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Wyoming football has improved only once in 10 years, but Craig Bohl's taking no shortcuts

The North Dakota State architect has played loads of underclassmen and avoided taking on many transfers. Cowboy fans will have to remain patient.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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1. Improvement has been rare in Laramie

"A lot of the Texas guys come up here and can't cut it off the field. And honestly, it's no surprise if you've never been to a place like this," Stevens says.

He's referring to college football recruits, the sole resource that energy-rich Wyoming will likely forever be scant on. It's the 10th-largest state in the nation by area, but 50th by population, giving it the smallest marketing opportunity of any FBS program.

At tailgates dotted around War Memorial before Saturday's game, the consensus was simple, albeit depressing: you have to win to attract good players, and you have to have good players to win.

One of my favorite pieces by podcast mate Steven Godfrey was about life as a Wyoming football fan. Hard jobs remain hard, and it doesn't get much harder than this.

Wyoming isn't as geographically isolated as Hawaii, but it doesn't have beaches and weather to offer. It boasts far better revenue than a UL-Monroe, but it lacks ULM's proximity to recruits (and budgeting for recruiting travel is tricky). It offers freedom to get creative -- here, Joe Tiller first perfected the pass-first attack that would take Purdue to the Rose Bowl -- but offers few of the natural resources to pull it off.

This job has often served as the ultimate apprenticeship. Bob Devaney went 31-7-2 from 1958-61, then moved on to Nebraska. Fred Akers spent two years (he went 8-4 in 1976) before moving back to Austin. Pat Dye went 6-5 in 1981 before taking the Auburn job. Dennis Erickson went 6-6 in 1986, then moved on to Washington State, then Miami. Tiller did six and went 10-2 in 1996. Et cetera.

If you're not up for it, it doesn't take long to figure out (Vic Koenning, for example: 5-29 from 2000-02). Bless Craig Bohl for taking it on.

Now 57, Bohl could have remained at North Dakota State until retirement. The former Duke and Nebraska defensive coordinator oversaw the Bison's seamless transition from Division II to what is now FCS. They went 15-7 in their first two years in FCS, then 20-2 in their next two. Once eligible, they reached the FCS quarterfinals, then won three straight national titles.

When Bohl left Fargo, he was 43-2 in his previous three years. Since he left, he's won six games. NDSU has won two more titles.

Bohl doesn't mind taking a while to lay a foundation. With the FCS transition complete, his Bison took a brief step backward. They went 9-13 in 2008-09 and finished seventh in the Missouri Valley in 2009. Their leap forward was sudden, but little was certain heading into 2010.

In other words, he's probably not panicking. That's good, because it would be easy to do so. Bohl inherited a team that had gone 5-7 with an S&P+ ranking of 108th in 2013; in two years, he's gone 4-8 (107th) and 2-10 (114th). The offense has regressed each year, and after building one of the nation's best defenses at any level, Bohl has no momentum on that side of the ball.

That's nothing new for a program that has either stayed the same or regressed for nine of the last 10 seasons:

Last year's depth chart was littered with freshmen and sophomores. The result wasn't pretty. But freshmen and sophomores become sophomores and juniors, and if Bohl is going to succeed in Laramie, we'll probably start seeing how in 2016.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 115 | Final S&P+ Rk: 114
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep North Dakota N/A 13-24 L 14% 24% -16.1
12-Sep Eastern Michigan 122 29-48 L 7% 1% -34.2 -32.5
19-Sep at Washington State 54 14-31 L 25% 5% +1.6 +7.0
26-Sep New Mexico 99 28-38 L 19% 5% -4.2 -7.0
3-Oct at Appalachian State 42 13-31 L 31% 3% +6.7 -13.0
10-Oct at Air Force 63 17-31 L 31% 7% +15.4 +10.0
17-Oct Nevada 97 28-21 W 73% 88% +16.7 +14.0
24-Oct at Boise State 37 14-34 L 28% 3% +8.2 +15.0
30-Oct at Utah State 53 27-58 L 11% 0% -9.7 -3.0
7-Nov Colorado State 86 7-26 L 5% 0% -9.4 -7.5
14-Nov at San Diego State 43 3-38 L 8% 0% -11.7 -10.5
28-Nov UNLV 105 35-28 W 47% 62% +7.8 +7.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 23.5 102 38.1 115
Points Per Game 19.0 115 34.0 102

2. A slight uptick in the middle

When North Dakota came to town on September 5, Wyoming's depth chart was already dropping hints. Twenty-three of 44 players on the two-deep were underclassmen. The quarterback was a transfer. The secondary -- a unit in which experience seems most directly tied to quality -- boasted one senior, one sophomore, and six freshmen.

This was destined to go poorly, and wow, did it. Wyoming began almost comically bad, losing by 11 to North Dakota while getting outgained by 99 yards, then getting whomped by lowly Eastern Michigan by 19. Both were at home.

Fortunes briefly improved, even if the record didn't. The Cowboys were far more competitive in losses to Appalachian State, Air Force, and Boise State and managed to pick off Nevada for their first win. But things got a lot worse.

  • First 4 games:
    Avg. percentile performance: 16% | Avg. score: Opp 35, UW 21 | Avg. performance vs. S&P+ projection: -13.2 PPG
  • Next 4 games
    Avg. percentile performance: 41% | Avg. score: Opp 29, UW 18 | Avg. performance vs. S&P+ projection: +11.8 PPG
  • Last 4 games
    Avg. percentile performance: 18% | Avg. score: Opp 38, UW 18 | Avg. performance vs. S&P+ projection: -5.8 PPG

After three straight dreadful results, Wyoming did manage to knock off UNLV in the season finale. In the end, the Cowboys managed to win both of the games they were actually able to keep within one possession.

Maybe that's a good sign for the future. Or maybe it's just a reminder that they were a couple of bounces from 0-12. Regardless, this was a mess. What we'll find out in 2016 is if it was a necessary period of growing pains.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.23 79 IsoPPP+ 87.1 109
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.3% 93 Succ. Rt. + 95.6 90
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.2 75 Def. FP+ 30.0 75
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.1 97 Redzone S&P+ 102.8 66
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.9 ACTUAL 21 +1.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 100 106 90 109
RUSHING 62 106 95 105
PASSING 101 95 78 98
Standard Downs 72 43 81
Passing Downs 126 124 125
Q1 Rk 94 1st Down Rk 98
Q2 Rk 88 2nd Down Rk 81
Q3 Rk 107 3rd Down Rk 93
Q4 Rk 31

3. Dreadful behind schedule

Standard downs shine a light on what your team wants to be. You're on or ahead of schedule, and defenses have to account for all base plays and counters, all runs and passes.

On standard downs, Wyoming actually wasn't bad. The Cowboys could have generated a few more big plays, but with running back Brian Hill rushing for 5.8 yards per carry and quarterback Cameron Coffman generating a 163.9 passer rating on first down, they were able to keep defenses guessing.

The problems arose the moment Wyoming fell off schedule. UW had one of the three worst passing-downs offenses in the country. On second-and-9, punter Ethan Wood might as well be warming up.

Coffman took sacks on 11 percent of his passing-downs attempts, and on third-and-4 or more, his passer rating fell to 121.1 -- not great considering the level of competition. And when he missed time with a knee injury, mobile backup Nick Smith had little to offer. His line on third-and-4 or more: 7-for-18, 29 yards. Yuck.

Passing downs are play-maker downs, and despite Hill, the Cowboys didn't have the horses. In 2016, Hill and virtually every member of the receiving corps return (and Shaun Wick might be granted another year of eligibility after missing much of 2015 with a concussion). But with Coffman gone, that means the training wheels are off for either Smith or Josh Allen, who missed most of the season with injury.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Cameron Coffman 152 241 1951 18 10 63.1% 24 9.1% 6.6
Nick Smith 6'4, 233 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8138 27 60 245 2 1 45.0% 6 9.1% 3.2
Josh Allen 6'5, 216 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8000 4 6 51 0 0 66.7% 0 0.0% 8.5
Chandler Garrett 6'5, 205 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8478

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Brian Hill RB 6'1, 211 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 281 1631 6 5.8 5.9 41.3% 3 3
Shaun Wick RB 43 97 1 2.3 4.7 20.9% 1 0
Nick Smith QB 6'4, 233 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8138 39 194 2 5.0 3.3 43.6% 3 2
Cameron Coffman QB 21 79 0 3.8 2.8 33.3% 3 1
Joshua Tapscott RB 5'9, 213 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8020 17 86 0 5.1 6.0 35.3% 0 0
Kellen Overstreet RB 5'11, 200 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8214 16 84 1 5.3 4.3 37.5% 0 0
Nico Evans RB 5'9, 187 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 14 56 0 4.0 4.9 28.6% 1 1
Tanner Gentry WR 6'2, 201 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7623 5 48 0 9.6 4.6 80.0% 2 1

4. Potential in the run game

Hill and Wick were explosive, dreadfully inefficient backs in 2014. While Wick dealt with injury last fall, however, Hill turned into the real deal. He was big enough to handle a heavy load and as explosive as ever; plus, his efficiency numbers improved dramatically -- whereas only 24 percent of his carries gained at least five yards in 2014, 41 percent hit that mark last year.

While we wait to see if Wick is granted an extra year, or if sophomore Kellen Overstreet (a three-star recruit per the 247Sports Composite) can recover properly from a late-season ACL tear, Wyoming still has Hill, who averaged nearly 25 carries per game and caught 20 passes to boot.

Joshua Tapscott and Nico Evans both showed a little bit of competence in minimal opportunity, and they might be able to spell Hill a bit more even if Wick and Overstreet are unavailable. But Hill's return, combined with that of four of last year's offensive line starters (and four of the second-stringers), make it pretty easy to assume the run game remains a strength in 2016.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Jake Maulhardt WR-X 6'6, 216 Sr. NR NR 94 57 648 60.6% 31.8% 6.9 59.6% 47.9% 1.33
Tanner Gentry WR 6'2, 201 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7623 56 38 702 67.9% 18.9% 12.5 58.9% 55.4% 2.02
Jacob Hollister TE 6'4, 230 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759 44 26 355 59.1% 14.9% 8.1 63.6% 45.5% 1.59
James Price WR-Z 6'2, 208 So. NR 0.7583 24 12 143 50.0% 8.1% 6.0 37.5% 37.5% 1.54
Brian Hill RB 6'1, 211 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 24 20 132 83.3% 8.1% 5.5 25.0% 33.3% 1.35
Joseph Parker WR-Z 5'10, 182 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 15 7 68 46.7% 5.1% 4.5 46.7% 33.3% 1.24
Shaun Wick RB 7 5 49 71.4% 2.4% 7.0 14.3% 42.9% 1.54
Tyree Mayfield TE 6'3, 223 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 6 4 21 66.7% 2.0% 3.5 33.3% 16.7% 2.35
Kellen Overstreet RB 5'11, 200 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8214 5 3 33 60.0% 1.7% 6.6 20.0% 40.0% 1.56
Josh Harshman TE 6'3, 207 So. NR 0.7783 3 2 39 66.7% 1.0% 13.0 100.0% 66.7% 2.12
Justice Murphy WR 6'0, 180 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8423 3 1 17 33.3% 1.0% 5.7 33.3% 33.3% 1.91
Tayton Montgomery WR



3 2 6 66.7% 1.0% 2.0 33.3% 0.0% 0.00
Dameko Doddles WR



3 0 0 0.0% 1.0% 0.0 66.7% 0.0% 0.00
Tom Thornton WR 6'1, 201 Sr. 2 stars NR
C.J. Johnson WR 6'2, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8199








John Okwoli WR 6'2, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8322
Alec Stewart TE 6'4, 240 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7974

5. Experience matters at WR, and Wyoming has it

The question heading is the same as it was last year: Can Wyoming pass when it needs to? Allen flashed potential but got hurt against EMU, and Smith proved an efficient runner while showing very little as a passer.

At the least, Wyoming's got all the experience in the world in the receiving corps. Seniors Jake Maulhardt and Tanner Gentry are back, as is tight end Jacob Hollister. Gentry was in the middle of a breakout year -- he was on pace for more than 1,100 receiving yards -- but missed the last five games of the year with a shoulder injury. (Basically every good Wyoming player but Hill got hurt last year, in case you haven't noticed.) Meanwhile, Maulhardt and Hollister are solid possession targets.

Without Gentry, there was no field-stretcher, and opponents were evidently able to key on Maulhardt and Hollister. A good portion of passing downs passes were directed at either well-covered leaders or freshmen like James Price and Joseph Parker, and the results were predictably poor.

If Gentry can stay upright, then the combination of seniors, sophomores, and newcomers like three-star redshirt freshman C.J. Johnson and incoming three-star John Okwoli could create a deep, solid receiving corps. And if Allen is indeed ready to man the quarterback position, maybe Brian Hill gets the support he needs and Wyoming can sustain some drives. It takes some ifs to make Wyoming's offense solid, but none of the ifs are particularly unrealistic.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 102.2 3.1 2.27 39.3% 72.5% 19.8% 64.7 8.0% 11.2%
Rank 64 32 122 60 30 79 119 114 115
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Chase Roullier LG 6'4, 293 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7883 12 28 2015 2nd All-MWC
Ryan Cummings LT 6'6, 314 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7483 12 19
Rafe Kiely C 1 18
Charlie Renfree C 6'3, 281 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7774 11 11
Troy Boyland RG 10 10
Zach Wallace RT 6'7, 265 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7908 10 10
Kaden Jackson RG 6'2, 277 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 2 2
Taylor Knestis OT 6'5, 299 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7813 2 2
Brinkley Jolly LT 6'5, 282 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 0 0
Kurtis Stirneman LG 6'5, 281 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7544 0 0
Cole Turner OG 6'4, 267 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7744 0 0
Richard Bettencourt OG 6'3, 280 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 0 0
Dustin Weeks OL 6'8, 265 Fr. NR 0.8300

Jace Webb OL 6'4, 295 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8033

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.28 78 IsoPPP+ 85.9 114
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.7% 117 Succ. Rt. + 86.7 115
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 26.9 119 Off. FP+ 26.9 113
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.1 121 Redzone S&P+ 91.9 103
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 11.6 ACTUAL 10.0 -1.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 92 117 115 114
RUSHING 114 89 97 86
PASSING 27 122 124 116
Standard Downs 100 88 105
Passing Downs 125 128 117
Q1 Rk 115 1st Down Rk 107
Q2 Rk 100 2nd Down Rk 113
Q3 Rk 100 3rd Down Rk 104
Q4 Rk 78

6. Bohl is a good defensive coach

Just in case you needed a reminder.

Jimmies and Joes matter as much as Xs and Os. As Bohl put together the pieces he needed at NDSU, his Bison defense went from good to ridiculous. NDSU allowed 18.2 points per game in 2010, then 12.7 in 2011, then 11.5 in 2012, then 11.3 in 2013. His was never the most disruptive defense, but it was nearly mistake-free.

Bohl's Wyoming defenses have come up just a bit short of "mistake-free." The Cowboys played the semi-conservative defense Bohl perfected, but they did so with no pass rush and maybe the youngest secondary in the country last year. The result was predictable: Wyoming allowed a 161.5 passer rating, fifth-worst. The Cowboys turned every opposing QB into Cal's Jared Goff (161.3 rating in 2015).

In the same way that someone who finds $5 is no longer as broke, Wyoming will technically be far more experienced in the back this year. Eight of the top nine DBs are back, even if seven of them are now just sophomores. But the only decent pass rusher is gone, which could cause pretty obvious problems.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 92.3 3.19 3.22 42.0% 79.5% 20.2% 58.6 4.6% 1.8%
Rank 96 109 64 104 121 60 125 80 128
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Eddie Yarbrough DE 12 46.0 7.1% 10.5 7.0 0 1 1 0
Carl Granderson DE 6'6, 200 So. NR 0.8200 12 28.5 4.4% 6.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Siaosi Hala'api'api DE 12 24.5 3.8% 4.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Sidney Malauulu NT 6'3, 300 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726 12 14.0 2.2% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Uso Olive DT
12 9.5 1.5% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Conner Cain DT 6'4, 250 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 11 8.0 1.2% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Chase Appleby NT 6'0, 255 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7500 7 8.0 1.2% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kevin Prosser DE 6'2, 197 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7845 12 5.0 0.8% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Dalton Fields NT 6'3, 274 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 12 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tavita Faaiu DE
2 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jacob English NT 6'5, 291 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519
Youhanna Ghaifan DT 6'4, 255 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726
Taniela Lolohea DE 6'1, 245 Jr. NR NR








Ja'Chai Baker DT 6'6, 260 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Lucas Wacha MIKE 6'1, 214 Sr. 2 stars 0.7000 11 71.0 10.9% 6.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
D.J. May SAM 5'11, 198 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8100 11 55.5 8.5% 4.5 1.0 0 10 1 1
Eric Nzeocha MIKE 6'3, 218 Sr. NR 0.7100 11 27.5 4.2% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Tim Kamana WILL 5'11, 206 Jr. 2 stars NR 12 23.5 3.6% 1.0 0.0 1 1 0 0
Will Tutein WILL
11 5.5 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Devin McKenna LB 4 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Luis Bach LB 6'2, 208 So. NR NR 7 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Christian Irving LB 5'11, 201 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7856
Jaylon Watson LB 6'0, 237 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726
Jahmari Moore LB 6'2, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793
Drew Harvey LB 6'0, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785








7. Wacha and May need help

Wyoming recorded a paltry 10 sacks in 2015, and Eddie Yarbrough had seven of them. But despite a total lack of pressure on the quarterback, the Cowboys did show a decent ability to break into the backfield on run plays. They stopped 20 percent of rushes at or behind the line; six different defenders had at least 3.5 non-sack tackles for loss.

Four of those players are back, and two -- linebackers Lucas Wacha and D.J. May -- are proven senior linebackers. May is a disruptor against both run (3.5 non-sack TFLs) and pass (10 break-ups), and Wacha was one of the primary reasons why Wyoming was decent at preventing big plays on the ground.

They're going to need help, however. That four of last year's five primary tackles are back (two of which are sophomores, naturally) is exciting, but even if Bohl's defense isn't typically havoc-heavy, the Cowboys need another couple of play-makers up front, and it's unclear who that might be. I assume sophomore end Carl Granderson will turn into something pretty impressive as he continues to put on weight (he and fellow sophomore Kevin Prosser were both listed at 200 pounds or lighter last year ... as linemen!), but unless unrated JUCO transfer Taniela Lolohea becomes an immediate difference-maker, the pickings might be a little slim.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Andrew Wingard FS 6'0, 194 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759 12 102.5 15.8% 7 0 1 2 1 0
Marcus Epps SS 6'0, 190 So. NR NR 11 71.0 10.9% 2 0 2 4 1 0
Robert Priester CB 5'9, 180 Jr. NR 0.7000 11 43.0 6.6% 2 0 1 3 1 1
Antonio Hull CB 5'10, 188 So. NR 0.7933 12 25.5 3.9% 0 0 0 6 0 0
C.J. Jennings CB 5'10, 180 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7619 10 16.0 2.5% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Chavez Pownell Jr. SS 5'11, 192 So. 2 stars (5.3) NR 11 14.0 2.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tyran Finley CB 6 9.0 1.4% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Pilapil FS 6'1, 194 So. NR NR 11 9.0 1.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Makransky CB 5'10, 177 So. NR NR 8 8.0 1.2% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Xavier Lewis FS 6'0, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719
Kevin Jackson FS 6'2, 169 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793
Jalen Ortiz (UCLA) CB 5'10, 192 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8722
Rico Gafford CB 5'11, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7600
Tyler Hall CB 5'10, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826








8. Freshmen become sophomores

If the pass rush at least doesn't get worse -- which would be almost literally impossible -- then the pass defense will almost definitely improve. Not only are all of last year's freshmen now sophomores, but UCLA transfer Jalen Ortiz and JUCO DB Rico Gafford could join the rotation as well. The odds of finding four solid contributors in the back are high.

The freshmen did show some play-making ability. Andrew Wingard was asked to play the role of "last remaining obstacle" on a lot of big plays, but he also found time to record seven tackles for loss and defense three passes. Safety Marcus Epps and corner Antonio Hull each defensed six as well.

Ortiz was mainly just a special teams contributor at UCLA, but his addition assures that Wyoming should meet a certain athletic baseline, and if the sophomores take the step forward typical for young players, this will be a unit that improves in 2016, then improves quite a bit more in 2017.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Ethan Wood 6'3, 176 Sr. 67 41.8 4 9 18 40.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Ethan Wood 6'3, 176 Sr. 43 62.4 16 3 37.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Tristan Bailey 28-31 1-4 25.0% 1-4 25.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
D.J. May KR 5'11, 198 Sr. 24 26.3 0
Kellen Overstreet KR 5'11, 200 So. 2 25.5 0
Tanner Gentry PR 6'2, 201 Sr. 7 10.4 0
D.J. May PR 5'11, 198 Sr. 4 5.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 120
Field Goal Efficiency 128
Punt Return Success Rate 58
Kick Return Success Rate 38
Punt Success Rate 84
Kickoff Success Rate 90

9. Find a kicker

Adding to all the other problems was this: freshman Tristan Bailey was perhaps the least successful place-kicker in FBS. He missed nine kicks -- three PATs, three short field goals, and three longer field goals -- before leaving following the season. If his replacement (whoever that becomes) can simply make a competent number of kicks, the special teams unit will improve, especially with the return of D.J. May and Tanner Gentry in the return game.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Northern Illinois 79 -7.9 32%
10-Sep at Nebraska 26 -26.6 6%
17-Sep UC Davis NR 21.7 90%
24-Sep at Eastern Michigan 121 -0.5 49%
1-Oct at Colorado State 96 -8.7 31%
8-Oct Air Force 80 -7.4 33%
22-Oct at Nevada 91 -10.8 27%
29-Oct Boise State 36 -16.4 17%
5-Nov Utah State 73 -8.8 31%
12-Nov at UNLV 114 -2.4 44%
19-Nov San Diego State 55 -12.0 24%
26-Nov at New Mexico 102 -6.7 35%
Projected wins: 4.2
Five-Year F/+ Rk -30.8% (113)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 116 / 117
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -11 / -8.4
2015 TO Luck/Game -1.1
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 71% (60%, 83%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 2.0 (0.0)

10. We'll find out a lot this year

Bohl played nearly 30 freshmen last year, and he didn't panic into signing a bunch of JUCOs in this last class. He's taken his time, and he proved at NDSU that a slow process can work. Last year's growing pains become this year's experience.

This job remains hard, though. Wyoming suffered a wave of decommits before National Signing Day, and Bohl and others are having to fight for their recruiting budgets. Granted, if he just keeps the current players in uniform and on track, the product should improve in 2016 and 2017.

Wyoming is projected 110th in this year's S&P+ ratings, and that sounds about right to me. Assuming the front seven is too thin to avoid mistakes, that the secondary is still too young to be truly strong, and that the passing game doesn't magically turn excellent, something in the neighborhood of No. 100 would make sense. It would represent only incremental improvement, but with very few senior starters outside of the receiving and linebacking corps, it would set the table for a solid 2017.

Wyoming is in the wrong division for quick growth. The Cowboys play only four opponents projected 100th or worse, and three are on the road. Even with projected improvement, the Cowboys are given a better than 50 percent chance of winning in just one game.

Bohl has stripped the house down to the foundation, and he should have enough pieces in place to begin dropping hints about what a good Wyoming might look like.