Wyoming opened the 2013 football season at Nebraska. The expected blowout turned into a shootout. The numbers put up by Wyoming were such that this group of Nebraska defenders lost all right to refer to themselves as true “Blackshirts.”
Quarterback Brett Smith threw for 383 of his team’s 602 yards. The Cowboys totaled 35 first downs, the most ever allowed by Nebraska. Only one of them required a third-down conversion.
With all of that, Wyoming lost 37-34, and at least one great Cowboy of the past found himself rejecting the idea of a moral victory.
“Before the half, we kind of sat on the ball rather than to keep going for the throat,” Marcus Harris said. “To me, that said, ‘It’s good enough hanging with Nebraska,’ instead of, ‘We’re going to beat these guys.’ ”
Wyoming went 2-1 in its remaining nonconference games. Then, a 2-0 start in the Mountain West turned into a 3-5 finish, and coach Dave Christensen was fired after five seasons in Laramie.
Harris was recruited out of Brooklyn Center High to Wyoming two decades ago by coach Joe Tiller. By his senior season in 1996, he was catching 109 passes for 1,650 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was the third winner of the Fred Biletnikoff Award — a presentation started in 1994 to honor the nation’s top receiver.
Tiller went to Purdue after that season. He brought the spread offense to the Big Ten, with considerable success. Wyoming had three winning seasons immediately after Tiller with Dana Dimel, but in the past 14 years it has had only three.
Craig Bohl will be Wyoming’s fourth coach since 2000. It was a shock on Dec. 8 when it became public that Bohl would be leaving North Dakota State to replace Christensen.
The shock was that Bohl took the Wyoming offer, rather than waiting to see if something might shake loose with a higher-profile FBS program.
“It’s great football in the Mountain West Conference,” Bohl said in a phone interview this week. “There are upper-echelon programs. As you go through life, especially as a coach, one chapter closes and another opens.”
In Bohl’s case, the previous chapter is not yet closed and the new one hasn’t been fully opened.
North Dakota State has won two consecutive FCS national titles. The unbeaten, No. 1-rated Bison were one victory deep in the four required for a three-peat when it was revealed Bohl would be leaving for Wyoming.
There was never as much doubt that Bohl would continue as coach as was being expressed early on by angst-filled Bison followers. It was Bohl’s plan to continue with and concentrate on the playoff quest, before turning his full intention to Wyoming football.
“We have a very seasoned team, with fantastic leadership from 24 seniors,” Bohl said. “There was a lot of talk about ‘distraction,’ but our group showed in the way they came out against Coastal Carolina that even a unique situation like this isn’t going to have an effect on the goal.”
Last Saturday, NDSU jumped on Coastal — a team averaging 43 points a game — for a 48-14 victory. On Friday, the Bison will play New Hampshire in the semifinals in the Fargodome. A victory would put them in the national title game in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 4, for a third year in a row.
Whatever happens over the next three weeks, NDSU’s new coach, Chris Klieman, is in much better stead than is Bohl as the signing date for recruits arrives in February.
Klieman was promoted from defensive coordinator to the next head coach Sunday. The Bison have a talented group of 14 commitments.
“Wyoming has three,” Bohl said. “Once we get out there, things will be hectic. Six on our staff of nine are going with me. I’m very happy that Brent Vigen, our offensive coordinator and an exceptional recruiter, will be with us. He’s probably had more to do with our success at NDSU then anyone.”