Watchful eyes are going to be focused on Josh Allen, if he plays, when his Wyoming Cowboys take on the Central Michigan Chippewas in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on December 22. Focusing just on the NFL Draft prospect may cause people to miss what has the chance to be a very interesting matchup on the blue turf of Albertsons Stadium in Boise. Wyoming is a modest one-point favorite at BetLuckys Sportsbook in what is projected to be a defensive struggle with a total of 46. Long-range forecasts aren’t the most accurate things in the world, but we can reasonably assume that it will be cold for this 2 p.m. local time kickoff.
Even though Central Michigan didn’t represent the MAC West in Detroit for the title game, John Bonamego seems to be ecstatic with the season that his team had. The Chippewas finished 8-4 straight up and 7-5 against the spread. They topped Western Michigan to get some hardware and beat Eastern Michigan to pick up the Michigan MAC Trophy for the first time since 2013. When it was all said and done, Wyoming turned in a decent year with a 7-5 straight up mark and a 7-5 record ATS. Wyoming was 7-3 before Josh Allen missed the last two games of the season.
The line on this game is still hanging on the status of Allen. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound quarterback that has the measurables that NFL scouts salivate over is questionable with a shoulder injury that cost him the last two games of the season. Allen hasn’t had a great season, with the losses of some really key skill players, so he may want this game to repair his draft stock, but he may also be better off not testing the shoulder injury. Clarity on his status will create some line movement, so keep an eye out for any updates.
Central Michigan is a really interesting team. The Chippewas opted to start Michigan grad transfer Shane Morris and, in some respects, it paid off. Morris threw 26 touchdown passes and passed for nearly 3,000 yards while replacing Cooper Rush. He also threw 13 picks and only completed 55.5 percent of his passes. Corey Willis went from 72 catches and a 1,000-yard season to 42 catches and a 625-yard season, but he did lead the team with nine touchdowns and CMU did have some home runs in the passing game. Mark Chapman was the leading receiver with 805 yards on 54 catches. Jonathan Ward only needs 12 yards to become Central Michigan’s first 1,000-yard back since Thomas Rawls in 2014. He had 5.9 yards per carry. Central Michigan achieved near-perfect balance with 426 pass attempts and 427 rush attempts during the year while averaging 5.5 yards per play. This is the best season for the CMU ground game since 2012, but the lowest yards per play season since 2013. This is kind of a tough team to peg.
Defensively, Central Michigan has been really strong. The Chips only allowed 5.1 yards per play this season, which tied the team’s production in 2015. Last year’s outlier under defensive coordinator Greg Colby was certainly an interesting one, especially since the team returned seven starters on defense. CMU was -6 in turnover margin last year and allowed 5.7 yards per play. This season, CMU led the country in turnovers with 31 takeaways. Interestingly, Wyoming was second in takeaways with 30, so that could be the deciding factor in this game. The Chippewas did struggle a bit against the run with 4.5 yards per carry allowed, but fared well against the pass. The MAC was not blessed with good passing quarterbacks this season, so you may want to take that mark with a grain of salt. Opposing quarterbacks only managed 188 yards and a 54.6 percent completion rate on the Chippewas. Josh Allen, if he plays, will be most talented QB the Chips have seen.
But, Josh Allen has to be good to go first. Wyoming has a big built-in advantage in this game if he can play. They are accustomed to playing in the altitude, which is huge. It is also a much shorter, much more tolerable trip from Laramie to Boise. The Chippewas played in Miami last year and in the Bahamas three years ago. Going to Boise in December isn’t very exciting. Many have soured on Allen based on this year’s numbers, but context is really important. Allen, who completed just 56.2 percent of his passes with a 13/6 TD/INT ratio, lost top WR Tanner Gentry, who had 72 catches for 1,326 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also lost the next two top receivers in Jake Maulhardt and Jacob Hollister. Running back Brian Hill rushed for 1,860 yards and moved on to the NFL. The cast of replacements at running back for Wyoming only managed 3.2 yards per carry. That was the worst rushing effort since 2012 when the Cowboys had 3.4 yards per attempt. Allen was working with a very deficient group of skill players and still managed something of a passable season.
Wyoming is in a bowl game because of its defense. The Cowboys were among the bottom 15 in offense with just 4.7 yards per play, but were up with teams like Auburn, Michigan, Penn State, and Miami defensively with 4.6 yards per play allowed. The Cowboys held some solid Mountain West offenses in check, particularly in the running game, by allowing just 3.6 yards per carry. Opposing quarterbacks also struggled against new DC Scottie Hazelton’s defense with a 56 percent completion percentage. Hazelton hopped to the NFL when Craig Bohl took the HC job at Wyoming, but left the Jacksonville Jaguars to come back to coach up this defense. That move paid immediate dividends as the Cowboys were one of the stingiest defenses in the country. Wyoming was also +14 in turnover margin and had 30 takeaways. The game plan for CMU here needs to be to try and take shots downfield. Wyoming is very aggressive with its safeties and linebackers in run support, which makes sense in the run-heavy Mountain West.
Free College Football Pick: Wyoming Cowboys -1
Everything sets up pretty nicely for Wyoming here, assuming Josh Allen can play. The altitude factor is a big deal. Central Michigan has a great head coach in John Bonamego and a dude that can get his team excited, but this is still a cold-weather bowl game in Boise. For Wyoming, it feels like just another game and business as usual. For Central Michigan, it probably just feels like a regular non-conference game, although, getting embarrassed 55-10 by Tulsa last season in the Miami Beach Bowl does create something of a revenge factor, albeit against a different team. There are definitely reasons to take both teams, but Wyoming knows the conditions and has the better defense, so they’re the pick.