Wyoming football’s 2017 season was a hard one to put a finger on. Ending the season with a bowl victory that matched last year’s win total made it easy to oversimplify and just say, “Hooray! Great season!” But it’s not quite as simple as that.
Wyoming also finished tied for second in the Mountain Division, a year after winning the division and hosting the conference championship game. And the expectations were higher this year. They were also specific: win the conference championship and represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl. Neither of those happened.
Still, this team, by my estimation, was one shoulder sprain away from winning 10 games. That’s impressive. Wyoming’s dominant defense was one of the best units in the whole Mountain West, and the Cowboys won all their rivalry games.
I’ll leave it to you to decide what to make of Wyoming’s 2017, but here are some stats: Wyoming’s defense gave up 117.9 fewer yards per game this season than last season and 1.92 fewer yards per play. Barring something insane in this year’s final few bowl games, the Cowboys forced the most turnovers in the nation with 38. That’s currently seven better than second place. It’s also an increase of 11 from last year, when the Pokes were already top-10 in turnovers forced. Wyoming went from ranking 101st in scoring defense in 2016 to 10th in 2017.
The offense, though, made its own 180 this year. In 2016, Wyoming had the 25th-best scoring offense in the country. This season, it ranked 104th. Wyoming averaged 148.5 fewer yards per game this season than last.
If only we could have seen the 2017 defense with the 2016 offense. Anyway, let’s hand out some awards.
There are two contenders here, in my mind. Wyoming’s Border War win over Colorado State was memorable and meaningful, but in terms of how well Wyoming played, it lags behind the two times Wyoming forced seven-plus turnovers. The first was a 43-2 win over New Mexico, the second a 37-14 Potato Bowl win over Central Michigan. In both games, the defense was dominant and the offense was opportunistic. I’m going to side with the Central Michigan game, though, since the Chippewas were a tougher foe than the Lobos.
It’s not a great sign that Wyoming’s 49-13 home loss to Oregon isn’t going to be the winner (loser?) here. That game was bad, maybe the worst of Josh Allen’s Wyoming career, but the Ducks are a Power Five team, and they were at their best in 2017 when quarterback Justin Herbert was healthy, which he was against the Pokes. No, it has to be Wyoming’s regular season-ending loss to San Jose State. The Cowboys were without Allen, sure, and it was just a three-point loss. But nothing can excuse losing to one of the worst teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Most valuable offensive player
This one’s easy. No single player was more important to this team’s success than Allen, as the final two games of the regular season made clear. There’s no debate.
Most improved offensive player
Kellen Overstreet didn’t have to do much to improve on his 2016 season, considering he missed the whole year to injury. But he improved as the 2017 season went along, finishing with 481 rushing yards, 12 off Trey Woods’ team lead, though Overstreet had 33 fewer carries and one more rushing touchdown. There’s also an argument to be made for tight end Austin Fort, who scored four touchdowns on his first four career touches.
Top offensive newcomer
Wyoming’s offensive line didn’t have much stability this season, but one of its two constants was true freshman Logan Harris at center. The Torrington graduate surprised by earning the starting spot out of fall camp, and he held onto it the whole season. Woods also surprised by earning the starting running back spot after beginning his true freshman year at linebacker.
Most valuable defensive player
I don’t know if Logan Wilson has the best stats of any Wyoming defender, but he was certainly the player who made you feel the most sympathy for Wyoming opponents this year. In his first season at middle linebacker, the Natrona County graduate was a rock at the center of Wyoming’s defense, a unit so impressive that there was bound to be a snub here (see: Andrew Wingard, Carl Granderson, Marcus Epps).
Most improved defensive player
Wyoming’s entire defense looked improved in 2017 under first-year coordinator Scottie Hazelton. But Youhanna Ghaifan‘s dominance on the defensive line was only made more impressive when contrasted with his 2016 season. The all-conference defensive tackle had a much more limited role as a redshirt freshman, though he did begin to emerge as a playmaker late in 2016. His efforts as a sophomore were all the more crucial considering the injuries Wyoming faced at the tackle positions.
Top defensive newcomer
Wyoming would have been sunk without true freshman tackles Ravontae Holt and Javaree Jackson this season. But Garrett Crall takes this honor by a (mullet) hair. The redshirt freshman defensive end recorded 2.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to go with 33 total tackles. He was twice named to the Mountain West team of the week by Pro Football Focus, and his pass breakup against Hawaii resulted in Cassh Maluia’s game-winning interception.