OPINION: Let’s Breakdown Wyoming’s ’23 Football Schedule, Shall We?
LARAMIE -- Craig Bohl's 10th season roaming the sidelines at Wyoming will feature five games inside War Memorial Stadium over the first six weeks of the season.
Warm weather (potentially) football on the high plains? Sounds good to me -- and the school's ticket sales.
The Mountain West ditched divisions and has moved to a "2-6" scheduling model. Teams will play two guaranteed opponents through 2025 -- for the Pokes that means Border War rival Colorado State and fellow Front Range foe Air Force -- and during that same three-year cycle every team will face nine of the remaining 11 teams at least two times.
Why the change? One word: Opportunity.
The two squads with the highest winning percentages will hook up on Dec. 2 in the conference's title tilt. That game will be played on the top team's home field. Movers and shakers feel this will give the league its best chance to crash the College Football Playoff party at season's end. No-brainer.
For now, all of Wyoming's 12 games are slated for Saturday. That can -- and likely will -- change. Television, you know?
Let's take a look at the full schedule. I'll give you some random thoughts about each.
Sept. 2: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Power-5 programs making the trip to 7220, as you know, is a rarity. The last time that happened came during the 2019 season opener. You might recall that one. Wyoming stunned Kelly Bryant and Missouri, 37-31. That was Bohl's first and only win over a "big boy" during his tenure at UW. The Pokes and Red Raiders have met five times before. UW holds the 3-2 edge, including a victory in the 1956 Sun Bowl. Yes, Tech still features a high-powered offense. Last season, Joey McGuire's squad ranked No. 22 in the nation in that category, averaging better than 461 yards per game. More than 300 of those come through the air. This is a major opportunity to make a major statement.
Sept. 9: Portland State Vikings
The seemingly annual FCS game this season features Tom Burman's old squad. Wyoming's Athletics Director spent seven seasons in the Pacific Northwest before returning to Laramie to take a job with the UW Foundation. Portland State won just four games last fall. In its two meetings with FBS opponents, the Vikings narrowly fell at San Jose State 21-17 before taking one on the chin the following week at Washington, 52-6. The Big Sky featured six nationally ranked teams last season. Tough sledding for PSU. Look, the Cowboys should roll in this one, but history tells us that isn't likely. Sure would be nice to have an easy one, huh?
Sept. 16: at Texas Longhorns
This game will feature some interesting storylines. Of course, former UW head coach Fred Akers (1975-76) bolted for Texas, recruited some guy named Earl Campbell and won a couple of Southwest Conference titles. The current head coach in Austin, Steve Sarkisian, ripped the collective heart out of the Cowboy State in 1996, leading BYU to a 28-25 overtime victory in the WAC Championship game. Still not over that one? Me neither. Wyoming's current defensive tackles coach Oscar Giles won a national title at his alma mater in 2005 while coaching under Mac Brown. Remember the "Vince Young" game inside the Rose Bowl? Former Wyoming wide receiver Isaiah Neyor now wears burnt orange. Let's hope for the Cowboys' sake he doesn't play like he did at UW. I will always have a ton of respect for Texas for two reasons: One, the 'Horns actually played in Laramie in 2009. That just doesn't happen. Secondly, after Cowboys' linebacker Ruben Narcisse died in a car accident on HWY 287 in 2010, UT honored him on the jumbotron and its band played "Cowboy Joe." First class. This will be a tough one, no doubt. It will be muggy and Texas has a lot to prove this year, like always. Here's a question: Will Wyoming see Arch Manning under center or will it be Quinn Ewers? Maybe both depending on how things go.
Sept. 24: Appalachian State
The kings of the upset are coming to Laramie to close out the none-conference slate. Despite going 6-6 last season, Appalachian State did what it does, knocking off No. 6 Texas A&M at Kyle Field in Week 2. That was so impressive College GameDay showed up in Boone, N.C., the following week. The Mountaineers took down eventual Sun Belt champion Troy that Saturday, too. Michigan fans, look away. This game could be pivotal just like the meeting in Laramie with Tulsa a season ago. If the Cowboys would've lost that one, who knows where the season goes from there. They didn't.
Sept. 30: New Mexico Lobos
Rocky Long is long gone. That's good news for the Cowpokes. New Mexico's defensive coordinator, who is now at Syracuse, always gave Wyoming fits no matter how bad the Lobos were. Refer to 2020 and 2021. The Cowboys did pull off a 27-14 victory in Albuquerque last fall, but like always, it wasn't as easy as it maybe should have been. Danny Gonzales' squad pushed the Pokes around on its first two drives of the evening, scoring 14 straight. It looked to be one of those nights. Luckily for Wyoming, it wasn't.
Oct. 7: Fresno State Bulldogs
So long, Jake Haener. Goodbye, Jordan Mims. Later, Jalen Moreno-Cropper and Nikko Remigio. David Perales -- and his 11.5 sacks -- is heading to the NFL, too. Good luck, boys. You won't be missed. The defending Mountain West champions are losing a ton of firepower. You hate to see it. I probably don't need to remind you Fresno State hasn't allowed a single point against the Cowboys in the last two meetings, including a 24-0 no-show in the 2022 season finale. If there's one bright spot in those outings, it was the play of the Cowboys' defense. Haener made light work of the league during his two seasons under center in the valley. Not against Jay Sawvel's unit. In 2021, the Washington transfer didn't even hit the 100-yard mark through the air. That was a special effort. Silver linings, you know?
Oct 14: at Air Force Falcons
If you think about it, Wyoming kind of opens the season with 6-of-7 games at home -- if you count this one. Cowboys fans are known to travel to Colorado Springs in droves, and if this campaign gets off to a good start, that could very well happen here. Air Force is, well, Air Force. The names on the back of the jersey change, the scheme doesn't. Of course, that's not entirely accurate. The Falcons have variations of everything, but to the naked eye, it looks awfully repetitive. Sawvel's defense, once again, did a masterful job in last year's meeting, holding the Fly Boys to just 171 yards on the ground on 40 attempts. That's an average of just 4.3 yards per rush. That same Air Force squad led the nation on the ground (327 yards) and featured the leading rusher in the FBS, Brad Roberts (1,728). Against UW, Roberts finished with 54 yards on 16 carries. That was by far his worst outing of the season. Wyoming gets up for this one. Like always, it's a toss up. Air Force holds a slight 30-27 edge in the all-time series.
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Oct. 21: BYE WEEK
"Is this an ideal time for the bye week," Bohl will surely be asked, like always. I say, yes. Sure, it's always nice to have an extra week to prepare for the Falcons' triple-option attack, but as we found out last season, that game plan gets underway during spring ball. Smart. I like this off-week. The team will get a much-deserved blow after a seven-game grind and it's near the middle of the season. Good time to hit "pause." Also, look what's ahead.
Oct. 28: at Boise State Broncos
It's time to start winning this game, plain and simple. A lot of Mountain West foes say the same. CSU, for instance, has never beaten the Broncos. Wyoming, just once in 17 tries. Unlike the Rams, though, the Pokes have played Boise State down to the wire. None of the last four losses have come by more than 10 points, including last year's 20-17 heartbreaking setback in Laramie with first place in the division on the line. Too soon? The Broncos have a bonified star in quarterback Taylen Green. He is going to be a problem. The Cowboys didn't let Green go wild last November, but he was effective in eluding pressure and picking up those hair-pulling third-down conversions. Wyoming was credited with nine QB pressures. It finished with zero sacks. That has to change.
Nov. 4: Colorado State Rams
Border War meeting No. 115 is on the docket this fall. One gap is closing, another expanding. And that's great news for the boys in brown and gold. CSU's advantage in the all-time series is down to single digits, 59-50-5. Wyoming's lead since the Bronze Boot arrived in 1968 now sits at 30-25. Jay Norvell is beginning Year 2 in Fort Collins and is bringing in a whole host of youngsters, including a recruiting class that featured 31 new signees. CSU's plan is to air it out. Freshman Clay Millen did just that in 2022, throwing for 1,910 yards and 10 touchdowns. Tory Horton, the Rams' top outside threat, is back, too. Expect improvement from that team down south.
Nov. 11 at UNLV Rebels
The Marcus Arroyo experiment in Sin City is officially over. Wyoming's former offensive coordinator got just three seasons to turn it around at UNLV, and last fall he seemingly had done enough to hang on to his job, leading the Rebs to a respectable 5-7 record. It wasn't enough. Enter Barry Odom. The Cowboys are familiar with him, too. Remember how we talked about that Mizzou upset earlier? Yeah, he was the Tigers coach then. This is a more than winnable game, but if you've followed this series, you know anything is possible, despite back-to-back blowouts courtesy of the Cowboys. Remember in 2016 when Josh Allen threw for 334 yards, tossed four touchdown passes and led an unbelievable 9-play, 97-yard game-tying drive with just 1:06 to go? Wyoming scored 66 points that day inside Sam Boyd Stadium -- and lost -- in triple overtime. Good news, you finally get to see Allegiant Stadium. No one was in the stands during the Pokes only trip to the Raiders' new digs. You know why.
Nov. 18 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
Hawaii ... in Laramie ... in late November. They are in big trouble. Or are they? Those pesky 'Bows faced the same fate in 2021. On an unseasonably warm afternoon inside War Memorial Stadium, the visitors embarrassed the Cowboys 38-14 in the season finale. That wasn't the only time, either. Back in November of 2013, UW pulled out a 59-56 overtime win over Hawaii in Laramie. All that took was a school and conference record 640 yards of total offense from quarterback Brett Smith. He also finished with a record-breaking seven touchdown passes and rushed for another. Hawaii won't be scared.
Nov. 25 at Nevada Wolf Pack
Year 1 of the Ken Wilson era got off to a fast start with wins over New Mexico State and Texas State. Not exactly world beaters, but if you follow this league, you know the uphill climb Nevada was facing. When Norvell accepted the job in Fort Collins, players followed. Like, in the double-figures. This team also lost starting QB Carson Strong and All-Conference tight end Cole Turner to the NFL. The lack of experience and depth was apparent -- and impactful. The Wolf Pack lost 10 straight to close out the season, including a 17-14 pillow fight to Norvell and the Rams. To make matters even worse, that heated contest was in Reno. The UW-Nevada series is still in its infancy with the Pokes holding a slight 5-4 advantage. The last meeting came back in 2020 when these teams opened that very strange 2020 COVID-19 shortened campaign inside Mackay Stadium. The Pack claimed a 37-34 overtime victory that is better remembered for Sean Chambers suffering his third straight season-ending leg injury. Winnable finale on the road for the Cowboys.