5 questions heading into Mountain West Media Days
LAS VEGAS, Nev., -- Craig Thompson will certainly be asked about the direction of the current college football landscape and where his league fits in.
Will the Mountain West Commissioner push for expansion? Does the conference stay put with its 12 football members? Are any teams seeking an exit strategy? Are any other leagues interested in that?
It's all one big unknown.
The same can be said for this version of the Wyoming football team.
Last fall, Craig Bohl returned 95% of his roster. His Cowboys were picked second in the preseason polls in the Mountain Division. That won't be the case this July. Fourteen players entered the NCAA Transfer Portal after UW claimed a 52-38 victory over Kent State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Keyon Blankenbaker, a junior nickelback, didn't even wait for the Pokes' postseason tilt in Boise. He now plays at Texas Tech.
UW lost Levi Williams and Sean Chambers, the only two quarterbacks to step under center in 2021. Xazavian Valladay, the program's second all-time leading rusher, is now at Arizona State and leading receiver Isaiah Neyor is currently hauling in passes in Austin, Texas.
A trio of defensive ends -- Jaylen Pate, Victor Jones and Solomon Byrd -- all have a new address. So do safeties Rome Weber and Cam Murray and both starting cornerbacks, CJ Coldon and Azizi Hearn.
Some of these names above are graduate transfers. Others, just looking for a fresh start. Either way, UW is now the new owner of the third least-experienced roster in the FBS (34%) just ahead of fellow Mountain West foes Nevada (29%) and Hawaii (27%).
Here are just a few of many questions for Bohl at the annual media days events, which will kickoff Wednesday morning at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas:
Will this team be competitive?
Let's start with a question I get on a daily basis: What will the Cowboys look like this year?
Great question. The short answer: I don't know.
Here's one from Bohl this spring, though.
"(I've noticed) a competitive edge -- they really want to be good," he said. "The other thing I've learned is that you have guys that are being unselfish, are playing different places and they're not complaining about it. They're just doing whatever they need to do for the football team.
"It's been my experience that when you can have that type of attitude, you can go a long way with that."
Let's not forget, along with the plethora of transfers, the roster will be without its best player, middle linebacker Chad Muma. He now cashes NFL checks. UW also lost starting center and former Freshman All-American, Keegan Cryder. Logan Harris, Esaias Gandy, Ayden Eberhardt and Garrett Crall have all exhausted their eligibility, too.
Youth and inexperience will be a theme this fall. But, we've seen this movie before.
Think back to the summer of 2019. Every running back on the roster, aside from that Valladay guy, was gone. Both starting safeties, Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps, were off to the NFL. An unknown offensive front was a major concern. Especially with a date with Mizzou right out the gate.
We all saw a small sample size of what Chambers could do with his legs in three-plus games in 2018, but could he really be the answer at the most important position?
All the Cowboys did was win eight games that season, including a commanding victory over Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl. And aside from a 14-point loss in the season finale at Air Force, UW lost its other four games that fall by a combined 12 points.
Does that mean that will happen again in 2022? Of course not. But there's reason for hope.
"I have noticed a feeling that we have come together as a football team," Bohl said during the spring. "Guys want to be here, they want to support one another. So, you know, setting long term goals and all that, I think this group is just striving to get better each day and that's all we can ask for right now."
Who's the QB?
Bohl has not officially named his starter yet, but all indications are that man is Andrew Peasley.
The Utah State transfer is the only signal caller on the current roster with any experience at this level. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior from La Grande, Ore., appeared in 18 games from the Aggies from 2018-22. Last fall, Peasley won the starting job out of camp and played in parts of nine games, sharing time with Logan Bonner. He completed nearly 55% of his passes while throwing for 415 yards and three touchdowns.
Peasley, who has three seasons of eligibility remaining, is a true dual-threat quarterback. He also carried the ball 25 times for 161 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown scamper in a win over North Dakota.
If not Peasley, who?
Does Bohl want Jayden Clemons, Evan Svoboda of Hank Gibbs making their FBS debut on the road against a Big Ten team? Doubtful. Caden Becker, a true freshman from Omaha, has only been in town since June.
Regardless of who is under center Aug. 27 in Champaign, Ill., what we do know is the Cowboys need much more efficiency from that position. Over the past two seasons -- 18 games -- UW quarterbacks have thrown for just 3,035 yards and 16 touchdowns. More troubling, those guys have completed just 50.4% of their throws.
Just for the sake of an example, Fresno State's Jake Haener, who is likely to be named the league's preseason Offensive Player of the Year, has completed nearly 66% of his passes for 6,117 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Different offensive schemes? Absolutely. But, you get the drift.
UW quarterbacks have to be better.
"We will always try to be a run-first football team," Bohl said. "I think that's important at Wyoming. But to be able to throw the ball efficiently is going to be something that I know it's going to be important for us to improve this next year. I mean, it's not like you're going to see the Cowboys putting the ball up, you know, 55 times a game, but we need to be more efficient. And we need to do it more."
What does the offensive scheme look like?
Speaking of the playbook.
Last fall, during his first season in the booth, Tim Polasek's offense finished eighth overall after averaging nearly 374 yards per game, 275 of which came on the ground. Wyoming scored just over 25 points per game.
A couple of outings, like they are known to do, skewed those numbers.
Yes, the Cowboys put up 44 points or more four times, including a surprising 44-17 road rout of Utah State, the eventual Mountain West champions. However, no one will soon forget what happened when Wyoming entered league play.
In four consecutive losses -- at Air Force, Fresno State, New Mexico and at San Jose State -- UW averaged just 9.5 points per outing. The Bulldogs shut the Pokes out in Laramie. The following week, the lowly New Mexico Lobos held the home team to just a single field goal.
It was ugly.
UW will never be a pass-first team with Bohl strolling the sidelines. That's no secret. But when will the perfect balance be struck on that side of the ball?
Let's go back to that unexpected victory over the Aggies.
UW ran 64 offensive plays that night in Logan, 49 of those handoffs. Balance? Hardly. Efficiency? Finally.
Williams attempted just 15 throws, but he connected on 12 of those for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Titus Swen boat-raced Utah State to the tune of 169 yards on just 15 carries. I'm sure you haven't forgotten his 98-yard house call, either. Valladay tacked on 145 rushing yards of his own in the win.
Is that what a Wyoming offense is supposed to look like?
"We painted a picture of how we were going to attack them and that's what we did," Bohl said. "We were effective in that game. We threw the ball, we made plays, we ran the ball and we were physical. When we can do that, we've got a really productive offense."
Who is the outside threat?
Let's just cut to the chase here -- Wyoming's returning wide receivers caught a combined 32 passes for 338 yards and one touchdown in 2021. Joshua Cobbs was responsible for 25 of those grabs, 245 of those yards and the lone score.
Only two additional wide outs -- not named Neyor -- chipped in last season. Wyatt Wieland hauled in four balls for 60 yards and Alex Brown added three catches for 33 yards.
That Neyor guy pulled down 44 passes for 878 yards and a dozen scores through the air. He added another on the ground. Eberhardt pitched in with 21 grabs for 298 yards.
Bohl said he was impressed with Cobbs during the spring, but added the group as a whole is a "work in progress."
A new QB and a host of youth on the outside could mean an even heavier load of Swen out of the Cowboys' backfield. This could also be a season where we see a youngster or two step up. Who will that be? We'll see.