2011 Record: (8-5, 5-2 in MWC)
Head Coach: Dave Christensen (18-20 at Wyoming, 10-13 in MWC)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 New Mexico Bowl: lost to Temple 37-15
Must Win: 9/15 vs Cal Poly, 9/22 at Idaho, 11/10 at New Mexico, 11/17 at UNLV
Paying the Bills: 9/1 at Texas
Swing Games: 9/8 vs Toledo, 10/6 at Nevada, 10/13 vs Air Force, 11/24 vs San Diego State
Stat to Cheer: 31 takeaways in 2011 (16 more than 2010)
Stat to Fear: gave up 98 rushing plays of 10 or more yards (119th out of 120 teams)
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters (Offense: 6; Defense: 7; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: S Luke Ruff (102 tackles), S Luke Anderson (75 tackles, 9 PBU, 2 INT) CB Blair Burns (48 tackles, 4 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Brett Smith (20 TD, 11 INT), WR Dominic Rufran (44 rec, 2 TD), WR Robert Herron (43 rec, 3 TD), WR Chris McNeill (42 rec, 4 TD)
Inside Scoop with Robert Gagliardi of Cowboy Chronicles:
CFBZ: Wyoming improved last year by five wins. What were the primary reasons for their improvement?
Robert Gagliardi: Because of the emergence of true freshman quarterback Brett Smith, who started every game, accounted for 31 touchdowns (20 passing, 10 rushing, one receiving) and set a Mountain West freshman record with 3,332 yards of total offense. Smith led the team in rushing (710 yards) and completed 61 percent of his passes. The defense allowed 431.6 yards and nearly 28 points per game, but it forced 31 turnovers and had one of the best turnover margins in the nation.
CFBZ: What are the biggest reasons to be optimistic that Wyoming can maintain that success this season?
Robert Gagliardi: The return and maturation of Smith, along with the team’s top three receivers from last season. There is a new defensive coordinator in Chris Tormey, a long-time friend of coach Dave Christensen’s. The defense continues to be a 4-3 base with multiple looks at times, but there seems to be a new energy and aggressiveness with this unit. The defensive secondary is athletic and deep.
CFBZ: Who are some under-the-rader players to watch this season?
Robert Gagliardi: Offensively, look for sophomore Trey Norman to emerge as a primary target at receiver. He played sparingly as a true freshman last season. Junior Brandon Miller and sophomore Kody Sutton get their shots to be the primary running back in the program. Defensively, watch for sophomore Mark Nzeocha, who is from Germany. Nzeocha played outside linebacker last season, but was moved to safety and seems to be adapting well. At 6-3, 220, he’s a beast at safety who runs and moves well. Junior defensive tackle Patrick Mertens garnered some Freshman All-America honors in 2010, but missed all of last season due to an illness. He is back to full strength.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Robert Gagliardi: If both lines improve and become more consistent, Wyoming could be at or close to eight wins or more again this season. Some play-makers need to emerge offensively, as well as continued improvement across the board defensively. The conference schedule is favorable for the most part, other than road trips to Nevada and Fresno State. I see Wyoming going 8-4 again in the regular season, with a shot at 9-3.
Dave Christensen has gone 7-6, 3-9 and 8-5 in his three years at Wyoming. Now that Christensen has been in place for three full years we should start to see more consistency in the program. Christensen is a former offensive coordinator for Missouri, so Wyoming likes to throw the ball around. Last year, they had a quarterback in Brett Smith who was more suited to do that and it showed on the field. Smith returns this year as a sophomore and he returns a ton of talent at the wide receiver position. I would expect Wyoming’s offense to be similar to what it was last year if not a bit more successful.
On defense, Wyoming had a middle of the pack defense that struggled to stop the run. In their five losses, the Cowboys gave up an average of 6.1 ypc and 296 yards per game (they gave up at least 200 in every game they lost with the least being 200 to Boise State). Boise State returns a ton of talent in the back end of the defense but they need to find some answers up front.
2012 Prediction: 8-4
Previous 2012 Previews: