Cowboys enter season stronger than in years past

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Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith won Mountain West freshman of the year honors last season accounting for more than 3,300 yards, throwing for 20 touchdowns and running for 10 more in 2011.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Wyoming comes to Austin hoping to recapture the momentum gained from a successful regular season in 2011 despite a loss to Temple in the New Mexico Bowl. Wyoming finished with an 8-5 record and a 5-2 conference record, a sharp difference from the 3-9 season finish a year before.

No. 15 Texas holds a 4-0 all-time series lead against Wyoming.

“They are a very good team, but that’s what I want to play Division 1 football for – to play really good teams,” Wyoming sophomore receiver Trey Norman said about facing Texas. “We are looking forward to it a lot.”

Norman, who is from Texarkana, Texas, is joined by 11 other Texans on the Wyoming roster.

“I am ready to come home, there will be a lot of emotion in this game and getting to see my family,” Norman said. “But I’m going to have to keep my eyes on the big picture, and that’s the game.”

The Cowboys’ 8-5 record last season was powered by the arm of quarterback Brett Smith, who is expected to have a strong second season with the Cowboys after a record-setting freshman campaign.

Smith amassed 3,332 total yards of offense in 2011, becoming the first freshman quarterback in the history of the Mountain West Conference to log over 3,000 total yards in a single season. For his efforts, he was named to the this year’s Manning Award Watch List.

The Wyoming staff is expecting Smith to improve on last year’s success. During fall scrimmages, he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 477 yards and six touchdowns. Smith only committed two interceptions.

To back up Smith, the Cowboys are returning their top three receivers from last season – Dominic Rufran, Chris McNeill, and Robert Herron. Combined, the trio accounted for nine touchdowns while racking up 1,285 total receiving yards.

Over the past several seasons the Wyoming defense has had difficulties stopping the run. In 2011, the line was ranked 115th in yards allowed on the ground with a 232 yard-per-game average. The Wyoming defensive line will be tested this Saturday against Texas running backs Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, and Johnathan Gray, one of the best projected running corps in the country.

However, the Wyoming defense will be fielding a more experienced team than in years past with at least seven returning starters.

Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen, who is starting his fourth season with the Cowboys, has really turned the program around over the past three seasons. In his first season Wyoming posted a 7-6 record which culminated in a bowl win against Fresno State. After his second postseason appearance in three years, Christensen was named Mountain West Coach of the Year for the 2011 season.

“This will be the best football team that we’ve had up to this point in time,” Christensen said.