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A Reasonably Anticipatory Assessment of: Wyoming

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A random look at next fall, sans the inevitable injuries, suspensions and other pratfalls of the too-long interim.
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The least you should know about Wyoming... For my money, especially for an often not-terrible team in a conference outside of the Sun Belt, Wyoming ranks as the most obscure program in the nation. From my vantage point, Wyoming almost seems like a foreign country to begin with. And having achieved a single bowl game since 1993, in the least populated state in the Union, the Cowboys are never on television - now, like the rest of the Mountain West, any games that are on TV are obscured to the vast majority of the country by the conference's snubbing of ESPN for its own network (where you can get a job, by the way), or sometimes CSTV or an entity known as VERSUS - and never good enough to be profile-worthy contenders, yet never bad enough under Joe Glenn to be singled out for car crash-like gawking, either. They're just there, doing what they do, wherever it is that they do it. Subsequently, readers probably don't know that the team has done well to break .500 two of the last three years, or that it just came off its first winning conference season since the formation of the league. And you almost certainly can't name a single player on the roster, or perhaps any player who's ever played for Wyoming. That's okay, but no more excuses.

What's Changed: TCU's defensive line was obviously the class of the MWC, but Wyoming's senior-laden front was on the Frogs' heels, finishing second in the conference in sacks with no single dominant rusher and vastly improving a typically soft run defense:

2006 Record
6-6 (5-3 Mtn. West, T-3rd)
Past Five Years
23-36 (13-24 Mtn. West)
Returning Starters, Roughly
12 (6 Offense, 6 Defense)
Best Player
Though following the league-wide trend away from pass WACkiness since the departure of spread guru Joe Tiller and the move into the Mountain West, Wyoming’s produced a steady stream of solid receivers, a corps Michael Ford threatens to enter after catching 60 passes as a junior. The ex-tight end is not a game-breaker – he only averaged 11 yards with four touchdowns, and his long the last two years is 40 yards – but he is consistent: Ford caught at least four passes in ten games.
Bizarre Tradition
The ubiquitous bucking horse logo originated with a 1903 photo of a cowboy riding a famous bronco, "Steamboat," but was later adapted to look more like the similar logo used on the state’s license plates beginning in the 1930s, which was modeled after the Steamboat photo by another famed horse ominously named "Deadman." A statue based on the logo known as "Fanning a Twister" was erected (heh) at the entrance to War Memorial Stadium way back in 1991.

As for the, uh, unique color combination of brown and gold/yellow, it was boringly chosen in 1895 as an homage to the native Brown-Eyed Susan.

Bizarre Item of Dubious Interest
Wyoming’s first all-American was "tieback" and kicker Eddie Talboom, who transferred from Notre Dame to run the single wing and led the Cowboys to 9-1 and 10-0 seasons in 1949 and 1950, including a 103-0 win over Colorado State College in which he scored a school record 29 points. Talboom finished his career as Gator Bowl MVP and the NCAA’s career scoring leader (303 points), though, to be fair – inspired by his predecessors at Notre Dame and the rather spotty standardization of rules out West in those days – he did most of his damage from the back of a horse.
Per Game Rank (MWC) Per Carry
2001 246.4 114 (8) 5.3
2002 205.8 104 (8) 4.6
2003 230.4 114 (8) 5.0
2004 179.2 81 (6) 4.3
2005 169.8 81 (6) 3.9
2006 106.6 23 (3) 3.2

The guys who steadily improved that showing the last three years - the best of whom may have actually been big, roving safety John Wendling, leading tackler in `05 and `06 - have graduated en masse, leaving three sophomores up front with a single career start between them. Three linebackers are back, but last year's strong effort is the anomaly until it's repeated. Opposing backs should expect to find their old, familiar success.

What's the Same: Wynel Seldon was the more frequently deployed thunder to Devin Moore's occasionally lethal lightning at running back, which is one way of masking confusion that the former managed to amass twice the work of Moore, who moved down at the beginning of the season from slot receiver to average three yards better per carry (7.2 to 3.6). Seldon had almost 900 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2005, but only a little over 600 and one score last year, with a long run of 22 yards, while Moore struggled for carries (he had about eight per game, just six in the entire month of October before getting more opportunities in the final three). His only start, with Seldon out against San Diego State, Moore went off for 131 yards on 22 carries, the most either had all season, suggesting the little guy can handle a larger share. Seldon is apparently still the load-bearer, despite missing the spring, but Moore brings more speed and versatility (21 catches) to the position as a "change of pace."

It's another long year ahead for the statuesque type.
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Moore's late success coincided with the fading of initially hot redshirt freshman quarterback Karsten Sween, who won his first three starts with an 8:3 touchdown-interception ratio after taking over for Jacob Doss during the Syracuse game, then bafflingly fell off the wagon in the last four games (2:5 TD-INT and a pair of hideous losses to league belweathers TCU and BYU). The kid isn't very mobile and was a sitting duck behind the most porous line in the conference - TCU got to him for five sacks, Utah for four, and New Mexico, Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State for three apiece - which bears poorly for his confidence and health with three new starters up front, two redshirt freshmen and a sophomore, no less.

September Is the Cruelest Month: The Cowboys started 1-4 after a four-game stretch against Virginia, Boise State, Air Force and Syracuse in which they fell by one, seven, seven, and six points - about five points per game. Specifically, the game at UVa was lost on a missed extra point in overtime, BSU's offense was held to a season-low (by far) ten points and Syracuse won after Wyoming tied the game on a touchdown with five seconds left in regulation but failed to convert on a fourth-and-one in the second overtime. Reversal of fortune in any of those cases would have had the Cowboys in a lame December bowl for the second time in three years. And, not to beat a dead horse, because it's probably not very relevant in this small window - not as relevant as Sween not playing in the first three, at least - but in those games, Seldon averaged 3.4 on 58 carries while Moore was grabbing 9.8 on just 20 runs.

In the interest of fairness and reciprocity, etc., Wyoming got two such close games in its favor later on: a four-point win at New Mexico - which did not stop the fifth-place Lobos from stealing away the fourth and final MWC bowl berth in their hometown despite finishing a game behind the Pokes in-conference as well - and then a three-point comeback against San Diego State that featured three straight marathon touchdown drives in the second and third quarters.

Overly Optimistic Post-Spring Chatter: Amidst athletic director Tom Burman's push for an $800,000 Competitive Excellence Plan, Sween missed spring practice along with almost half the two-deep offensive line, three defensive starters and three tight ends, but Joe Glenn displayed an almost "unsettling" confidence in the team's "progress," anyway, partly because redshirt freshman Ian Hetrick supplanted senior sometime-starter Jacob Doss as Sween's backup by throwing for 269 "terriffic" yards and three touchdowns in the closing scrimmage. Hetrick also had the advantage of taking every snap as the only healthy quarterback of the three on the roster, but that's a lesson: take advantage of your opportunities, kids.

The offensive linemen that did play were promisingly "heated," according to Glenn: "There is probably more good-spirited competition in the offensive line than at any other position. I have a feeling it's going to get pretty heated in the fall. It's a good situation to have."

Wyoming on YouTube: Understandably intrigued at the Worldwide Leader's focus on a citizen of its seldom traversed backyard, the first installment of Cheyenne-based KWGN's "Fink Finds Out" seeks the Wyoming guy from ESPN's "Year of the Fan" commercials:

Did you enjoy entertaining, energetic on-air personality Chris Fink? Read his resume or, better, visit his Web site (three cheers for Google's disregard for privacy! Hip hip...)

See Also: A heart-rending profile of a courageous mascot turned solider ... Never complain again that there's no cool stuff to do in Wyoming ... And as seen on With Leather, outgoing safety John Wendling incredibly clears a 66-inch bar, or the equivalent of the average adult woman with three inches to spare.

Conventional Wisdom: Phil Steele loves Sween, who he rightly projected to win the job last preseason, and rates him second team all-MWC, though Athlon and The Sporting News rank the Cowboys' quarterback situation among the worst in the conference. Both those publications have Wyoming fifth in the Mountain West, though, where Steele drops it to sixth due to the inexperience on both lines. No one expects another .500 season or a bowl game.

There are also divergent opinions on the Cowboy corners: Steele has Julius Stinson on his all-conference team, but does not give any attention whatsoever outside of his depth chart to Michael Medina, who TSN projects as first team all-MWC. Odds are, that means neither is all that special.

Medina and Stinson: One of them is great, I tell ya! I just don't know which one...
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Best-Case: Much hinges psychologically on the opener against Virginia, who escaped in Charlottesville with a cheap overtime win despite a huge disparity in production (313-206). A bowl would be almost guaranteed with an improbable early upset at Boise State or against TCU in Laramie, but neither will be necessary if the Cowboys can hold serve in five winnable, non-TCU home games and also take two of five road games at Ohio U. of Ohio, Air Force San Diego State, Utah and/Colorado State. That would represent the Pokes' first seven-win regular season since the Dana Dimel Era (1997-99).

Worst-Case: Utah State is the only sure thing, though no Glenn team has won fewer than four games here and at its theoretically worst  would probably deliver on at least three wins. Given that UNLV is at home and rebuilding Air Force and Ohio U. of Ohio aren't both likely to have the guns to take down the Cowboys, 3-9 would be scraping the barrell.

Non-Binding Forecast: The young linemen are a big problem, especially since the offensive line hasn't been very good to begin with, and the noob-stacked defensive front ought to be reverting to mediocrity at best, which would still be better than the work of most of its recent predecessors. A healthy offense could be a competent one if Sween is less schizophrenic, but there is nothing particularly exciting about it, and either way I see five losses in Virginia, Boise State and usual suspects TCU, Utah and BYU. That leaves the four key swing games (New Mexico, Air Force, San Diego State and Colorado State, the last three on the road) to determine the bowl fate; a split leaves the Cowboys at 5-7, and probably 4-4 in the league.

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Previous Absurdly Premature Assessments...

March 12: Tulane March 13: Baylor March 16: UCLA March 20: Kentucky
March 21: Oregon March 22: Arizona State March 23: BYU March 27: Missouri
March 28: Troy March 29: Iowa State April 3: Alabama April 4: Akron
April 5: Cincinnati April 9: UL-Monroe April 10: Army April 11: Syracuse
April 18: Florida April 20: Southern Miss April 25: Southern Cal May 1: North Texas
May 3: SMU May 8: Nevada May 14: Tennessee May 21: TCU
May 24: Notre Dame May 29: UAB May 30: Georgia May 31: Temple
June 1: Houston