Breaking down the nonconference schedule

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The time has come. After months of hypothesizing who will play where and who will fill the last guy’s shoes and how will he fit, the University of Wyoming is set to kickoff the 2018 season.

Eight return to the Pokes’ defense that will get mentioned in the same breath as not only the best defense in the Mountain West Conference, but in the entire country, as well.

Question marks surround Wyoming’s the offensive makeup. The offensive line features three redshirt freshman; the quarterback joins that group having never taken a collegiate snap, and the skill position players have a lot to prove.

The defense is skilled and nasty, and the offense will remain a work in progress for much of the season. That ought to make for some uneasy, yet fun, Saturdays this fall.

So let’s take a look at that early-season schedule and see if the Pokes can get off on the right foot in an attempt to qualify for a third straight bowl game — a feat they’ve never accomplished in school history.

As luck would have it, UW’s season-opening opponent, New Mexico State, is fresh off its best season in more than half a century. Tickets for Saturday’s ESPN2 game are going for as low as $3, so expect a good crowd inside Aggie Memorial Stadium.

Wyoming will have a tough time with this one, but the defense should make the difference. NMSU is breaking in a new quarterback and running back and trying to find a new playmaker on the outside. My guess is UW defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton will aim to make that inexperienced offense as uncomfortable as possible, and he’s got the horses to do so. Expect UW to win a low-scoring, defensive-oriented game.

Get out of Las Cruces with a victory and Laramie will likely be buzzing as Washington State comes to town. Wyoming hasn’t beaten a Power Five team in more than a decade, and the Cougars will have to break in a new quarterback, as well.

If UW quarterback Tyler Vander Wall can get all of those early-season-freshman jitters out against NMSU, this one lines up perfectly for the Pokes to end their Power Five drought.

Now, backing that momentous victory over Wazzu with another one won’t likely happen as UW travels to Missouri the following week. The Tigers finished the 2017 season winning six of seven and have a quarterback that tossed 44 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions.

Wyoming’s defense is good, but asking that unit to travel to SEC country and stop a future NFL Draft pick and an offense that scored at least 45 points in its final six wins is a tall task, and I’d expect the first loss to come in Columbia.

The Pokes’ nonconference slate finishes up with Wofford. UW will likely succumb to a bit of letdown after back-to-back Power Five opponents but not nearly a big enough letdown for a loss — these Wyoming teams are a far cry from the ones that lost to Sacramento State and North Dakota in recent memory. Wofford, an FCS playoff team last season, will push Wyoming into the third quarter before the altitude and Wyoming’s strength take over.

So in review, Wyoming goes 3-1 in the nonconference and sets up a huge home game against nationally ranked Boise State to kickoff conference season.

Wyoming’s MWC schedule is quite front-loaded, making for what could be a memorable year, but we’ll get into that later in September.

By |August 24th, 2018|

About the Author:

Bud Denega joined The Sheridan Press in November 2017 as the primary sports reporter. He is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from the University of Wyoming. Prior to working in Sheridan, Bud spent time as a sports reporter for the Minot Daily News in Minot, North Dakota, before being a sports reporter for the Laredo Morning Times in Laredo, Texas. Email Bud at: bud.denega@thesheridanpress.com

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