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1. It's been a while since Craig Bohl lost
On Oct. 13, 2012, Craig Bohl's North Dakota State Bison lost at home to Indiana State, 17-14. On Nov. 12, 2011, they lost to Youngstown State, 27-24.
These are the only two losses Craig Bohl has suffered in the last 41 months.
North Dakota State went 43-2 from 2011 to 2013, suffering those two losses and rolling through the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) the rest of the way. The Bison won three consecutive FCS championships. They whipped Minnesota, 37-24, in 2011. They thumped Colorado State, 22-7, in 2012. And as you probably remember, they took down defending Big 12 champion Kansas State, 24-21, to start the 2013 season.
While we're at it, NDSU also beat Kansas in 2010 (6-3), Central Michigan and Minnesota in 2007, and Ball State in 2006. In total, NDSU went 6-3 against FBS teams under Bohl.
Meet the Bag Man
Meet the Bag Man
Wyoming pulled off an absolute coup landing Bohl as its new head coach. He is in no way a young up-and-comer -- then again, he's only 55; it's not like he's 70 or something -- but coaches this proven, this successful, usually don't land in Laramie. A defensive back for Tom Osborne's Nebraska Cornhuskers in the late-1970s, Bohl was an FBS defensive coordinator for nine years before taking over in Fargo in 2003. In his first year, NDSU improved from 2-8 to 8-3. They went 20-2 from 2006 through 2007 while transitioning to the FCS level from Division II. After a brief slump (9-13 in 2008-09), the Bison went 9-5 and reached the FCS quarterfinals in just their third year eligible for the postseason. And then they won three straight titles.
What Bohl built in Fargo was incredible. His Bison ranked 17th in the Sagarin rankings in 2013, ahead of Wisconsin, Arizona State and Louisville. They also ranked 35th in 2012 and 37th in 2011. For each of the last four seasons, they ranked ahead of Wyoming. But with no promotion-and-relegation system at play, he had taken NDSU as far as he could. One can understand why he felt it might be time for a new challenge.
Bohl is definitely inheriting a challenge. Wyoming has been a jump-off point for a lot of successful coaches through the years -- Joe Tiller, Dennis Erickson and Pat Dye, to name three. But the Cowboys have attended only three bowls since Tiller left for Purdue in 1996. They went 27-35 in five seasons under Dave Christensen. Their offense was pretty good over the last couple of years, but the main reason for that, quarterback Brett Smith, has left for the pros. Bohl won't inherit a blank slate, but it might take him some time to put the pieces together.
2. Wyoming needs a defense
Before he was one of the most successful head coaches in football, Bohl was a stout defensive coordinator. In 1989, he took over a Rice defense that had allowed 32.5 points per game the previous season, and in five years, his Owls allowed 28.5, 23.5, 26.1, 23.7, and 26.7. In 1994, he took over a Duke defense that had allowed 31.7 points per game the previous year, and he immediately lopped 8.3 points per game off of that average. Duke improved from 3-8 to 8-4 that season.
In 1995, Bohl returned to his alma mater, Nebraska, to serve as linebackers coach. In 2000, he took over as Frank Solich's defensive coordinator. Granted, his last defense (2002) slumped ("slumped") to 23.9 points per game, but he was successful enough in Lincoln to snare the NDSU head coaching job in 2003.
Here's one thing we know for sure: Wyoming needs help on defense. While Christensen was able to generate some offensive success at the end of his tenure in Laramie -- the Cowboys ranked 62nd and 77th, respectively, in Off. F/+ in 2012-13 -- the defense never came around. After ranking 84th in Def. F/+ in his first season (2009), Christensen's defenses never ranked higher than 98th from 2010 on.
Bohl's first defense will be quite experienced, and he will have a wealth of options for attacking from the edge of the front seven. But there is plenty of reason to question the depth and up-the-middle talent of this roster, and it will be interesting to see how long it takes Bohl and defensive coordinator Steve Stanard (Bohl's linebackers coach at NDSU and a former defensive coordinator at Tulane and Colorado State) to craft a quality unit.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 102|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||at Nebraska||39||34-37||L||48.6 - 34.7||W|
|7-Sep||Idaho||116||42-10||W||28.8 - 25.6||W|
|14-Sep||Northern Colorado||N/A||35-7||W||18.7 - 31.8||L|
|21-Sep||at Air Force||113||28-17||W||34.3 - 33.2||W|
|28-Sep||at Texas State||107||21-42||L||21.9 - 44.2||L||-3.4|
|12-Oct||New Mexico||110||38-31||W||21.5 - 22.6||L||-6.5|
|19-Oct||Colorado State||66||22-52||L||26.3 - 33.3||L||-8.5|
|26-Oct||at San Jose State||74||44-51||L||35.1 - 39.9||L||-6.8|
|9-Nov||Fresno State||49||10-48||L||18.8 - 33.4||L||-10.0|
|16-Nov||at Boise State||45||7-48||L||16.1 - 26.8||L||-7.6|
|23-Nov||Hawaii||82||59-56||W||40.0 - 42.6||L||-7.9|
|30-Nov||at Utah State||32||7-35||L||13.1 - 21.8||L||-8.3|
|Points Per Game||28.9||68||36.2||110|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.9||73||32.5||102|
3. The offense fell apart
For all five of his seasons, Christensen put basically the same team on the field. Granted, both the offense and defense waxed and waned from year to year, but overall the Cowboys ranked 101st, 108th, 104th, 100th and 102nd in the F/+ rankings under Christensen. When the bounces went their way (in 2009 and 2011), they won enough close games to go bowling. When the breaks didn't happen, neither did the wins.
The 2013 season started in rather promising fashion. Wyoming nearly beat Nebraska and started the season 4-2. But despite a lack of significant injuries, the offensive production trailed off by the end of September. After averaging 7.2 or greater yards per play in three of their first four games, the Cowboys did so just twice in the final eight games. After scoring 34 points against Nebraska, they scored 24 against Fresno State, Boise State and Utah State, combined.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Wyoming 32.6, Opponent 31.3 (plus-1.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 8 games): Opponent 33.1, Wyoming 24.1 (minus-9.0)
The defense made quite a few plays but allowed far more. Wyoming allowed at least 6.1 yards per play in seven games and at least 31 points in each of its last eight games (and at least 42 in six of the eight). It was up to the offense to carry the load, and that barely happened after Week 4.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.2%||63||Succ. Rt. +||91.6||86|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||32.1||106||Def. FP+||95.4||103|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.0||6||Redzone S&P+||99.2||66|
|Q1 Rk||79||1st Down Rk||93|
|Q2 Rk||86||2nd Down Rk||86|
|Q3 Rk||99||3rd Down Rk||44|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Colby Kirkegaard (2012)||6'3, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||16||26||123||0||1||61.5%||0||0.0%||4.7|
|Tommy Thornton||6'1, 205||So.||2 stars||3||4||15||0||0||75.0%||1||20.0%||1.2|
|Sam Stratton||5'11, 186||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Aaron Young||6'2, 208||So.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Austin Fort||6'4, 210||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Nick Smith||6'4, 212||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
4. Brett Smith and Craig Bohl? This is going to be great! Oh.
In three seasons as Wyoming's starting quarterback, Brett Smith threw for 8,829 yards with a 62 percent completion rate and 76 touchdowns to 28 interceptions. He rushed for 1,529 yards (including sacks) and 20 touchdowns. He was a dynamic threat, someone capable of escaping pressure and making plays out of the pocket, both with his arms and legs. He never completed under 61 percent of his passes, his runs downfield were beautifully timed, and for a mobile quarterback his 5.1 percent sack rate was relatively low. He would have been the perfect quarterback to usher in the Bohl era, but he declared for the NFL Draft instead.
Smith is a potential late-round pick, so perhaps that ends up being the right decision. Regardless, it leaves Bohl and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen (Bohl's OC at NDSU) with a grab bag at quarterback. Seniors Colby Kirkegaard (Smith's backup in 2012 before redshirting in 2013) and Sam Stratton appear to be the most likely bets to start, but this could be a fluid situation well into the fall.
|Shaun Wick||RB||5'10, 204||Jr.||NR||166||979||9||5.9||5.8||41.0%|
|D.J. May (2012)||RB||5'11, 196||So.||2 stars (5.3)||77||369||1||4.8||3.5||N/A|
|Omar Stover||RB||5'11, 198||So.||2 stars (5.4)||10||37||0||3.7||2.0||30.0%|
|Tommy Thornton||QB||6'1, 205||So.||2 stars||5||17||0||3.4||2.5||40.0%|
|Oscar Nevermann||RB||6'1, 210||So.||NR|
|Joshua Tapscott||RB||5'9, 200||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Nico Evans||RB||5'9, 177||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Brian Hill||RB||6'1, 210||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Dominic Rufran||WR||6'0, 188||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||105||75||970||71.4%||23.0%||56.5%||9.2||107||8.1||98.2|
|Tanner Gentry||WR||6'2, 190||So.||2 stars (5.3)||70||39||376||55.7%||15.3%||56.9%||5.4||-133||4.8||38.1|
|Jalen Claiborne||WR||5'9, 175||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||58||33||452||56.9%||12.7%||65.2%||7.8||26||7.9||45.7|
|Shaun Wick||RB||5'10, 204||Jr.||NR||27||21||118||77.8%||5.9%||70.8%||4.4||-114||4.7||11.9|
|Jake Maulhardt||WR||6'6, 215||So.||NR||12||9||76||75.0%||2.6%||66.7%||6.3||-25||5.4||7.7|
|Trey Norman||WR||6'1, 175||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||5||81||41.7%||2.6%||100.0%||6.8||4||5.4||8.2|
|Keenan Montgomery||WR||6'1, 180||Sr.||NR||7||5||102||71.4%||1.5%||100.0%||14.6||44||9.5||10.3|
|Justin Berger||WR||6'2, 209||Sr.||NR||4||2||19||50.0%||0.9%||100.0%||4.8||-9||2.2||1.9|
|J.D. Krill||TE||6'6, 246||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Eric Nzeocha||TE||6'3, 208||So.||NR|
|Jacob Hollister||TE||6'4, 230||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Tyree Mayfield||TE||6'3, 212||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
5. Wick and Rufran are keepers
Wyoming's offense wasn't particularly efficient in 2013, but the big plays were pretty big. Of the three players (not named Brett Smith) most responsible for those big plays -- running back Shaun Wick and receivers Robert Herron and Dominic Rufran -- Wick and Rufran return.
A two-year starting running back, Wick didn't necessarily prove a lot as a freshman beyond "He's better than anyone else we've got," but he broke out in 2013, especially early on (when the offense was actually viable). He rushed for 101 yards against Nebraska and another 197 combined against Idaho and Northern Colorado. He carried 17 times for 116 yards in a tight win over New Mexico and 17 times for 234 yards in a tight loss at San Jose State. Like Wyoming's production as a whole, Wick faded down the stretch, but he's a keeper.
We know the general style of play Bohl wants: a run-heavy, ball-control offense that sets the table for a dominating defense. If he stays healthy, Wick will have more than enough opportunities to cross the 1,000-yard mark that he approached in 2013. It's hard to say who else might get carries this fall -- sophomore D.J. May is next in line, followed by ... ? -- but he should be a strong No. 1, and he will be running behind a line that ranked in the top 50 in most line stats below and returns six players with starting experience (47 total starts).
Meanwhile, Rufran could excel in play-action situations. He combined fantastic efficiency (a 71 percent catch rate) with occasional explosiveness -- he caught eight passes for 117 yards against Air Force, seven for 135 against Colorado State, seven for 121 against Hawaii and four for 92 against Utah State -- last season. The rest of the receiving corps hasn't proven much, but there is decent experience.
|Jake Jones||RG||6'3, 295||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||24|
|Connor Rains||RT||6'7, 318||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||12|
|Chase Roullier||LG||6'4, 293||So.||2 stars (5.3)||4|
|Rafe Kiely||C||6'3, 299||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||4|
|Nathan Leddige||LT||6'5, 289||So.||2 stars||2|
|Austin Traphagan||OT||6'5, 308||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||1|
|Jacob English||LG||6'5, 292||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0|
|Sam Hardy||RG||6'3, 299||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Taylor Knestis||OL||6'5, 278||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Kurtis Stirneman||RT||6'5, 270||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||47.0%||103||Succ. Rt. +||87.5||106|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||26.0||120||Off. FP+||89.7||125|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.6||97||Redzone S&P+||82.9||111|
|Q1 Rk||70||1st Down Rk||101|
|Q2 Rk||89||2nd Down Rk||84|
|Q3 Rk||113||3rd Down Rk||112|
6. Experience? Check
North Dakota State became the Alabama of FCS, not only because of its overall success, but because of its defensive style. Like the Crimson Tide, the Bison didn't attack you so much as suffocate you. They logged 81 tackles for loss and defensed (intercepted or broke up) 72 passes in 2013. Those figures are above average, but considering NDSU played 15 games, they are not spectacular. The Bison still allowed only 256 yards and 11.3 points per game because they played smart and swarmed to the ball effectively.
If experience is key to playing smart, then that's a good sign for Bohl's first defense. Wyoming has all sorts of question marks, especially along the backbone of the defense (tackle, middle linebacker and safety), but the Cowboys do return four of their top six tacklers on the line, seven of nine in the secondary, and basically every linebacker. One figures Bohl will know what to do with a strong set of linebackers.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Eddie Yarbrough||DE||6'3, 257||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||12||65.0||8.1%||12.0||6.5||0||1||2||2|
|Sonny Puletasi||DE||6'3, 251||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||33.0||4.1%||10.0||4.5||0||3||0||0|
|Patrick Mertens||NT||6'5, 295||Sr.||NR||12||22.0||2.7%||5.0||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Uso Olive||NT||6'1, 293||So.||2 stars (5.4)||11||19.0||2.4%||4.0||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Siaosi Hala'api'api||DE||6'2, 248||Jr.||2 stars||10||8.5||1.1%||1.5||0.0||0||1||1||0|
|Troy Boyland||NT||6'2, 302||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Chase Appleby||DT||6'0, 289||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|James Diamanti||DT||6'4, 296||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Dalton Fields||NT||6'3, 265||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Du'Ryan Ebbesen||NT||6'2, 288||RSFr.||NR|
|Daniel Vega||DT||6'4, 260||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Sidney Malauulu||DT||6'3, 280||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jordan Stanton||MLB||6'0, 246||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||101.5||12.7%||10.0||2.0||2||0||0||0|
|Mark Nzeocha||SLB||6'3, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||82.5||10.3%||10.0||1.0||0||2||2||0|
|Lucas Wacha||WLB||6'1, 214||So.||2 stars||12||64.5||8.0%||2.0||1.0||0||1||1||0|
|Devyn Harris||WLB||6'3, 240||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||38.5||4.8%||3.5||1.0||0||1||0||1|
|Malkaam Muhammad||SLB||6'0, 228||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||11||4.0||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Nehemie Kankolongo||SLB||5'11, 212||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||10||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Alex Borgs||LB||6'2, 232||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||2.0||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jeff Lark||LB||6'2, 213||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Lucas Wacha||LB||6'1, 214||So.||2 stars|
|Brandon Lukenbill||MLB||6'2, 224||So.||NR|
|Alex Bush||LB||6'2, 220||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
7. Ends and linebackers? Check
Sometimes the team and individual don't match up logically. The Five Factors box above paints a picture of a team pretty decent at preventing big plays but far too prone to allowing efficient, five- to seven-yard gains. Defenses like these tend to follow the bend-don't-break route, racking up few big plays of their own.
Wyoming, on the other hand, made plenty of big plays, at least near the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys logged 75 tackles for loss in 12 games -- on a per-game basis, a healthy 48th in the country (and more than NDSU) -- mostly from four players: ends Eddie Yarbrough and Sonny Puletasi, and linebackers Jordan Stanton and Mark Nzeocha. All four of those players, three of who line up on the edge in the front seven, return, forming the basis for both a strong pass rush and decent run defense.
But even with an occasionally explosive front seven, Wyoming was terribly inefficient, especially against the pass. If the Cowboys weren't getting to the quarterback, they were allowing an easy completion. For the season, they allowed a ridiculous 68.9 percent completion rate, second-worst in the country. Wyoming basically turned every opposing quarterback into Fresno State's Derek Carr.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Blair Burns||CB||5'10, 186||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||49.5||6.2%||1||0||1||7||0||0|
|Tim Hayes||CB||5'9, 185||So.||2 stars (5.3)||11||33.5||4.2%||2||0||1||6||0||0|
|DeAndre Jones||CB||6'0, 186||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||32.0||4.0%||1||0||1||1||1||0|
|Darrenn White||SS||6'0, 192||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||6||24.0||3.0%||0.5||0||0||1||2||0|
|Xavier Lewis||SS||6'0, 190||So.||2 stars (5.3)||12||13.5||1.7%||1||0||0||3||0||0|
|Jesse Sampson||FS||6'1, 196||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||4||9.5||1.2%||1||0||1||1||0||0|
|Cortland Fort||CB||6'0, 185||So.||2 stars (5.2)||11||7.0||0.9%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Tyran Finley||CB||5'9, 177||Sr.||NR||1||3.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jake Schiffner||SS||5'10, 181||Sr.||NR|
|Tim Kamana||FS||5'11, 190||RSFr.||2 stars|
|Cooper Wise||CB||5'9, 170||RSFr.||NR|
8. Healthy backbone? Check back later
With the departure of the top two safeties, one has to worry about Wyoming's ability to continue preventing big plays. Any improvement in efficiency could be matched by regression in that regard. In addition, the top defensive tackle is gone, which leaves obvious questions about Wyoming's ability to keep blockers off of Stanton, Nzeocha and the other linebackers. Bohl inherited some strong play-makers on defense, but the questions still outweigh the answers for now, especially in pass defense.
|Ethan Wood||6'3, 165||So.||69||42.0||8||4||17||30.4%|
|Ethan Wood||6'3, 165||So.||40||61.3||21||2||52.5%|
|Justin Martin||5'11, 178||Jr.||25||60.2||12||2||48.0%|
|Stuart Williams||5'11, 180||Sr.||47-48||3-5||60.0%||1-2||50.0%|
|Jalen Claiborne||KR||5'9, 175||Sr.||16||18.3||0|
|Trey Norman||KR||6'1, 175||Sr.||6||17.5||0|
|Jalen Claiborne||PR||5'9, 175||Sr.||13||3.9||0|
|Dominic Rufran||PR||6'0, 188||Sr.||3||17.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||122|
|Field Goal Efficiency||83|
|Punt Return Efficiency||125|
|Kick Return Efficiency||112|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||1|
9. Just dreadful in the field position game
In terms of pure yards per play, Wyoming held its own in 2013. The Cowboys averaged 6.2 on offense and allowed 6.0 on defense, giving them a plus-0.2 that margin ranked 63rd in the country, right in the middle of the FBS landscape. However, they also ranked a horrendous 115th in field position margin. Their average possession began at their 26.0 (120th) while opponents began at the 32.1 (106th). Why the difference? Because Wyoming's special teams were a nightmare.
Ethan Wood's kickoffs and punts (and their coverage) weren't awful -- they weren't good, either, but they weren't the biggest liability in the unit. No, that belonged to the return game. Be it blocking or needing to find a return man better than Jalen Claiborne, Bohl has needs to address on special teams.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|27-Sep||at Michigan State||13|
|18-Oct||San Jose State||82|
|25-Oct||at Colorado State||85|
|1-Nov||at Fresno State||46|
|29-Nov||at New Mexico||116|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-19.1% (113)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||102|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-4 / -3.8|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (5, 7)|
10. How long will it take?
Craig Bohl is one of the best defensive coaches in college football. He inherits a squad that was pretty good on offense and quite poor on defense. The optimist looks at that and decides that he'll turn around the defense pretty quickly, maintain a decent offense, and win some games. The pessimist decides that it will take him a little while with the defense, and the offense probably won't maintain last year's pace.
I'd say the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but that's a blind hedge. We don't really know how this will work out in 2014, but even with improvement, the Cowboys probably won't win a ton of games in 2014, not with three projected top-50 opponents and only four opponents projected worse than 100th. Set the bar at six to seven wins and expect five, I guess.
Long-term, one has to figure that Bohl will get the defense straightened out within a couple of years, but how well he will do with Wyoming's recruiting limitations remains to be seen.
It's hard not to be optimistic, though. NDSU is perhaps closer to decent recruits than Wyoming, but not THAT much closer. If Bohl can simply approximate his NDSU talent and execution levels in Laramie, without improving on them at all, he'll quickly have Wyoming winning eight to 10 games a year. No coach is a sure thing, but Bohl is as close as it gets for a program like this.