Wyoming completed its first, three-game winning streak under head coach Craig Bohl on Saturday, beating Nevada on the road, 42-34. The Cowboys are now perfect since a Sept. 23 loss at Eastern Michigan — and the Eagles might be the only team in college football more surprising than Wyoming this season.
The Pokes’ next win will give Craig Bohl as many this season as in his first two years in Laramie combined. More importantly, the next will give Wyoming bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011, a considerable milestone in Bohl’s restoration of the program.
Up next is unbeaten Boise State, the benchmark among the current Mountain West and the current pace-setter in the Group of Five race to a New Year’s Six bowl.
The No. 13-ranked Broncos are certainly tough, but not untouchable. Their last two wins — both at home — were by a combined six points, one of which came against a Colorado State that Wyoming routed by three touchdowns.
An upset of Boise State would serve as THE flagship win in the brief Craig Bohl era; another and even greater milestone than the Cowboys simply reaching the postseason.
It wouldn’t be Wyoming’s first big win of the season. One week after Air Force dominated against currently ranked Navy, the Falcons came into War Memorial Stadium; gave up 362 yards of total offense; and left with a 35-26 loss.
The Cowboys took full advantage of their unique, home-field edge that afternoon, employing the same kind of ball-control offense against Air Force that was Craig Bohl’s hallmark in his time at North Dakota State.
Those Bison teams — winners of three straight national championships under Bohl, and another two under former Bohl colleague, Chris Klieman — methodically moved the ball downfield with physical offensive line play, and proficient rushing. Against Air Force, Wyoming used the ground game to monopolize possession for 34 minutes.
Saturday at Nevada, Wyoming took it to another level when Brian Hill toted the ball for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He earned Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week, and would have set the national, single-game mark for 2016, had Utah’s Joe Williams not established the mark earlier in the same day.
The Cowboys now ranked 26th in the nation in rushing yards, with Hill establishing himself as the next, great Bohl-coached running back. Past names include Pat Paschall, D.J. McNorton and Sam Ojuri, all of whom were destroyers for outstanding North Dakota State squads.
The stifling defense that elevated North Dakota State from Div. II transitional program to the benchmark of FCS is still a work in progress at Wyoming, but it’s getting there. The Cowboys are giving up 30.3 points per game, largely skewed by surrendering 52 points at Nebraska in Week 2. Still, that’s down by about 3 and 4 points from each of the last two seasons, and likely to trim down further as the regular season continues.
To wit, Wyoming’s yield in MWC games is 25.7 points.
Boise State’s impending visit to War Memorial Stadium marks a potentially pivotal moment in this program’s trajectory. Wyoming football burst onto the national stage in the late 1980s and into the first half of the 1990s, at a time when the now-football-defunct Western Athletic Conference established itself as a power conference — before the sport put such heavy credence on “power” and not.
Those teams, coached by Paul Roach and Joe Tiller, demonstrated Wyoming’s mile-high potential. But recapturing in today’s landscape
Craig Bohl’s lineage, which combines time spent in a renowned FBS powerhouse program as well as winning FCS championships, is the perfect fit for rebuilding Wyoming to national relevance. He just needed some time to lay the foundation.
The time head coaches are allotted before landing on the hot seat has been a topic of particular interest for me all season. No one could objectively believe Craig Bohl could recapture Wyoming’s past glory in two years, taking over a program that struggled consistently for the better part of two decades.
And yet, he entered the season in that vague collection of coaches on the hot seat. The site of that very name ranked him the No. 16-most in danger head coach entering the season. College Football News placed him at a more generous, but still worrisome No. 34. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd graded him a 3-of-5 on his hot-seat scale for “pressure mounting.”
Consider any hot-seat talk silenced. More importantly, though, Craig Bohl is proving what a good coach can do when given the opportunity to build things his way.