defensive unit, it sure helps. Also, any bonus points the team can get apart from the offense would go a long way. It will be the stat to watch to see one of the ways the defense is potentially impacting the game.
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: Easton Gibbs. In his first college season, Gibbs finished third on the team in tackles with 42. He seems like a great bet to be a breakout player on defense and rise up to take the mantle from Muma as the next great Wyoming linebacker following his departure. If Gibbs can rise up to his potential, it should cement the Cowboy defense.
September 4th - Montana State
September 11th - @ Northern Illinois
September 18th - Ball State
September 25th - @UCONN
October 2nd - BYE
October 9th - @ Air Force*
October 16th - Fresno State*
October 23rd - New Mexico*
October 30th - @ San Jose State*
November 6th - Colorado State*
November 12th - @ Boise State*
November 20th - @ Utah State*
November 27th - Hawaii*
Thoughts: The schedule is one of the easiest Wyoming has had in the past few years, so if they ever have a double-digit win season in them, this is the one. With no power-five teams on the schedule, they should fare well in the out-of-conference slate. Ball State is a strong team, beating San Jose State last year in the bowl game, but going at least 3-1 in the first four games makes sense. Plus, a bye to regroup before the conference should help, especially before the triple-option. Speaking of the conference schedule, the most challenging games are easily the Falcons, San Jose State, and Boise State. Even getting one win from those three would be a boon. As for the other five games, on paper, they should be considered 50/50 games, meaning neither are guaranteed victories or losses. Going 3-2 in those five and 3-1 in OOC, and there are your six wins and a bowl birth. Anything else is a bonus.
Best case scenario: Sean Chambers stays healthy for the entire season and gives the offense the passing dynamic they have lacked since Josh Allen. Meanwhile, the defense continues to play at a level that makes it the best in the conference, and the Pokes get back to winning the majority of their games. Wyoming finishes with at least nine wins, wins (or challenges for) the tough Mountain Division to possibly play in the MWC Championship game.
Worst case scenario: The offense struggles again with consistency and execution. The Wyoming defense is a solid unit, but not one that can carry the team every week. 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 five games, just missing a bowl.
What’s probably going to happen: Wyoming has a relatively easy schedule in 2021. The defense is strong, but the offense remains inconsistent and predictable. The running game is strong, and on the other side of the ball, they are able to shut down their opponent’s running game more often than not. The Cowboys reach six, maybe seven wins, and make a bowl game once again. This scenario officially cements itself as Coach Bohl’s ceiling as a solid second-tier Mountain West team.