With a group of Cowboys from Wyoming traveling to Austin, Texas, this weekend to meet up with a herd of hungry and angry Longhorns, it sounds more like the setting for a down-home, rough-and-ready rodeo than a college football game. It's hard not to conjure up images of ridin', ropin' and wranglin'.
Instead we have the opening weekend of the 2012 college football season, and in the Big 12, Wyoming at Texas may be the best offering of the nine games featuring Big 12 schools. Eight Big 12 teams get their seasons under way on Saturday. Baylor will open up the following day, hosting in-state rival Southern Methodist University.
Many Big 12 writers believe this is the year Mack Brown's Longhorns ranked No. 15 in the country in the major preseason polls coming into the season, will really make their move back to a place among the elite teams in the conference. Texas is coming off a rebound year last season in which the Longhorns went 8-5 overall, capped by a Holiday Bowl victory over California. That was one year removed from a five-win season in 2010, the worst in Brown's 14 seasons at the football helm in Austin.
Brown has a very young team. Almost 60 percent of the roster is underclassmen, with only four seniors out of 16 returning starters. "We are still very young, but it's a very talented young team," the Texas coach said at a press conference earlier this week. We have 15 freshmen in 18 different positions." Our four senior starters is probably as few as anybody in the country, he said.
Texas' strength on offense to start the season is in its running game. Sophomores Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, who combined for over 1,100 yards on the ground last season, are back and healthy from the team that had the 21st best rushing attack in the country a year ago. If that isn't enough to concern defensive coordinators whi will face the Longhorns this season, co-offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite also have the nation's No. 1 high-school running back recruit in Jonathan Gray waiting in the wings to fill in when needed.
The Longhorns went with two quarterbacks last season, but it appears they will go with 6-1 sophomore David Ash over junior Case McCoy, younger brother of former Texas QB Colt McCoy, to begin the 2012 season. "David is much more confident now than at any time last year," Brown said about his starting quarterback. "I've never seen David as accurate as he has been the last two times out."
Asked what he expects to see from his team on Saturday night, Brown said: "I want to see them excited. I want to see them physical. I want to see them playing with confidence. I want an offense that's aggressive and looks like they are coming out to score every time they walk on the field, instead of one that's kind of feeling their way."
Wyoming returns 13 starters from the Cowboys' 2011 squad that went 8-5 overall and 5-2 in the Mountain West Conference. If the Cowboys look a lot like Missouri, it's because their head coach, Dave Christiansen was formerly the offensive coordinator at Missouri. Last season, Christensen was named the Mountain West Coach of the Year.
Some people are picking the Cowboys to win the Mountain West this year (TCU is the defending champion).
The Cowboys are led on offense by 6-3 sophomore Brett Smith, who set a freshman record at Wyoming last season, running up over 3,300 yards of total offense. Smith is a dual-threat quarterback much in the mold of another guy named Smith (Brad Smith) that used to play at Missouri and went on a career in the NFL.
Wyoming has seven starters back on defense, and they are very solid in the defensive secondary, which may give the Longhorns some trouble in the passing game.
This will only be the third time Texas and Wyoming have played in football. Texas leads the series 2-0 with wins in 2009 (at Wyoming) and 2010 (at Texas). Wyoming is 2-9 all time against teams from the Big 12.
Saturday's game will serve as an early-season homecoming for some members of the Wyoming team. Eleven members of the Cowboy roster are from the state of Texas.
Game Prediction: Texas 38, Wyoming 17
Other Big 12 Games This Weekend
(Projected winner in bold face)
South Dakota State @ Kansas
Missouri State @ Kansas State
Oklahoma @ Texas-El Paso
Tulsa @ Iowa State
Marshall @ West Virginia
Savannah State @ Oklahoma State
Northwestern State @ Texas Tech
SMU @ Baylor (Sunday)
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