In college football, the name of the game is recruiting. Some coaches have an innate ability to sniff out talent and attract that talent to dear old State U, much to the chagrin of rivals. Once a school gets a gifted recruiter on a coaching staff, that school better be prepared to shell out to keep that recruiter because you better believe less-fortunate schools are going to come knocking.
Wyomin’ Cowboys head coach Dave Christensen, who enters his fifth year this fall, has faced significant recruiting challenges. Laramie, WY, is not exactly a recruiting hotbed, Christensen’s foremost recruiting obstacle has been this:
There are no women in Wyomin’.
The SEC can point to its southern belles in sundresses, the Pac-12 can take recruits to the beach, the Midwest can point to its beatnik hipsters, but what do you do when your campus sits at 7,165 feet above sea level and the only people around for miles are lumberjacks?
(Fun fact: once on a backpacking trip in the Wind River Range I encountered the rare female lumberjack; or, if you prefer, lumberjill. Even the women are men.)
Then you look elsewhere. Christensen has attracted talent from not only Wyoming, Washington, and Wisconsin but also from more exotic locales, such as Raesfeld, Germany, and Stockholm, Sweden (juniors LB Alex Borgs and WR Oscar Nevermann, respectively).
You got to give the man credit. However, Christensen’s international recruiting prowess has yet to produce results on the field. The Cowboys under Christensen have posted records of 7-6, 3-9, 8-5, and 4-8. 2012 in particular found the Lumberjills plagued by youthful inexperience (Christensen started a sophomore quarterback, two freshman running backs, and freshmen defensive lineman) and injuries (the highest-contributing wide receiver only played eight games).
After 2011’s most curious road game (Nebraska in Laramie? Really?), the Pokes visit Lincoln August 31st.
Thanks to inexperience at running back, QB Brett Smith took on a heavy workload in 2012. As a sophomore Smith completed 62% of his passes and threw for an impressive 27-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Salem, OR, product was also Wyomin’s leading rusher at 5.2 yards per carry. Plainly, Brett Smith was the Wyomin’ offense. The Pokes’ most productive receiver graduated, but senior Robert Herron and juniors Dominic Rufran and Jalen Claiborne were regular contributors as well.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, however, that the Pokes were so dependent upon the pass. Wyomin’ ran on 63% of first downs. However, on second and third down, Wyomin’ threw almost 50% more times than the national average. Since the running game was not setting up second- and third-and-short the Pokes depended on a short passing game.
Despite being relatively punchless up front, the Cowboys will lose what little experience they had in a few veteran offensive lineman. Christensen will most likely start a senior, two sophomores and two redshirt freshmen. Given how ineffective the run game was in 2012, this new blood may be a positive.
The Cowboys seem primed to continue to roll as far as the passing game is concerned. Given that the Cowboys play a number of other air-it-out teams expect Smith’s video-game numbers to continue in 2013.
Like the rest of the team, the Pokes’ defensive line is experienced, if young. 2012’s leading tackler Mike Purcell is gone, but then-freshmen defensive ends Siaosi Hala’api’api andEddie Yarbough played the entire season. Returning defensive tackles Justin Bernthalerand Patrick Mertens are seniors, though the four combined for just 9 tackles for loss in 2012.
Speaking of youth, Christensen looks to start no less than three redshirt freshmen. (For those of you not keeping count, that’s five underclassmen in the front seven.)
The secondary is the only unit with upperclassmen, returning all starters from 2012. Stat-wise, the unit appears effective against 2012’s opposing offenses; however, this may be a result of opponents running the ball against the Pokes a lot, even on second- and third-and-long. Perhaps Wyomin’s opponents would have been wise to throw on them more; regardless, the unit appears to be the strength of the defense this fall.
WYOMIN’ SPECIAL TEAMS
PK Stuart Williams was slightly less than dependable in 2012, making only 7 of 12 field goal attempts. He will assume the punting duties for the first time, as well.
SO WHAT NOW?
Christensen’s future at Wyomin’ may depend on getting a certain number of wins, which might be difficult as the Pokes pull a vicious schedule in 2013, including road trips to San Jose State, Utah State, and Boise State (who went a combined 33-6 in 2012). Fresno State (9-4) will be no picnic either, and of course, they start it all off with a trip to Lincoln on August 31st.
NAMES TO REMEMBER: QB Brett Smith, WR Robert Herron, WR Dominic Ruffan, DE Siaosi Hala’api’api (insomuch as such a name can even be remembered), DE Eddie Harbough
Nebraska and Wyoming play in Lincoln on August 31, 2013. The two teams last met in Laramie on September 24, 2011, with Nebraska winning 38-14. Wyoming has never beaten Nebraska, and the Huskers are 6-0 against the Cowboys all-time.