Lots of question marks still looming for Wyoming
With three straight home games to start the season, Nebraska won't get its first road test until Sept. 24 when it travels west to take on Wyoming in Laramie for its final non-conference showdown.
Considering the manageable distance from Nebraska, many expect the game to be yet another Big Red invasion at War Memorial Stadium. For a young and inexperienced Cowboy team, it will also be by far the biggest test of the season.
To get a better feel for what to expect from Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen's latest squad, we sat down with Cowboys beat writer Bob Hammond of the Laramie Daily Bloomberg.
It sounds like there are a lot of unknowns on Wyoming's offense right now. What would you say are the biggest issues for the Cowboys?
"I think the big question mark is going to be at quarterback, because that's where they lost Austyn Carta-Samuels (to transfer) unexpectedly at the start of the spring semester. Then they had a competition this spring between a young freshman who enrolled a semester early in Brett Smith, and he came in and did a fairly good job, and then they had a redshirt freshman by the name of Emory Miller Jr., and they finished spring in kind of a dead heat.
"There's supposed to be another freshman coming in the fall by the name of Adam Pittser, so I think the biggest question going into next year is who's going to be the quarterback. No matter who it is, it's going to be a young first-year guy, and that figures to probably be a problem."
Wyoming also had plenty of issues on the offensive line last season. With the problems up front combined with a new, inexperienced quarterback, how much concern is there right now about the offense?
"I think there's a lot of concern because for some reason it's been with the past two coaching staffs that they've had problems getting offensive linemen. Since Dave Christensen has been here, the offensive line has been a problem, and it has to do with probably lack of talent, lack of size for what he wants to do.
"Last year at the end of the season they had to go down to a more conventional offense just simply because the offensive line wasn't athletic enough to do what they wanted to do with the wide splits and stuff. Now it seemed to go better this spring, but you know, going against one another, who can tell? So I think the offense is very much a big question mark heading into this fall."
The Cowboys do return their leading rusher the past two seasons in running back Alvester Alexander. How much do you expect them to rely on the running game while the rest of the offense works itself out?
"I expect them to rely on it a lot. Alvester Alexander is a one of these guys who's a big time player, but he's not a very good practice player. Coming into game day he seems to really turn it up a notch, and he's been very valuable to them the last couple of years. But there's still the problem of you're going to have to have an offensive line to be able to run the ball.
"You can't run the ball if you're giving up all kinds of pressure on the quarterback, which has been a problem. I guess what's going to have to happen is they're going to have to get into the season to see just exactly where (the offensive line) is. Like I said, this spring things looked better, but they're going up against one another, so no one can really tell. This is very much an unknown team yet."
The good news is Wyoming does return nine defensive starters from last season. Would you consider the defense to be the overall strength of this team?
"The year before in the 3-4 defense they had three starters up front who were three-year starters, and they lost all those guys last season. So last year when they went to the 4-3 defense, the entire depth up front was all new. They were young, and they weren't as big as they should be. Now they're much bigger and much stronger, and now they've got even more depth, so I expect the defensive line to be vastly improved from last year.
"The linebackers have always been pretty good, and the one big question mark is what the secondary's going to be because they lost three starters. The only guy they have returning is a cornerback, Tashaun Gipson. They have some good young players back there, and they like the talent and have seemed to played well, but it's going to be a lot different when they line up in the fall."
Here in Nebraska a lot of fans are excited about this game because it's one of the closest - if not the closest road game on the schedule. What are you hearing about the number of Husker fans expected to make the trip to Laramie?
"I think there were 5,000 tickets available to Nebraska people, and I know Wyoming's season tickets sales right now have set an all-time record. Season ticket numbers here are nothing like Nebraska, but for here it's a lot. With a smaller stadium like Wyoming's, you never know. Everybody here wants to see Nebraska, so they're going to be going, and you don't know how many Nebraska people might be buying Wyoming season tickets.
"Last year with Texas coming in here - I don't what the price is for a single-game ticket at Nebraska or Texas game is, but it's pretty substantial. There's a whole lot of people for a sellout like this one that can get a Wyoming season ticket cheaper than they can get a game ticket outside from a scalper or something. I know last year they had several people from Texas who bought Wyoming season tickets just so they were assured they could get into the game. I don't know how that's played out with Nebraska, but it's an interesting phenomena."