No. 3: The Wyoming Cowboys
Full disclosure: this is somewhat of a biased selection. I consider Wyoming my adoptive team, as I had a fun dynasty in the NCAA Football 14 video game with them back in the day.
And just in general, I have a special place in my heart for any program that plays out in the American West for no reason other than that their games tend to be played amongst scenic backdrops and in frigid conditions. It’s why I love the Mountain West and FCS Big Sky conferences.
But bias aside, the ‘Pokes of Laramie could be sneaky good in 2023. So often I tend to focus on teams with high-flying offenses, but for Wyoming, the defense is the star of the show.
The overall numbers won’t jump off the page. Wyoming finished middle of the pack defensively in the Mountain West last season. But make no mistake. They’ve got some dogs on the defensive side of the ball. With 10 starters back there, it’s a veteran unit that should be one of the league’s best in 2023.
The ‘Pokes top-6 tacklers return, led by LB Easton Gibbs who posted a ridiculous 121 tackles last season. He’ll play behind a ferocious DL that was top-20 nationally in sacks last season. DEs DeVonne Harris and Braden Siders are back after recording eight and seven sacks, respectively. Jordan Bertagnole is a monster at DT.
Wyoming’s secondary struggled early in 2022, as they were a inexperienced group. But they were much better down the stretch and are much more experienced this season. This group will need to step-up in 2023. They were last in the Mountain West with just six interceptions last year.
Offensively, it’s nothing flashy. HC Craig Bohl is old-school. He wants to suffocate you with his defense and grind you down with the run game. 1000-yard rusher Titus Swen was dismissed from the team following 2022, so it’s on Dawaiian McNeely and Northern Illinois-transfer Harrison Waylee to step up. But they should still be physical along the OL, and you can generally count on Wyoming to be able to run the football.
The biggest key to improvement will be if QB Andrew Peasley can become more consistent. His play last year was uninspiring, and if Wyoming wants to contend for a conference title, they’re going to have to get more of their passing game.
Wyoming’s schedule might limit them from truly breaking through. Their non-conference slate features home tilts with high-flying Texas Tech (on CBS) and the always feisty App State and a road trip to Texas. In conference play, they have to travel to face league-favorites Boise State and Air Force.
Still, the ‘Pokes will be a tough out in 2023. Their defense will give them a chance most every night, and War Memorial Stadium can be a tricky place to play. This team might knock off someone it shouldn’t this fall.