(Editor's note: UW Athletics release)
LARAMIE, Wyo. - The opening week of the 2020 college football season has arrived for the Wyoming Cowboys. Wyoming will travel to Reno, Nev., on Saturday, Oct. 4 to play the Nevada Wolf Pack in the season opener for both teams. The game will kick off at 5 p.m., Mountain Time and will be available on radio over the Cowboys Sports Network affiliate stations beginning with the pregame show 90 minutes prior to kickoff. The game will also be televised on CBS Sports Network.
The Wyoming Cowboys and Nevada Wolf Park are two of the preseason favorites in the Mountain West Conference. The MW preseason poll of conference media members selected the Cowboys to finish second in the Mountain Division and picked Nevada to finish second in the West Division.
Both teams are coming off 2019 seasons that saw them earn bowl bids. Wyoming recorded a convincing 38-17 win over Georgia State in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl and finished the season with an 8-5 record. Nevada earned a bid to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl where they lost a close game, 30-21, to Ohio. The Wolf Pack ended the 2019 season with a 7-6 record.
Wyoming returns a deep running back corps led by 2019 First Team All-Mountain West Conference performer Xazavian Valladay. Valladay led the Mountain West in rushing as a sophomore in 2019, accounting for 1,265 rushing yards. He averaged 105.4 rushing yards per game to rank No. 18 in the nation. Valladay also led the MW in all-purpose yards (124.08 combined yards rushing and receiving per game) and ranked 26th in the nation. Valladay has been named to two national preseason watch lists in 2020 -- the Maxwell Award, that is presented annually to the most outstanding player in college football, and the Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation’s top college running back.
Up front, the Wyoming offensive line returns six players with starting experience. Two of Wyoming’s offensive linemen earned All-Conference honors a year ago. Center Keegan Cryder was named Second Team All-MW as a sophomore in 2019, and offensive guard Logan Harris earned Honorable Mention honors as a junior. As a team, the Cowboys averaged 214.8 yards rushing per game to rank No. 2 in the conference and No. 23 in the nation. Cryder has been named to the Outland Trophy Watch List, honoring the nation’s most outstanding interior lineman, and the Rimington Trophy Watch List, that is awarded to the nation’s most outstanding center at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level.
Wyoming has the luxury of returning two talented quarterbacks for the 2020 season. Wyoming’s two returning QBs have a combined 10-2 record as starters. Cowboy sophomore Sean Chambers was named the starter for the 2020 season. He has started 11 career games and has built a 9-2 record in those games. He was a perfect 3-0 in starts his true freshman season of 2018 and was 6-2 as a starter as a redshirt freshman in 2019 before being injured. Current redshirt freshman Levi Williams is a perfect 1-0 as a starter, having won his one start as a true freshman in 2019 helping lead Wyoming to a victory in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl.
Defensively, Wyoming was one of the top defenses in the country in 2019. The Pokes ranked No. 11 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing opponents only 17.8 points per game. UW also ranked No. 11 among FBS teams in rushing defense, giving up an average of only 107.1 rushing yards to opponents a year ago.
Gone from the UW defense are some key performers in 2020 NFL Draft picks Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia at linebacker. Also gone is 2019 First Team All-MW safety Alijah Halliburton and Honorable Mention All-Conference cornerback Tyler Hall who signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons. But the Wyoming defense returns dynamic performers in junior middle linebacker Chad Muma and junior nickel back Keyon Blankenbacker, as well as two talented veteran starters in junior cornerback C.J. Coldon and redshirt junior defensive tackle Ravontae Holt, who are both back after suffering season-ending injuries in 2019. Other returning starters include junior cornerback Azizi Hearn and sophomore nose tackle Cole Godbout. Returning starter and senior defensive end Garrett Crall will not be available for this week’s season opener as he recovers from an injury, but it is hoped he will return to the Wyoming lineup this season.
Crall was one of four team captains announced by head coach Craig Bohl this past Saturday. Crall and linebacker Muma will be the two defensive captains this season. Quarterback Chambers and center Cryder will be the offensive captains. The four team captains were selected in voting by their teammates.
Nevada will be led on offense by quarterback Carson Strong, who is a candidate for the Maxwell Award, and running back Toa Taua, who is on the Doak Walker Award Watch List. Wide receiver Elijah Cooks is also a candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, that honors college football’s outstanding FBS receiver at any position. On defense, defensive tackle Dom Peterson has been named to watch lists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Outland Trophy. Nevada place-kicker Brandon Talton is a preseason candidate for the Lou Groza Award.
This season marks the 124th in Wyoming Football history. The Cowboys are 78-43-2 (.642) in their previous 123 season openers. Wyoming and Nevada have played one other season-opening game against one another. That was back in 1992 when Wyoming was a member of the Western Athletic Conference and Nevada was a member of the Big West Conference. The Cowboys won that game on Sept. 5, 1992, by a score of 25-6.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this week’s season opener for the Pokes is the latest Wyoming has begun a college football season since 1908 when the Pokes first game was played on Oct. 27. The latest a Cowboy Football season has ever begun was 1902 when the only game played that season was on Dec. 13
The Wyoming Cowboys enter the 2020 season seeking their fourth bowl bid in five seasons. That would be a first in program history. The Pokes are also seeking their fifth consecutive bowl-eligible season, which is something Cowboy Football last accomplished from 1995-99.
After this week’s season opener on the road at Nevada, Wyoming will return home next week to host the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors in a Friday night game on Oct. 30. That game is scheduled to kick off at 7:45 p.m., M.T.
Working with the Wyoming Department of Health a total of 7,000 fans will be allowed to attend the Wyoming-Hawai’i game. That Oct. 30 game will also be televised on FS1.