In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 70 Wyoming
Wyoming is officially back and on the most stable ground since Joe Tiller left Laramie 22 years ago. Now it's time to take the next step with annual contention for conference titles and 10 wins.
The defense already took that step and is loaded for this season. Can a non-Josh Allen-led offense do the same?
2017 Record: 8-5 (5-3, Mountain West)
Wyoming didn't defend their Mountain Division title but they still won eight games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1987-88, reached consecutive bowl games for the first time also since 1987-88, fielded one of the best defenses in program history and lost three conference games by a combined 19 points.
While a poor offense and close losses made it feel like a letdown, Wyoming proved 2016 was not an aberration but instead a glimpse into what this program can do under Craig Bohl.
Head Coach: Craig Bohl (4th Year, 22-29)
Craig Bohl doesn't coach bad teams, so when the second-year head coach started his Wyoming tenure with six wins over two seasons, it felt more bizarre and wrong than disappointing or concerning. Then he led the program's best two-year run in 30 years and all is normal again.
He hit a home run last offseason by hiring his former North Dakota State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton to the same position at Wyoming after Hazelton spent a few years in the NFL.
QB Josh Allen, DE Taniela Lolohea, CB Rico Gafford
Josh Allen is gone after a mediocre career that included 21 interceptions and a 56-percent completion clip over the last two years but also 57 total touchdowns and several highlight-reel throws.
Defensively, among the three lost starters is corner Rico Gafford. He had six picks and more than 100 tackles the last two years.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Nick Smith, RB Nico Evans, RB Trey Woods, WR Austin Johnson, WR C.J. Johnson, OT Zach Wallace, G Kaden Jackson
With all due respect to Josh Allen, his departure is not a bad thing for Wyoming. The offense was miserable last year and could benefit from a new signal-caller.
That man is redshirt freshman Tyler Vander Waal, a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder who was listed as the No. 1 quarterback after spring camp, though it came with a caveat from Bohl.
“It was a lengthy evaluation, and I think that evaluation is going to continue to go on in the fall,” said Bohl. “However, we think it is important to let guys know where they stand. Both quarterbacks had a really good spring. Nick [Smith] has made progress and Tyler [Vander Waal] has, as well. That competition raised the bar for both of them. We looked at the total body of work throughout spring, and then we made this decision."
Vander Waal (or senior Nick Smith) will be tasked with moving an offense that couldn't move much last year. They ranked 112th in yards per attempt, 122nd in yards per carry, 117th in second-half scoring and averaged 264 yards in five losses. Bohl and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen were pleased with the offense during spring practice, often lauding their players' attitudes and attention to detail.
Their three leading receivers return, including the one guy who consistently found openings downfield, junior C.J. Johnson (below). He averaged 17.7 yards per reception and had seven receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns in their final two games.
The offensive line two-deep isn't settled yet but they have a little talent and a ton depth at nearly every spot, led by senior Zach Wallace at left tackle.
"Oh my goodness, yes,” offensive line coach Scott Fuchs said when asked if this is the best depth he's had at Wyoming. “Yes. Absolutely. Hundred percent yes. It’s exciting, you know, trying to get seven guys ready to play, potentially eight, potentially nine, and then getting some playing experience with some guys who haven’t been in games. I feel like we’ll be able to do that. So I’m excited about that, no doubt.”
Their running backs are excited for that, too, after a frustrating season. Trey Woods led the team in rushing as a freshman, though he rarely found holes and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. Niko Evans has been the subject of adulation this spring and could see his role increase.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Carl Granderson, DT Youhanna Ghaifan, LB Logan Wilson, LB Tyler Hall, CB Antonio Hull, S Andrew Wingard, S Marcus Epps
Scottie Hazelton was magnificent in his first season as coordinator, dialing up well-timed pressure and imploring his players to attack the football. They ranked first nationally in turnovers forced, first in fumble recoveries, second in interceptions, 28th in sacks and tackles for loss, 21st in the red zone 14th in pass-defense efficiency and eighth in fourth-quarter points allowed.
What happened? They started having fun again.
"I feel like it’s easier," linebacker Cassh Maluia said last August. "I feel like he wants it to be so simple to where we can make plays, be athletes out there, be ourselves out there. Just have fun and play football."
A lot of Power Five teams wish they had this defense. It. Is. Loaded.
Youhanna Ghaifan (below) — the best No. 93 in the country — and Carl Granderson combined for 31.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks. Ghaifan's 34 run stops from a year ago rank third among all returning FBS interior defenders, according to Pro Football Focus, and he plans on being even better in 2018.
"Domination, pretty much,” the 6-foot-4, 290-pounder said of his offseason goals. “I want to make every play, and if I don’t make every play then I didn’t do my job that day. That’s kind of how I feel like I could be really good not only in the Mountain West Conference but throughout the nation. I have to dominate."
Ghaifan and Granderson were two of the Cowboys' three All-Mountain West First-Team selections on defense. The third, safety Andrew Wingard, is an All-American candidate who's shooting up draft boards after three outstanding seasons. A three-year starter, Wingard is tackling machine (367 career stops, including 22.5 tackles for loss) and bona fide ballhawk (eight interceptions, 15 passes defended).
Also, junior corner Antonio Hull is back from a leg injury that limited him to one game last year.
At linebacker, they return Maluia, Logan Wilson and Tyler Hall, a converted defensive back who now plays their nickel linebacker spot. He quick as hell, a dynamic kick returner (33.9 yards per return, two touchdown) and can thump people when necessary.
“Really now we kind of know what the defense is,” Hazelton said during spring practice. “We know how to play it. We know what to do. But now it’s really refining the skills that make you better, all the little fundamental things that you didn’t have a chance to work on or they didn’t understand, because they were still learning what to do."
QB Tyler Vander Waal, G Eric Abojei, C Keegan Cryder, CB C.J. Coldon, CB Keyon Blankenbaker
In addition to Vander Waal, redshirt freshman center Keegan Cryder is currently projected to start, and another redshirt freshman, Eric Abojei, is listed as co-starter at left guard.
Defensively, there isn't room for many new faces. Redshirt freshman corner C.J. Coldon is one of the few who will earn big snaps. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder was listed atop the post-spring depth chart opposite Antonio Hull. Behind Coldon is another redshirt freshman, Keyon Blankenbaker.
Wyoming has one of the more challenging starts of any FBS team. They open against a much-improved New Mexico State program, host Washington State, visit Missouri and, following a home vs. Wofford and a bye week, host Boise State.
Because they open a week early, the Cowboys have two bye weeks (Weeks 4 and 11).
|Saturday, Aug. 25||at New Mexico State|
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. Washington State|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||at Missouri|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||vs. Wofford|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||vs. Boise State|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at Hawai'i|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||at Fresno State|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. Utah State|
|Friday, Oct. 26||at Colorado State|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||vs. San Jose State|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||vs. Air Force|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||at New Mexico|