500 Words on Wyoming

Best guess at a record when the Cowboys face Nebraska:

I guarantee you Wyoming will be 0-0 on Aug. 31. (This portion of the preview will gain value as we move through the Huskers’ schedule.) Beyond Nebraska, the Cowboys have an even shot at being 3-1 heading into Mountain West play. Idaho won’t offer much resistance, nor should Northern Colorado, but the trip to Air Force on Sept. 21 is probably a toss-up.

The one player you simply must know:

Junior quarterback Brett Smith has been the starter for the past two years and ranks right up there in a conference that quietly has some pretty good quarterbacks. As a freshman, Smith led the Pokes in rushing but an injury sidelined him last year, limiting his total carries. That wasn’t a bad thing as Smith improved his passer rating by more than 30 points to 157.57 (11th nationally) and threw just six interceptions against 27 touchdowns. In short, he’s a dual threat quarterback that can hurt you.

How’s the match-up for Nebraska?:

Pretty good. The Huskers have always defended the pass well under Bo Pelini and, even with two new safeties, the Huskers have made better QB/WR combos than what Wyoming offers look pretty pedestrian. The Cowboys ranked 102nd nationally in rushing last year and lost last year’s leading rusher D.J. May for the season in June. Wyoming will also be breaking in three new starters on the offensive line which isn’t a bad way to start the season for Nebraska’s equally green defensive front four.

Flip it around and things are even better for the Huskers. In four years under Dave Christensen, Wyoming has never finished with a total defense ranked higher than 80th in the country. The rush defense numbers are even worse, which means Nebraska can likely keep things pretty vanilla if it wants to and still expect a good deal of success.

Final verdict:

There’s a chance Wyoming keeps this close for a while early on. In 2011 in Laramie, the Cowboys trailed by only a touchdown (14-7) at halftime before Nebraska scored 17 straight points to open the second half and put the game out of reach. Nebraska rushed for a then season-high 333 yards.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a similar total this year. That Wyoming team finished 8-5 and went to the school’s fifth bowl game (New Mexico Bowl) of the past 22 years. There’s little evidence to suggest that Cowboys are better off two years later though they are experienced (14 starters returning). The defense still struggles and Smith can’t do it all on his own.

There’s a chance Wyoming gets bowl eligible in 2013, but it’ll probably take a minor upset along the way to get there. The Sept. 28 trip to Texas State, a team Wyoming should beat, might be the key to bowl eligibility and the home game against New Mexico two weeks later is a must-win. After that, the Cowboys will likely be either an underdog or a very slight home favorite the rest of the way.


Nebraska 45 Wyoming 14.

(Photo Credit: Wyoming Sports Information)