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1. This is going to take some time
What Craig Bohl built in Fargo was incredible. His Bison ranked 17th in the Sagarin rankings in 2013, ahead of Wisconsin, Arizona State and Louisville. They ranked 35th in 2012 and 37th in 2011. For each of the last four seasons, they ranked ahead of Wyoming. But he had taken NDSU as far as he could.
Wyoming has been a jumpoff point for a lot of successful coaches -- Joe Tiller, Dennis Erickson and Pat Dye, to name three. But the Cowboys have attended three bowls since Tiller left for Purdue in 1996. Bohl won't inherit a blank slate, but it might take him some time to put the pieces together.
It's hard not to be optimistic, though. NDSU is closer to decent recruits than Wyoming, but not THAT much closer. If Bohl can approximate his NDSU levels, he'll win eight to 10 games a year. No coach is a sure thing, but Bohl is as close as it gets.
We knew heading into 2014 that Bohl wasn't a miracle worker. His tenure at North Dakota State was incredible -- three FCS national titles, five 10-win seasons, a 6-3 record against FBS teams, a 43-2 overall record from 2011-13 -- but we knew he wasn't going to find the pieces he needed to find right out of the gates at Wyoming.
Still, it was difficult not to be curious. What if he immediately brings defensive competence? Is a first-year bowl a possibility? As with Buffalo hiring UW-Whitewater god Lance Leipold, it was hard to picture a Bohl team actually losing. I predicted a 5-7 finish, but given that as an over-under, I'd have been tempted to take the over.
Early, the over looked like the smart bet. Wyoming survived FCS heavyweight Montana, won close games against Air Force and FAU and led eventual national title finalist Oregon by seven points after one quarter in Eugene. A loss to another top team, Michigan State, made the Cowboys 3-2, but there was reason to believe that this team could do enough damage in the MWC to finish bowl eligible.
After allowing under 4.5 yards per play against Montana, Air Force, and FAU, Wyoming allowed 6.8 or greater in six of their final eight games. When you don't have the horses, you can only hide it for so long. Wyoming managed to put together a nearly perfect performance against a bad Fresno State team in early November but otherwise lost seven of eight to finish 4-8.
From 2010-13, Bohl's Bison lost seven games. In 2014, Bohl's Cowboys lost eight. Bohl knew what he was getting himself into, but a year into his new life, he finds himself attempting to avoid shortcuts. He's recruiting 175-pound receivers, 265-pound offensive linemen, 185-pound defensive ends, and 195-pound linebackers. He's attempting to sculpt molds of clay. A schedule full of brutal road games will keep the over/under low again this year.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 113|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|28-Sep||at Michigan State||11||14-56||L||9%||-30.9||0%|
|19-Oct||San Jose State||116||20-27||L||22%||-18.0||15%|
|26-Oct||at Colorado State||49||31-45||L||10%||-30.1||0%|
|2-Nov||at Fresno State||102||45-17||W||89%||28.3||100%|
|30-Nov||at New Mexico||94||30-36||L||13%||-26.3||3%|
|Points Per Game||21.1||110||32.8||102|
2. Depth kills
Wyoming wasn't playing amazing ball even during the 3-1 start. The defense was living up to the Bohl billing, allowing 4.3 yards per play and 14.7 points per game in the three wins. But the offense wasn't lighting the world on fire, failing to break 21 points in September, and the defense didn't have much to offer against athletic offenses like Oregon's and Michigan State's.
But as the offense figured out how to create bigger plays, the defense fell apart.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 36% (record: 3-1)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 8 games): 26% (record: 1-7)
Going by percentiles, three of Wyoming's five best performances came in the first four weeks of the season. Then things got dicey. One of the Cowboys' two exciting running backs got hurt, the offensive line underwent constant shuffling, and the linebacking corps and secondary got walloped by injury. It was too much to handle for a team that didn't have any depth.
Worst of all, this was an experienced team. Wyoming will have to replace quite a few of last year's two-deep. Losing iffy players doesn't hurt, but losing iffy players that were better than others on the roster does.
That means that in Year 2, Bohl's still shuffling -- he moved three offensive players to defense before spring ball. While that's common in your first year, it's less common after that. And while recruiting mostly five-year players makes sense, it doesn't result in quick fixes.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||36.1%||115||Succ. Rt. +||92.8||97|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||31.9||104||Def. FP+||97.0||101|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.9||108||Redzone S&P+||85.3||111|
|Q1 Rk||110||1st Down Rk||104|
|Q2 Rk||96||2nd Down Rk||95|
|Q3 Rk||113||3rd Down Rk||120|
3. The value of efficiency
There were 126 FBS running backs with at least 125 carries last season. Only six averaged at least 9 highlight yards per opportunity (second-level yards, basically), and two of them (Shaun Wick and Brian Hill) played for Wyoming. Only 32 had an opportunity rate (percentage of carries that go at least five yards) under 33 percent, and Wick and Hill were part of that group.
Wyoming might have had the most all-or-nothing run game in college football. The explosiveness numbers were spectacular, but if you're gaining zero yards four times for every nice gain, you're punting a lot.
For efficiency, Wyoming had to throw. Quarterback Colby Kirkegaard proved decent; he took too many sacks but was able to distribute to four different receivers with regularity. But now he's gone, as are the top two receivers. Wyoming's success, however you might define that, will come down to the running game's ability to more consistently gain four yards.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Tom Thornton||6'1, 205||Jr.||2 stars||NR||4||10||50||0||1||40.0%||1||9.1%||3.9|
|Aaron Young||6'2, 201||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7785|
|Austin Fort||6'4, 218||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7738|
|Nick Smith||6'4, 215||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8138|
|6'2, 186||Sr.||3 stars||NR|
|Josh Allen||6'5, 210||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8000|
|Brian Hill||RB||6'1, 204||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7593||145||796||7||5.5||10.8||24.1%||2||1|
|Shaun Wick||RB||5'10, 212||Sr.||NR||0.7500||127||753||6||5.9||9.1||32.3%||1||0|
|Joshua Tapscott||RB||5'9, 205||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8020||15||80||2||5.3||20.8||13.3%||0||0|
|Nico Evans||RB||5'9, 186||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7593|
|Kellen Overstreet||RB||5'11, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8214|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Tanner Gentry||WR-X||6'2, 198||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7623||55||32||435||58.2%||15.4%||56.4%||7.9||40||7.9||53.8|
|Jake Maulhardt||WR-Z||6'6, 215||Jr.||NR||NR||39||21||274||53.8%||10.9%||48.7%||7.0||11||7.3||33.9|
|Jacob Hollister||TE||6'4, 230||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759||28||17||244||60.7%||7.8%||42.9%||8.7||36||9.3||30.1|
|Brian Hill||RB||6'1, 204||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7593||17||13||204||76.5%||4.8%||35.3%||12.0||52||11.1||25.2|
|Shaun Wick||RB||5'10, 212||Sr.||NR||0.7500||16||10||62||62.5%||4.5%||50.0%||3.9||-60||3.8||7.7|
|Jordan Ellis||FB||6'2, 230||Jr.||NR||NR||2||2||28||100.0%||0.6%||100.0%||14.0||5||N/A||3.5|
|Tom Thornton||WR||6'1, 205||Jr.||2 stars||NR|
|Justice Murphy||WR||6'0, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8423|
|C.J. Johnson||WR||6'2, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8199|
|Dameko Doddles||WR||6'2, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8050|
|Joseph Parker||WR||5'10, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793|
4. Youth taking over, part 1
Wyoming will not lack for running backs. Hill and Wick were incredibly dangerous. Plus, Hill was only a freshman, so some of his horrific efficiency numbers should improve. Joshua Tapscott saw action as a freshman, too, and incoming freshman Kellen Overstreet was a three-star recruit per the 247Sports Composite and was named a Parade All-American.
But offensive coordinator Brent Vigen's stab at a West Coast offense requires balance. That requires passing, and both Kirkegaard and top targets Jalen Claiborne and Dominic Rufran are gone.
All three were basically of a replacement level -- you could do better, and you could do worse. And there are certainly interesting replacement candidates. Backup quarterback Tom Thornton has moved to receiver, but any of up to five quarterbacks could end up contributing, from former JUCO transfers Aaron Young and Josh Allen, to redshirt freshmen Austin Fort and Nick Smith, to Indiana transfer Cameron Coffman (2,734 yards with a 61 percent completion rate and 11 picks in 2012). It appears Coffman is the betting favorite, and that makes sense from an experience standpoint.
Replacing Claiborne and Rufran is tricky but doable. Juniors Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt had nearly identical per-target averages, and tight end Jacob Hollister hinted at explosiveness (which is good if you're going to be a starting tight end at 230 pounds).
Beyond the first string, though, it's all newcomers. Tom Thornton will be in the rotation, and any of four exciting freshman receivers will see the field if they're ready. Justice Murphy, C.J. Johnson and Dameko Doddles were three of the Cowboys' most highly touted signees, and unlike a lot of the incoming freshmen, they seem closer to being physically ready.
Wyoming will be counting on underclassmen. That probably means great things for 2017, but it will likely mean more inconsistency in 2015, even if Coffman wins the job and plays well.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Rafe Kiely||C||6'3, 306||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000||17|
|Chase Roullier||LG||6'4, 293||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7883||16|
|Ryan Cummings||LT||6'5, 294||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7483||7|
|Charlie Renfree||LG||6'3, 268||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7774||0|
|Jacob English||C||6'5, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7519||0|
|Taylor Knestis||RT||6'5, 288||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7813||0|
|Cole Turner||OL||6'4, 285||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7744|
|Richard Bettencourt||OG||6'3, 284||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7685|
|Kaden Jackson||OL||6'2, 265||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793|
5. Youth taking over, part 2
For five straight weeks, from the Florida Atlantic game to Colorado State, Wyoming started a different combination at offensive line. That hindered the growth of an offense that was already challenged, but considering the shuffling, the run blocking numbers weren't bad. While not many Wyoming rushes reached the second level, very few ended in the backfield; the Cowboys ranked 47th in Stuff Rate and 60th in Power Success Rate. That's encouraging.
At least, it would be encouraging if five of the eight with starting experience didn't depart. Senior center Rafe Kiely and junior guard Chase Roullier each started for about a season and a half, and tackle Ryan Cummings got dunked in the pool as a freshman. Beyond them, though, Wyoming is looking at quite a few redshirt freshmen and sophomores to fill the rotation. If the Cowboys match last year's stuff rate and power numbers, that will be a victory.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.8%||101||Succ. Rt. +||93.8||94|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||26.3||126||Off. FP+||93.0||128|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.6||85||Redzone S&P+||95.8||79|
|Q1 Rk||110||1st Down Rk||101|
|Q2 Rk||96||2nd Down Rk||105|
|Q3 Rk||114||3rd Down Rk||116|
6. That was the right adjective, Coach
'I thought we were woeful, if that’s the right adjective … we just couldn’t run well enough on defense,' Bohl said. 'We need more speed and athleticism on defense.'
Even when your coach is a phenomenal defensive mind, you need the talent. It showed everywhere.
Wyoming tried to attack the run, produced decent efficiency numbers, and killed in short-yardage situations, but if you got past the line, you were running a long way. The Cowboys tried to corral opponents' passing games and did a decent job of preventing big plays but allowed all the 10-yard completions you wanted to attempt. Woeful field position did the Cowboys no favors, either.
Iffy depth turned into nightmarish depth when injuries set in. While five of the top six linemen played in all 12 games, two key linebackers missed a combined seven games, and only two defensive backs played in all 12. Bohl couldn't play defense the way he wanted to, and considering the turnover in the back seven, he might not be able to in 2015 either.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Eddie Yarbrough||DE||6'3, 251||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.7500||12||47.0||7.3%||10.5||4.0||0||1||1||0|
|Uso Olive||NT||6'1, 301||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7200||12||17.0||2.6%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Siaosi Hala'api'api||DE||6'2, 255||Sr.||2 stars||0.7000||12||16.5||2.6%||5.5||3.0||0||0||0||0|
|Chase Appleby||NT||6'0, 260||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7500||12||9.5||1.5%||1.0||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Seth Edeen||DE||6'3, 203||So.||NR||NR||4||5.0||0.8%||2.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Troy Boyland||DT||6'2, 297||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8400||8||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Dalton Fields||DT||6'3, 272||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7719|
|Tavita Faaiu||DE||6'3, 245||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7933|
|Carl Granderson||DE||6'5, 185||Fr.||NR||0.8200|
|Youhanna Ghaifan||DT||6'4, 255||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726|
7. The front is a (relative) strength
The line did not avoid turnover overall, losing leading tackler Patrick Mertens and reserve ends Riley Lange and Sonny Puletasi. But with ends Eddie Yarbrough and Siaosi Hala'api'api returning alongside big tackle Uso Olive, there's something to build around here. Yarbrough and Hala'api'api combined for seven sacks and nine non-sack tackles for loss and will be joined by JUCO transfer Tavita Faaiu.
Olive was key in Wyoming's short-yardage success, and while returning junior Chase Appleby is undersized for his position (and size will likely prevent two exciting freshmen -- end Carl Granderson and tackle Youhanna Ghaifan -- from contributing early), Olive and Troy Boyland could make sure Wyoming has some girth when it needs to.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Lucas Wacha||SAM||6'1, 214||Jr.||2 stars||0.7000||12||41.5||6.5%||4.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Will Tutein||LB||6'2, 210||Jr.||NR||NR||12||27.0||4.2%||2.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Malkaam Muhammad||LB||6'0, 228||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7783||6||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Trent Sewell||LB||6'2, 196||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8534|
|Eric Nzeocha||LB||6'3, 211||Jr.||NR||0.7100|
|Jaylon Watson||LB||6'0, 215||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726|
|Christian Irving||LB||5'11, 195||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7856|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tim Kamana||FS||5'11, 196||So.||2 stars||NR||12||35.5||5.5%||0||0||1||2||0||0|
|Robert Priester||CB||5'9, 168||So.||NR||0.7000||11||34.0||5.3%||0||0||0||2||2||0|
|Tyran Finley||CB||5'9, 177||Sr.||NR||NR||11||15.5||2.4%||2||0||2||1||0||0|
|Xavier Lewis||SS||6'0, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7719||11||7.0||1.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryon'e Winters||CB||6'0, 180||So.||NR||0.7333||9||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|D.J. May||S||5'11, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8100|
|Antonio Hull||CB||5'10, 185||Fr.||NR||0.7933|
|Kevin Jackson||S||6'3, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793|
|Andrew Wingard||S||6'0, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759|
8. Youth taking over, Part 3
Devyn Harris was a nice run defender, and before injury, Mark Nzeocha was a solid all-around linebacker. Cornerback Blair Burns was a solid tackler and help defender, and safeties Darrenn White and Jesse Sampson each hinted at play-making ability when they were able to stay on the field. They're all gone. Wyoming must replace five of its top six linebackers and six of its top nine defensive backs; that a lot of guys got playing time last year is good, but this is still a scary amount of turnover, which is why Bohl has done some shuffling.
Former running back D.J. May is now a safety, former receiver Trent Sewell and tight end Eric Nzeocha are now linebackers, and Will Tutein has moved from safety to LB. The level of athleticism won't be worse, but experience is lacking.
There are some exciting pieces here. Linebacker Lucas Wacha was certainly solid as a run-stuffer, sophomores Tim Kamana and Robert Priester saw quite a bit of time in the secondary, and in limited opportunities cornerback Tyran Finley managed to make two tackles for loss and deflect three passes. The first string should be athletic and interesting, but injuries could cause a larger level of regression than we saw last season.
|Ethan Wood||6'3, 173||Jr.||66||41.4||5||18||18||54.5%|
|D.J. May||KR||5'11, 205||Jr.||10||24.2||0|
|Special Teams F/+||125|
|Field Goal Efficiency||67|
|Punt Return Efficiency||115|
|Kick Return Efficiency||114|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||61|
9. No depth = no coverage
Wyoming's special teams unit was abysmal last year. Punter Ethan Wood had a decent length-and-hangtime combination, and place-kicker Stuart Williams was automatic under 40 yards, but a lack of athleticism on the roster bled into special teams. Return man Jalen Claiborne was replaceable, but the biggest issue was a lack of depth at the speed positions. If you don't have big-play guys at receiver, and if you're struggling with massive depth issues at linebacker and defensive back, your coverage units are probably going to be terrible. Wyoming's were terrible. I assume they improve this year, but now the Cowboys have to replace Williams. A special teams ranking in the triple digits is likely.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||2014 F/+ Rk|
|19-Sep||at Washington State||77|
|3-Oct||at Appalachian State||104|
|10-Oct||at Air Force||48|
|24-Oct||at Boise State||21|
|31-Oct||at Utah State||52|
|14-Nov||at San Diego State||76|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-28.7% (111)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||116 / 112|
|2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / -0.5|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-0.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (6, 6)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||2.8 (1.2)|
10. Beware October
I still assume Craig Bohl gets this team where he wants it to be. That the Cowboys managed to win four games with few play-makers and no defensive depth was certainly a positive sign, and Wyoming should be loaded at running back (and, per the recruiting rankings, receiver) for years to come. With so many quarterbacks with potential, one should emerge to lead a decent offense overall. But that defense still needs bodies, and while the overall defensive speed should be as good or better than it was last year, experience and depth are still going to hold the Cowboys back quite a bit.
The 2015 schedule will do them few favors. The home slate -- North Dakota, Eastern Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado State, UNLV -- should assure that the Cowboys get back to four wins or so, but the road slate will likely prevent any serious run at bowl eligibility. Wyoming's first string should be pretty decent overall, and if the injury bug is kind, then the Cowboys could improve from 113th in the F/+ rankings to something closer to the 90s. But if or when injuries begin to occur, this team will go downhill quickly. Get your wins in early.
There is an interesting base of talent here, but it will be a lot more interesting a couple of years from now.