‘We wanted Tucson’
LARAMIE -- Tom Burman has plenty of Wyoming bowl memories.
He said the Holiday Bowl tilt against Iowa in 1987 was "a classic." The goal-line stand in the 2009 New Mexico Bowl stands out, too. Wyoming's athletic director said some of his favorite players were on that squad.
Burman said the Cowboys simply ran out of time in the Poinsettia Bowl on a rainy night in San Diego against hated rival, BYU. And, "as crazy as it sounds," he said, standing on stage with a bowl full of spuds in a snow storm and watching former quarterback Josh Allen announce his decision to leave early for the NFL after a 37-14 victory over Central Michigan in the 2017 Idaho Potato Bowl was a "surreal moment."
Burman hopes another memorable bowl moment will happen for his Cowboys Dec. 31 when they take on Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl in Tucson. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
"We are thrilled and excited to continue our season," Burman said on a teleconference Sunday night. "It's a great reward for a great season. The fan base is really excited to make the trip. We played in the Copper Bowl in 1993. The Arizona people remembered that."
Burman said multiple bowl invites were possible early on in the process. However, it became clear Tucson would be the Pokes destination over the past three days. Burman joked that his phone has been blowing up with questions and excitement from fans in the southwest, including "snowbirds," who call Arizona home over the winter months.
"We wanted Tucson," Burman said, adding that he expects 3,000 to 5,000 Wyoming fans to make the 1,023-mile trip. The university has to sell $100,000 worth of tickets, Burman said, or it comes out of the school's pocket. He added that is roughly 2,500 tickets sold, but that means fans have to buy from the university, not an outside ticket broker or website.
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl praised the Arizona Bowl committee for the presentation of their event, which is entering its fifth season. He called it a great venue and expects plenty of brown and gold in the seats, which makes his "heart warmed."
"We were gearing for this all year long," Bohl said, referring to his team being left out of the bowl picture in 2018 after finishing 6-6. "Our players learned a lesson after last year. Six wins, while it made us eligible, doesn't mean we will be selected. That win over Colorado State was gratifying.
"We are locked in. We appreciate all the bowl ties the conference has. I think (Mountain West) commissioner Craig Thompson does a great job navigating the landscape. We are glad to be selected."
In football news, Bohl said it is "premature" for him to make a commitment at starting quarterback right now, adding that Levi Williams and Tyler Vander Waal will play.
Titus Swen, the true freshman running back who was injured against San Diego State, could play in Arizona, according to Bohl. Swen took part in a non-contact practice Saturday. They are not so optimistic about Trey Smith, who suffered an ankle injury in week four in Tulsa.
Bohl also talked about the need for improvement from his offense, which sputtered in the season finale at Air Force, failing to find the end zone in a 20-6 loss.
This will be a time to learn and improve, Bohl said. Wyoming receives 15 additional practices for being selected to a bowl game.
But it's more than just that.
"We are really excited about this game," Bohl said. "No. 1, for our players, who worked extremely hard all season long and were disappointed after not being selected last season after a strong finish. It's a great reward for our players, but we need elements of our offense, defense and kicking game to improve. We have a laser-like focus to win the game, but we want to celebrate our season with our fan base ... We expect a great contingent of Wyoming people in the state of Arizona and Tucson."
Senior linebacker Logan Wilson said he knows these additional practices are essential for the younger players on this team, but added this can also be a fun time of year.
"It's pretty cool," the three-time captain from Casper said. "Some people might say your playing in a bowl so now you have to practice a lot more. Really it's more of an award of what we did through the season.
"There's always a lot of fun and it's great making memories with your teammates."
Wilson has played in three bowl games during his four-year career in Laramie. He said he has thought about the fact that this will be the last time he ever slips a Wyoming jersey over his head, but said he will wait for all the emotions that come with that. Right now, he said, he's living in the moment.
"In a month, life is going to change," he said. "Nothing will be the same."
When it comes to Cowboys fans making the trip to Tucson, Wilson laughed. He said Wyoming fans travel the most in the MWC, in his opinion. He also joked that in a regular season game at UNLV, the Wyoming fans drank the stadium "out of liquor."
"They are very supportive and loyal to our team," he said.
Burman said this season was really close to becoming an extra special one. A few close losses prevented that.
So, what's his assessment of this squad?
"They have overcome a great deal of adversity," he said. "I'm very proud of the coaches and this team. When you're down to one scholarship running back with experience and the quarterback situation late in year, it's tough. We also lost a tight end.
"I would say this defense was outstanding. They played really well. I'm truly proud of them. Sean (Chambers) got hurt and that slowed us down a bit. I'm glad we beat CSU at home, and we had a lot of close football games. We were really close to having a fantastic year."
A victory over Georgia State on New Year's Eve would go a long way in cementing that in the memory of fans. Just like Burman remembers the Las Vegas Bowl win over UCLA, the Holiday Bowl that saw Barry Sanders do Barry Sanders things and the Copper Bowl showdowns with California and Kansas State, this is simply a chance to make add another game to the list.