LARAMIE — Wyoming will end the year in Arizona.
The Cowboys will take on Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve. The game, which will be played at Arizona Stadium on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson, was announced with the rest of the 38 bowl matchups Sunday afternoon.
It’s the third bowl game in the last four years for the Cowboys, who have put together their fourth straight bowl-eligible seasons. Wyoming was left out of the postseason last year after being the final team in the Mountain West to become bowl-eligible with a 6-6 record, but with seven wins this season, the Cowboys were a lock for a bowl bid even after losing three of their last four games, including a 20-6 setback at Air Force to end the regular season.
The Cowboys’ reward will be a first for the program. Wyoming has never played in the Arizona Bowl, which was added to the bowl lineup in 2015. Nevada, Colorado State, Air Force and Utah State are the MW teams that have previously been featured in the game with Nevada winning last year’s game against Arkansas State, 16-13, in overtime.
As for Wyoming’s opposition, Georgia State finished third in the Sun Belt’s East Division behind Georgia Southern and No. 20 Appalachian State. The Panthers went 7-5 overall and 4-4 in league play with their most notable win coming over SEC foe Tennessee in their season opener.
Behind the Sun Belt’s leading rusher, Tra Barnett (1,389 yards, 12 TDs), the Panthers rank in the top 4 in the Sun Belt in yards, points and rushing offense.
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Wyoming will bring the MW’s No. 4 overall defense and second-ranked scoring and rushing defenses into the matchup. The struggles for the Cowboys, particularly without quarterback Sean Chambers (season-ending knee injury), have been on the other side of the ball.
Even with the help of a rushing attack that ranks in the top 30 nationally, Wyoming ranks eighth in the league in scoring and last in passing yards. The Cowboys averaged just 15.2 points over their last four games and didn’t score more than 22 in any of its losses.
Redshirt sophomore Tyler Vander Waal, who started nine games last season, took over as the starter once Chambers sustained his injury in the first half against Nevada on Oct. 26. He completed 65 percent of his passes against Boise State but accounted for all four of the Cowboys’ turnovers in a 26-21 loss at Utah State the following week.
Coaches began rotating true freshman Levi Williams at the position in Wyoming’s most recent win against Colorado State. Used primarily as a runner, Williams scored the go-ahead touchdown in the Cowboys’ 17-7 win and has accounted for 237 total yards in the two games he’s played. He’s completed 8 of 13 passes with one interception.
There could be a competition to start the bowl game given Vander Waal is healthy. Vander Waal injured his hand late against Air Force.
Wyoming coach Craig Bohl is set to receive one month’s worth of his $300,000 base salary as an incentive bonus for the Cowboys being selected to a bowl game, according to his contract. The payment will come from the Cowboy Joe Club, according to the contract.
Should Wyoming win its bowl game, Bohl would earn an additional $25,000 bonus. Including a $625,000 retention bonus, Bohl has already earned $725,000 in bonuses this year.
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.