CHEYENNE – Let’s take a quick look at Wyoming’s
non-conference football schedule.

Who do they have coming back? Where are their strengths,
weaknesses? What are the chances the Cowboys come out with a win?

There are plenty of questions surrounding the Wyoming football program in Craig Bohl’s sixth season. Let’s see if we can at least get an early look at what the Cowboys will face in their first four games of the 2019 campaign.

NEXT UP:
Tulsa Golden Hurricane, American Athletic Conference, 3-9 overall, 2-6 in AAC in 2018

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
No one would mistake Tulsa for having a dominating offense last season.

In fact, most would categorize them as downright bad.

Zach Smith could play a major role in changing that. The junior quarterback, who transferred from Baylor after the 2017 season, will finally make his debut in Oklahoma. That must be music to the ears of coaches and fans alike.

In 2016, Smith completed nearly 60 percent of his passes
while throwing for 1,526 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman at Baylor. The
following season, in just nine games under center, the 6-foot, 3-inch,
228-pound signal caller tossed for 1,471 yards and eight touchdowns for the
Bears.

His breakout game came in 2017 when Smith torched the
Oklahoma Sooners for 463 yards.

However, his completion percentage went down and his interceptions went up. For a pocket passer like Smith, that can’t happen.

Smith will be replacing sophomore Seth Boomer who completed 101-of-198 passes for 1,378 yards last fall. He played in eight games last season, throwing nine touchdowns and four interceptions.

Tulsa’s passing attack was abysmal in 2018, averaging just
177 yards per game. That was the 11th worst passing offense in the 12-team
AAC.

 Quarterback play has been an issue in Tulsa the past few seasons. That issue might have just fixed itself.

RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS (6):
The guy in the stanza above should make Tulsa a much more dangerous offensive team in 2018, but they need a lot more production from the pass catchers if they hope to embarrass the prognosticators that still think the Golden Hurricane is destined for the bottom of the AAC standings come November.

The passing offense was the main issue. Averaging under 200 yards a game won’t get it done.

Head coach and offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery will lean on Keylon Stokes and Keenan Johnson to become reliable targets for Smith. Stokes led Tulsa in catches and yards last season, hauling in 41 passes for 575 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Josh Stewart, Malik Jackson and Sam Crawford Jr. will be waiting in the wings if those two can’t find consistency.

If there was one positive for the Golden Hurricane offense in 2018 it was the rushing attack led by Shamari Brooks. The incoming junior averaged more than four yards per carry last season while rushing for 967 yards and seven touchdowns. Brooks, along with Corey Taylor, scored half of Tulsa’s touchdowns last season.

Tulsa returns the left side of its offensive line and will rely heavily on tackle Chris Ivy and guard Chris Paul to help the other three linemen to grow up – and in a hurry. Tulsa’s early schedule is a rough one. But look no further than the season opener in East Lansing where they will face arguably the best defense – and pass rush – in the nation.

Oklahoma State lingers just two weeks after that, too.

RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS (7):
Let’s start with the positives.

Tulsa boasted the top-ranked pass defense in the conference
last season, allowing just 174.6 yards per game through the air. That was good
enough for eighth best in the nation.

The bad news: only one starter of 2018’s secondary is back this season, strong safety Manny Bunch.

The corners and safeties were solid for the Golden Hurricane last season, but most of their production against the pass and run came from a stingy linebacking corps that is still intact. Everything revolves around starting middle linebacker, Cooper Edmiston.

The senior was selected preseason second-team all-conference after registering a team-leading 113 tackles last season. The 6-foot, 3-inch, 241-pound senior is in the middle of everything. That’s good news for incoming defensive coordinator, Joseph Gillespie, and his 3-3-5 defensive scheme. Edmiston picked off four passes last season and tackled ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage 7.5 times. He also forced three fumbles.

Edmiston will be flanked by Diamon Cannon and freshman All-American, Zaven Collins, making up one of the best linebacking corps in the AAC.

They will have some help in front of them, too.

Defensive end Trevis Gipson, a third-team selection, will join returning nose tackle Tyarise Stevenson and senior Shemarr Robinson on the defensive line.

Nickle back, Bryson Powers, also returns for the Golden
Hurricane in 2018.

HOW 2018 WENT:
In one word: rough.

Tulsa won just three games, all at home, and were blown out
by at Houston (41-26), at Arkansas (23-0) and at Memphis (47-21).

There is some light at the end of the tunnel though.

Most of the Golden Hurricane losses were close. Some, really
close.

In the second game of the season, Tulsa went into Austin and
stood toe to toe with the Longhorns before eventually falling, 28-21. They fell
to Arkansas State, 29-20, Tulane 24-17 and Navy, 37-29.

The most heartbreaking loss of all came at home against the
University of Southern Florida.

The Bulls went to a bowl game last year. They also escaped
Tulsa with a 25-24 win.

Defensive coordinator Bill Young called it a career at the end of the season, and the head coach’s chair is starting to burn.

HISTORY WITH TULSA:
Dana Dimel still recalls seeing the bowl shirts and hats in the locker room prior to the 1998 game. He talked with bowl-game representatives. They basically said win this game and pack your bags – you’re going bowling.

Tulsa was 3-7. They had nothing to play for and just a few dozen – or so it seemed – fans filling into what was then known just as Skelly Field.

Surely the 8-2 Cowboys were about to roll over the Golden
Hurricane and move on to its first bowl appearance since 1993, right?

Wrong.

The 35-0 loss to Tulsa still bothers Dimel this many years later. It bothers guys like Jeff Boyle and Brian Brown, too. Brown sat out that day with an injury. He just knew he would get one more chance to play in a bowl game.

It wasn’t meant to be.

In back-to-back weeks, the Cowboys lost the WAC Pacific
Division to Air Force and their bowl hopes under the Dimel regime.

In 1995, Joe Tiller brought his team to Tulsa with a 2-1
record and bowl aspirations. Instead, the Golden Hurricane laid a 35-6 romp on
the visiting Pokes.

These two teams have met five times in their history, dating back to 1954. Wyoming won the first three, two of which were played at War Memorial Stadium.

FINAL ANALYSIS:
Tulsa is putting its eggs in the Zach Smith basket this season. If he can be half as good as he was at Baylor -- and get some serious help from a veteran trio of wide receivers -- those close losses last season could turn into wins in 2019.

The defense will be solid. With all three linebackers and
three defensive linemen returning, that side of the ball should be the strength
of this team again.

However, remember how I mentioned Tulsa’s schedule? Yeah, it’s
pretty brutal.

After opening with the Spartans of Michigan State, Tulsa
will travel across the country to take on the Spartans of San Jose State.
Oklahoma State, and its allegiance of fans, should fill up Chapman Stadium for
the Cowboys from Stillwater. Then, the Cowboys from Laramie come to town.

The locals are excited about a home schedule which features
the likes of OSU, Memphis, Central Florida and Houston, but with that buzz
comes reality – those could all be L’s. That could cost Montgomery his job.

The national publications aren’t high on the Golden
Hurricane. Most have Tulsa picked to bring up the rear in the West Division of
the AAC.

If they can find a way to win on the road and steal a game or two they shouldn’t win at home, this team could be in the bowl picture. If they continue down the path of inconsistent quarterback play and no threat on the outside, a three-win season is more likely.

GAME DAY INFO:
WHO: Wyoming at Tulsa
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019
TIME: TBD
WEATHER: TBD
WHERE: H.A. Chapman Stadium, Tulsa, Oklahoma (capacity: 30,000)
TV: TBD
ROSTERS: Wyoming I Tulsa
TICKETS: gowyo.com
BETTING LINES: TBD