Dec. 6, 2011
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The Mountain West Conference announced its 2011 All-Conference Football Team on Tuesday and eleven Wyoming players plus head coach Dave Christensen earned recognition.
Wyoming received two of the five conference individual honors in voting by Mountain West head coaches and media members. Head coach Dave Christensen was named Coach of the Year and quarterback Brett Smith was voted Freshman of the Year.
Christensen becomes the first Cowboy head football coach to receive conference Coach of the Year honors since Joe Tiller received the honor in 1996. This is the first time a Wyoming head football coach has earned Coach of the Year honors in the Mountain West Conference era.
Smith becomes the second Wyoming freshman to earn MW Freshman of the Year honors. UW quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels earned the honor in 2009.
While Wyoming had no First Team All-Conference selections, they had eight Second Team honorees, including five on defense and three on offense. Wyoming's defensive honorees on the Second Team include four seniors: defensive ends Josh Biezuns and Gabe Knapton, linebacker Brian Hendricks and free safety Tashaun Gipson. They were joined by junior strong safety Luke Ruff.
Biezuns was a Second Team selection for the second consecutive season. Knapton, Hendricks and Gipson were Honorable Mention choices a year ago, while Hendricks earned Second Team honors as a sophomore in 2009. This was the first All-Conference recognition for Ruff.
The offensive players who earned Second Team All-Mountain West Conference recognition were: senior offensive tackle Clayton Kirven, junior center/guard Nick Carlson and junior wide receiver Chris McNeill. Carlson was an honorable mention choice in 2010. Kirven and McNeill earned All-Conference honors for the first time.
Two young Cowboys received enough votes to garner Honorable Mention All-Conference. Those two are: sophomore offensive guard Tyler Strong and freshman cornerback Blair Burns. It was Strong's first honor, and Burns earned the honor in his first season playing at the collegiate level.
Here are some details on Wyoming's 2011 All-Conference selections
Coach of the Year
Dave Christensen became the first Wyoming football coach to earn Coach of the Year honors since Joe Tiller in 1996. He is the first Cowboy head coach to earn the award since UW joined the Mountain West in 1999. He guided Wyoming to an 8-4 record, marking the first time since 1998 that Wyoming had won eight or more games. Christensen also led UW to sole possession of third place in the MW, tying the 2006 Cowboys for Wyoming's highest conference finish. In his three seasons as head coach, Christensen has guided the Pokes to two bowl games, which is something that hadn't been accomplished at Wyoming since the 1988-90 seasons.
Freshman of the Year
Brett Smith set a new Mountain West Conference record for total offense, with 3,140 total yards, breaking the previous record of 2,691 yards set by Andy Dalton of TCU in 2007. He leads all freshmen in the nation in total offense this season, averaging 261.7 yards per game. That ranks him No. 2 in the Mountain West this season and No. 31 in theNCAA. He also ranked third in the conference in passing efficiency (126.2 passer rating) and fourth in passing yards (207.9 yards per game).
Second Team Defensive Selections
Josh Biezuns earned Second Team All-Conference honors for the second consecutive season. He led Wyoming in tackles for loss, with 9.5, and in forced fumbles, with five. He ranked No. 3 in the MW in tackles among defensive linemen this season, with 60. Biezuns ranked No. 2 in the league and No. 8 in the nation in forced fumbles. He ranked No. 7 in the conference in tackles for loss, and ranked No. 9 in sacks, with 5.0.
Tashaun Gipson earned Second Team honors this season, after being an Honorable Mention selection in 2010. Gipson ranked fourth in the MW in tackles among defensive backs (87), and his three interceptions ranked him No. 4 in the conference. He is also ranked fourth in the conference in passes defended. Gipson has nine career interceptions, tying him for fourth in school history.
Brian Hendricks was honored for the third consecutive season with All-Conference recognition. He was a Second Team selection in 2009, as a sophomore, and earned Honorable Mention as a junior. Hendricks has 92 tackles this season to rank second on the Cowboy team and No. 7 in the conference. He will enter the 2011 Gildan New Mexico Bowl with 296 career tackles, ranking him 12th in school history.
Gabe Knapton is being recognized for the second consecutive season on the All-Conference squad. He was an Honorable Mention choice in 2010. Knapton led all Mountain West defensive linemen in tackles this season, with 74. He has 361 career tackles, ranking him No. 10 in the nation among all active NCAA players. Knapton is also ranked fifth in school history and sixth in Mountain West history in total tackles. He led UW in sacks this season (6.5 total sacks), which ranked him fourth in the conference.
Luke Ruff led the Cowboys and ranked No. 5 in the conference in tackles, with 97. His 97 tackles led all defensive backs in the Mountain West. Ruff earned Second Team honors in his first full season as a starter in 2011. He also had two pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble on the season.
Second Team Offensive Selections
Nick Carlson is the one Cowboy offensive performer who earned All-Conference for the second time. He was an Honorable Mention selection in 2010. Carlson was a leader of an offensive line unit that ranked 12th in the nation in fewest sacks allowed (11 total). Carlson's unit also helped the Cowboys rank No. 4 in the MW and No. 32 in the nation in rushing offense (185.1 yards per game) and No. 4 in the MW in passing offense (213.5 yards per game). He has started all 12 games this season -- nine at center and the last three at offensive guard.
Clayton Kirven earned All-Conference honors for the first time in his Wyoming career. Kirven has started 44 of 48 career games. The senior helped Wyoming rank 12th in the nation in fewest sacks allowed (11 total). Kirven's unit also helped the Cowboys rank No. 4 in the MW and No. 32 in the nation in rushing offense (185.1 ypg) and No. 4 in the MW in passing offense (213.5 ypg).
Chris McNeill was recognized by conference head coaches and media members despite being injured in the Air Force game and missing the final three games of the regular season. McNeill leads Wyoming in receptions (42), receiving yards (504) and receiving touchdowns (4). He also leads UW in punt returns (16.8 yards per return). He ranks No. 5 in the MW in receptions per game and No. 6 in receiving yards per game.
Honorable Mention All-Conference
Blair Burns had four interceptions his freshman season to lead Wyoming. He ranks No. 2 in the conference and No. 23 in the nation in interceptions this season. Burns is also fourth in the Mountain West in passes defended, averaging 0.67 per game. The freshman started the final eight games of the season at cornerback for the Pokes.
Tyler Strong moved to the offensive line as a sophomore, after playing defensive line for Wyoming as a freshman a year ago. He earns Honorable Mention All-Mountain West honors for the first time in his career. Wyoming's most improved offensive linemen, he started the last 10 games of the season at left guard. The first-year starter helped Wyoming rank 12th in the nation in fewest sacks allowed (11 total). Strong's unit also helped the Cowboys rank No. 4 in the MW and No. 32 in the nation in rushing offense (185.1 ypg) and No. 4 in the MW in passing offense (213.5 ypg).