This is Part 4 of my “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. We’re going in order, one per week, with this week’s focus on the Wyoming Cowboys.
Coach: Dave Christensen (2nd year)
2009 Record: 7-6 (4-4, 5th place in the MWC)
2009 vs. AF: Lost, 10-0
2009 in a Sentence: Wyoming took off once eventual Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year Austyn Carta-Samuels took over at quarterback, and the Cowboys – picked to finish last in the MWC in the preseason – finished 7-6 and won the New Mexico Bowl in Christensen’s first season.
Off/Def Starters Back: 7/7
Roster Report: Carta-Samuels, who was recruited by Air Force, will give the Cowboys a dynamic player under center for the next three seasons, barring injury.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound quarterback is mobile, can throw with accuracy and makes the Cowboys’ spread attack go. Last season he completed 191-of-326 passes for 1,953 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions and added 366 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Perhaps even more impressive, he showed a penchant for coming through in pressure situations, leading the Cowboys to five come-from-behind victories – over UNLV, 30-27; Florida Atlantic, 30-28; San Diego State, 30-27; Colorado State, 17-16; and Fresno State, 35-28 in double overtime.
Carta-Samuels will have more weapons surrounding him this season, as Wyoming improved its offensive skill positions in the offseason. Receivers DeJay Lester and Mazi Ogbonna both transferred into Wyoming from Utah’s Snow College where they combined for 67 catches for 1,283 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. They will join senior receiver David Leonard, an honorable mention All-MWC performer in 2009 when he caught 77 passes, and sophomore running back Alvester Alexander. In 2009 Alexander started just four games but led Wyoming with 640 rushing yards, including a career-best 137 against Fresno State in the bowl.
Christensen also said the Cowboys increased their team speed “drastically” from 2009 and improved their offensive line, which has three starters back. All that should help Carta-Samuels in 2010.
“We didn’t utilize all of our offense last year,” Christensen said. “I think personnel dictated that a lot, but I think we can start moving toward what we originally envisioned for the spread when we came here. We have better-suited personnel to do what we want to in our offense.
“We’ll put more of our offense in this season. Part of that is due to Austyn’s growth in his first year, and we’ve also brought more playmakers into our program with these first two recruiting classes.”
Defensively, the Cowboys will shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 set.
“I thought our players adapted well to that,” in the spring, Christensen said.
Back on defense is inside linebacker Brian Hendricks, who made 116 tackles last season, including a single-game record 23 against the Falcons, and earned second-team All-MWC honors.
The Cowboys’ secondary should be experienced and very strong. Brothers Marcell and Tashaun Gipson return to man the cornerback positions, and both Wyoming’s starting safeties return as well – senior free safety Chris Prosinski (a second-team All-MWC choice) and sophomore strong safety Shamiel Gary.
Also back will be sophomore kicker Ian Watts, who made 12-of-15 field goals last season, including game-winners against UNLV, San Diego State and Colorado State, and honorable mention All-MWC punter Austin McCoy.
Fast Fact: Air Force has won four straight games over the Cowboys. In the three victories under Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, the Cowboys have scored just 15 points and one touchdown.
What Caught My Eye: The first two-thirds of Wyoming’s schedule. Brutal.
After opening up against Southern Utah of the Football Championship Subdivision, here’s the Cowboys’ slate (with no bye week): at Texas, Boise State, Air Force, at Toledo, at TCU, Utah, at BYU.
So the Cowboys face national powers Texas and Boise State, a good Toledo team (it drilled Colorado last season) and the four teams that finished above them in the MWC, all in a seven-week span. Yikes.
The Air Force-Wyoming game will be really interesting – and it might come down to which team has more left in the tank. The Falcons face BYU and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks before meeting the Cowboys, while the Cowboys have Texas and Boise State.
Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Air Force minus-3.5
Final Thought: As Air Force sets its sights on breaking into the MWC’s “Big Three” of TCU, BYU and Utah, it needs to watch its back. There are several teams from the bottom half of the league that seem to be on the rise, and chief among them is Wyoming.
The Cowboys appear to have hit a home run with the hire of Christensen, who managed to implement a high-octane offense while simultaneously bringing the “tough” back to “Cowboy Tough.”
Air Force has won four straight games over the Cowboys, but all four were physical, tough and tightly contested contests (especially 2007 and 2009). Expect another this season.