LARAMIE -- We are starting a new weekly mailbag feature, which means it's almost time to play some football.

Forty-seven days, but who's counting?

I'll be leaving for Mountain West Media Days in Las Vegas tomorrow, too. It's becoming real, folks. And as long as you provide the questions, I'm happy to answer them. Today, we got some doozies. I had to do some serious homework. I appreciate that.

Let's get into it:

OK, I see a bunch of predictions picking Boise State to win the Mountain West and a mix of Air Force, Nevada, Colorado State and Wyoming rounding out the top four. I know lots of reasons why Wyoming should win the conference this year, being a fan and all. What is working against them in the general media? - Jim in California

I have seen a few publications pick Boise State and Nevada. Surprised I haven't seen more love for defending conference champion, San Jose State, honestly. What is making national pundits leery? You'd probably have to go to the most important position on the field -- quarterback. Can you blame them? Sean Chambers has suffered three straight season-ending leg injuries. When he's on the field, he's shown how dynamic he can be with those legs. It's his right arm that people are nervous about, and rightfully so. It really goes without saying, but this is a huge year for the sophomore signal caller. If this offense can become a balanced one, and Chambers can complete 60-plus percent of his passes, UW could very well be the front runner in '21. They just haven't proven they can do it yet. Other than that, you have to like what the Pokes are bringing to the table at nearly every other position on the field. Boise State is, well, Boise State, and Nevada is returning a ton of talent including last year's Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Carson Strong. The Spartans are loaded with veterans, too.

 

 

Coach Craig Bohl’s tenure at UW (2014-present) has been the longest since coach Lloyd Eaton (62-70) and with him being one of the oldest head coaches in college football, has coach Bohl given any hints about how much longer he wants to keep coaching? Also with the recent success of hiring quality coordinators and steady improvement in the program (culture, facility upgrades and wins) which direction do you see UW going once he does hang up the whistle? Established head coach like Bohl or a hot up-and-coming offensive coordinator/ defensive coordinator like Dave Christensen? Or do they establish a coach-in-waiting and hire within? Go Pokes! - Jared in Green River

All really great questions and ones I seriously haven't thought much about. Unless there are some internal talks going on, I would bet no one has thought about any of these either, Jared. I did ask Bohl during Mountain West Media Days in 2019 how much longer he wanted to coach. There was zero indication that the end was near. I'll ask him again this week. As for the "who's next" question, I can only go off what we've seen from UW Athletics Director Tom Burman in years past. He has hired two head coaches from the FCS level -- Joe Glenn and Bohl -- and, at the time, the best offensive coordinator in the nation in Christensen from Mizzou. I'd put my money on an established coach from a smaller school after the way those hires panned out. We just saw him snag Jeff Linder from Northern Colorado, too. As far as a coach-in-waiting, I would bet that if all worked out as planned, Brent Vigen could've been that guy.

 

 

Would like to know the strengths that teams have coming back because of the extra year of eligibility? - Jackson in Casper

This is a big question and one I will answer as I bust out my season preview stories in August, but let's pick out a few strengths of the conference teams the Cowboys will play this fall.

* Air Force took a huge hit on the offensive side of the ball where it will attempt to replace all five starting offensive linemen, but on defense, the Falcons return 10 starters from 2020, including cornerback Milton Bugg, linebackers Lakota Wills and Demonte Meeks and defensive end Jordan Jackson.

* Fresno State welcomes back its quarterback Jake Haener, running back Ronnie Rivers and wide out Keric Wheatfall. That's a ton of skill guys. The Bulldogs also keep left tackle Dontae Bull in the mix.

* SJSU will have nine starters back on offense, including Nick Starkel, the Spartans sixth-year signal caller. Outside of Laramie, this might be the most talented offensive line in the league, too. All five starters return. Oh, by the way, SJSU also returns 11 starters on defense. Maybe the "experts" don't believe that team can do what it did last year in a full 12-game slate?

* Colorado State's aggressive defensive front returns nearly intact. That means the Pokes should see Scott Patchan, Manny Jones and Toby McBride this fall. That's quite a task. Those guys were a main reason the Rams averaged four sacks per outing in 2020.

Stay tuned for the season preview stories. We will break down every opponent on the Cowboys' schedule.

 

 

What kind of weight and strength grains did the team make over the summer? - Tim in Laramie

These numbers always interest me, too. Without going over the entire list -- and of course the only thing I have to go off is the official roster -- let's look at some key players and anyone who really made huge gains or losses. First one that comes to mind is big offensive guard Eric Abojei, who shed 55 pounds in the offseason and looks amazing. That story is right HERE if you missed it. This is also a very informative piece on offseason workouts with UW strength coach Ed Donoval. He pointed out nickelback Keyon Blankenbaker (up to 185 from 175) and linebackers Chad Muma (up to 242 from 227) and Easton Gibbs (up to 227 from 216). Quarterback Levi Williams, who weighed in at 245 in 2020, is down to 224. Here are a few others:

OL - Latrell Bible - 2020 weight: 290; now: 300
WR - Alex Brown - 2020 weight: 205; now: 190
DE - Sebastian Harsh - 2020 weight: 220; now: 236
OL - Kohl Herbolsheimer - 2020 weight: 275; now: 298
DL - Ravontae Holt - 2020 weight: 287; now: 278
DE - Teagan Liufau - 2020 weight: 232; now: 250
DT - Gavin Meyer - 2020 weight: 240; now: 257
DE - Oluwaseyi Omotosho - 2020 weight: 225; now: 239
OL - Emmanuel Pregnon - 2020 weight: 265; now: 297
NT - Caleb Robinson - 2020 weight: 265; now: 295
DE - Braden Siders - 2020 weight: 215; now: 225
OL - Mana Taimani - 2020 weight: 315; now: 282
OL - Nofoafia Tulafono - 2020 weight: 311; now: 338
LB - Brent Vanderveen - 2020 weight: 190; now: 220
OL - Malik Williams - 2020 weight: 265; now: 274
DL - Jordan Bertagnole - 2020 weight: 254; now: 275
LB - Brady Bohlinger - 2020 weight: 211; now: 226

 

MORE UW FOOTBALL NEWS:
* Valladay lands on Maxwell Award list again
* Chad Muma selected to Chuck Bednarik Award preseason watch list
* UW's Top 50 football players: No. 20
*
 Look: Wyoming Cowboy football players in the NFL

 

 

 

So there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a single Wyoming fan that doesn’t want to put Brent Vigen back on his bus not having scored a single point or gained a single rushing yard in this first game. I feel about 51% of his first play from scrimmage will likely be an attempted bomb down field on first down just to try to stick it in our face right off the bat. The other 49% he’s going vanilla and will run the ball the first play. Does he change it up since he knows we know how vanilla he is? Or is he so vanilla that he sticks with his running game 85-plus percent of the time against what he knows is a very nasty defense? All I know is that I want to send him home with a handshake, maybe even a hug, a pat on the butt and a huge lopsided goose egg on the scoreboard in the friendliest way possible. I have no clue what he inherited at Montana State. Did he steal any recruits at all from us? Kids that agreed to play under him at Wyoming but switched to Montana State to play for him? - Tom in Nebraska

Love the enthusiasm, Tom! I have been wondering myself what Vigen's game plan against the Cowboys will be in the opener Sept. 4 in Laramie. Will the Bobcats be able to run against Wyoming's defense that returns 11 starters -- not to mention opt outs Solomon Byrd, Claude Cole and Rome Weber -- and ranked 21st in the country allowing just 125.3 yards per game a year ago? Not likely. Will they try? Absolutely. They have a veteran front five, too. If the Bobcats' spring game is any indication (it probably isn't) Vigen hasn't changed much:
* Rushing: 45 attempts, 256 yards, three touchdowns, fumble
* Passing: 31 attempts, 15 completions, 236 yards, two interceptions, touchdown
I would imagine Vigen would like his Bobcats' offense to look a lot like the Cowboys' offense did in 2016. Josh Allen threw the ball 373 times for 3,203 yards and Brain Hill, Shaun Wick and Co. rushed the rock 628 times for 2,865 yards. That's as balanced as Vigen ever was during his seven seasons in Laramie. MSU has a new quarterback who just transferred from North Carolina State named Matthew McKay. He can throw and run a bit. If I'm Vigen, I'm probably trying the same game plan the Pokes used against Missouri in 2019. Put wide receivers in motion in hopes they will cause hesitation from UW's linebackers and run behind the guards. Montana State does return a ton of talent up front. If that doesn't have success, look for McKay to get out on the perimeter and try and make plays on the run. As far as recruiting, I know the Pokes kicked the tires on 6-foot-4, 240-pound Thunder Basin (Gillette) tight end Dyse Shepard, but never officially offered.
How did the NCAA transfer portal help the Cowboys? - Tom on Facebook
Wyoming did add back-up quarterback Jayden Clemons into the mix, but that was in a walk-on capacity. Clemons, a sophomore, started his career at the University of Utah where he was moved to defensive back. Bohl welcomed the addition to the quarterback room, which didn't feature a high school recruit in 2020. As you probably know, Bohl isn't planning on using the transfer portal to plug holes. He's all about development. That will never be a crutch. Plus, the Cowboys are returning 95% of their roster from 2020. I can only assume Bohl didn't feel it necessary though I know the staff does keep an eye on the portal.
I know from past conversations with NDSU fans that Bohl made an intentional effort to be in every ND high school every year. I am curious if that approach is still in place now that he’s in Wyoming? - @wystanley on Twitter
Bohl admits frequently that nabbing in-state players is a priority for his program. He's proven it, too, with guys like Parker Christensen (Sheridan), Andrew Johnson (Cheyenne), Logan Harris (Torrington), Blayne Baker (Sheridan), Frank Crum (Laramie), Caleb Driskill (Gillette), Logan Wilson, Jordan Bertagnole and Josh Harshman (Casper) and a number of others. Shannon Moore, the Pokes' tight end coach and co-special teams coordinator, handles recruiting duties inside the Cowboy State. From what I gather, Moore makes the initial contact and Bohl enters the mix when it's a given that they found a guy they really want. Unlike the early 2000's era-ish when the state saw players like Chris Cooley (Utah State), Ben Stratton, Bob and Mike Vomhof and Clint Oldenburg (CSU) and Brett Keisel and Brady Poppinga (BYU) not only cross the border but to rival programs, Bohl has all but put a stop to that.
What is the biggest concern when facing a team whose head coach obviously knows our personnel so well? - James on Facebook
It's one thing to know it, but it's another thing entirely when it comes to actually exploiting it. There's no doubt Brent Vigen knows this Wyoming roster inside and out. He also worked with the Cowboys' new offensive coordinator, Tim Polasek, at NDSU. The concern is Vigen knows the limitations of guys. He knows all strengths and weaknesses. He has a good idea what schemes the Cowboys will run on offense and practiced against Jay Sawvel's defense throughout the 2020 season. Having knowledge won't be the issue. Stopping it -- or exploiting it -- will. I mean zero respect to Montana State or the FCS as a whole, but Wyoming has so much experience coming back that theoretically you'd hope that team has no chance of playing toe-to-toe with the Pokes for four quarters in Laramie. Theoretically is the keyword. I don't need to bring up losses to Cal Poly, North Dakota or the scares from Weber State, Montana, Southern Utah and Idaho in recent years. Oops. This will be a huge game for the Bobcats. It needs to be even more important to the Cowboys. And remember, Bohl and his crew know Vigen pretty darn well, too.
As always, thank you for the questions. This was a lot of fun for me. Hope you enjoy it, too. Let's do it again next week.

Wyoming Cowboys football players in the NFL: Then and now