Wyoming could be surprise contenders in the Mountain West this fall as Cowboys aim for back-to-back bowl bids.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/4/12, 4:25 PM EDT
Order Your CFB
You can read the entire Wyoming Cowboys preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
HEAD COACH: Dave Christensen, 18-20 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Gregg Brandon | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Tormey
Wyoming entered last season unsure about who would lead its offense. Brett Smith quickly answered that question by winning a quarterback battle early in fall camp. Smith became one of the top true freshman signal-callers in the country, finishing with 2,622 yards, 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Also the team’s leading rusher, with 710 yards and 10 touchdowns, Smith paved the way for the Cowboys’ second bowl trip in three years.
“The great news with Brett is he’s never satisfied,” Wyoming coach Dave Christensen says. “He is focused on going back through everything and watching how he performed, learning from it and finding the things he needs to improve on.”
Smith was limited during spring camp as the team hoped to fill gaps around him. The offense lost its top two running backs — Alvester Alexander declared for the NFL Draft, and Ghaali Muhammad moved to linebacker — two of its top three receiving threats and three starting offensive linemen. Sophomore running back Kody Sutton could be in for a breakout campaign.
Smith’s presence and experience should help ease the offense’s growing pains.
One year after hiring a new offensive coordinator, Christensen made a change on the defensive side of the ball. The Cowboys were one of the nation’s top teams in terms of forcing takeaways but lagged in a number of other areas, leading to a national ranking of 98th in total defense. Christensen reassigned coordinator Marty English to linebackers coach, but English ultimately left for Colorado State. Chris Tormey, former head coach at Idaho and Nevada, arrives as the new defensive coordinator. “I felt that we needed a change there from a leadership standpoint, a philosophical standpoint, and I was able to hire Coach Tormey,” Christensen says. “He’s been a head coach, coordinator and is a tremendous recruiter.”
Tormey implemented a more multiple-style defense during spring camp. The Cowboys weren’t afraid to blitz in live action this spring, a new style that the players seemed to buy in to immediately. It won’t hurt the first-year coordinator that the defense returns seven regular starters — including three-year starting tackle Mike Purcell and two-year starting cornerback Marqueston Huff — from last season and three more who started extensively on the defensive side of the ball in 2010.
Wyoming’s special teams will aim for more consistency in 2012. The Cowboys lost four-year starter Austin McCoy at punter but replaced him with Tim Gleeson, a true freshman from Australia who displayed a powerful leg upon his arrival. Sophomore kicker Daniel Sullivan was part of the inconsistency last year, but he used a spring break kicking camp to iron out his issues, and coaches have been impressed.
In Christensen’s first three seasons, the goals focused mostly on earning a trip to the postseason. The Cowboys accomplished their mission twice, and now — with Christensen receiving the program’s largest contract ever — the expectation level has increased.
“I think we’re getting closer now, and where our focus has to be is playing for a conference championship,” he says.
Smith could be the top quarterback in the conference, and an experienced, hungry defense could be in for a special year. With TCU moving to the Big 12 and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore having graduated, the Cowboys could be surprise contenders in the Mountain West.