Wyoming Cowboys Open 2016 Season vs. Northern Illinois Saturday

The 2016 season kicks off for the Wyoming Cowboys Saturday against the Northern Illinois Huskies.  Wyoming and NIU will be playing each other for the first time in the two schools’ histories.  Saturday’s game will kick off at 8:30 p.m., Mountain Time from Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium.

A GOLD RUSH is planned for Saturday night’s game.  All Cowboy fans are encouraged to wear gold to the Wyoming vs. Northern Illinois game.  The first 5,000 fans through the gates will be provided a free shirt.  The shirts are being provided courtesy of Western States Bank.

Wyoming welcomes back several talented Cowboys for the third season under the direction of head coach Craig Bohl.  Leading the way for the Cowboys will be junior running back Brian Hill, who was one of 11 semifinalists for last season’s Doak Walker Award, presented each season to the premier running back in college football.  Hill set a new University of Wyoming single-season rushing record in 2015, rushing for 1,631 yards.  He ranked No. 8 in the nation in rushing yards a year ago, averaging 135.9 yards per game.  Hill has been named to the Doak Walker Award Watch List again this season.  He is also on the Maxwell Award Preseason Watch List, which is presented annually to college football’s Player of the Year.

Joining Hill as a preseason honors candidate for the Cowboys is senior offensive lineman Chase Roullier.  Roullier has been named to both the 2016 Outland Trophy Watch List and the 2016 Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List.  The Outland Trophy honors the nation’s most outstanding interior lineman.  The Rotary Lombardi Award began as a way to honor interior line positions, which is the position its namesake, former Green Bay Packer head coach Vince Lombardi, played at Fordham University.  Later, the award was expanded to include as candidates linebackers and tight ends.  This year, candidates are allowed from all position players who have displayed outstanding performance on the field and exhibited great leadership qualities.

Sophomore free safety Andrew Wingard enters this season as a member of the 2016 Jim Thorpe Award Watch List, which honors the nation’s best defensive back in the nation each season.  Wingard earned First Team Freshman All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) as a true freshman in 2015.  He also became the first Wyoming freshman to ever record 100 tackles in a single season as he led the Cowboys with 122 tackles a year ago.  That total ranked as the 15th best single-season performance by a Cowboy in history.  He ranked 12th in the nation in tackles in 2015.

Hill, Roullier and Wingard were all selected to the 2016 Preseason All-Mountain West Conference team in voting by media members covering the Mountain West.

Another Cowboy who was named to a preseason watch list prior to the start of the 2016 season was senior punter Ethan Wood.  For the second consecutive year, Wood has been named to the Ray Guy Award Watch list, which honors the nation’s top punter.  Wood has started the last 36 consecutive games for the Cowboys at punter.

The 2016 season will be the 120th season of Wyoming Football.  The Cowboys first season was 1893.  Since that first season, there have been only four seasons in which Wyoming has not played football.  In 1918, while Wyoming had a team, they played no games due to an influenza epidemic.  The other three seasons Wyoming did not field a team were 1943, ‘44 and ‘45 during World War II.

As the Wyoming Cowboys enter tonight’s game, the Pokes record in season openers stands at: 75-42-2 (.639) in 119 previous season-opening games.   The Cowboys are 56-18-1 (.753) in season-opening games at home, and are 19-24-1 (.443) in road games to begin the season. 

Against non-conference opponents, the Cowboys are 61-26-1 (.699) in season-opening games.  That breaks down to 47-11-1 (.805) at home against non-conference foes, and 14-15-0 (.483) on the road.

 In terms of home openers, the Pokes have a record of 80 wins, 36 losses and 3 ties for a winning percentage of 68.5 percent in home openers.  Wyoming has won 11 of its last 13 home openers dating back to the 2003 season. 

Saturday’s opponent for the Cowboys is Northern Illinois.  The Huskies are one of the most successful programs in the nation since 2010.  The Huskies have posted a 65-19 (.774) record from 2010-15.  Their 65 wins ranks No. 1 among all Group of Five teams during that time period, and their 77.4 winning percentage ranks No. 2 among Group of Five teams, trailing only Boise State’s winning percentage of 64-15 (.810).

NIU has appeared in the last six consecutive Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship Games.  The Huskies have earned eight consecutive bowl bids, which is a MAC record, and have appeared in bowl games in nine of the last 10 seasons.

The Huskies also earned a BCS bowl bid to the Orange Bowl at the conclusion of the 2012 season, facing off against Florida State.

Northern Illinois is led by head coach Rod Carey, who enters his fourth season at the helm of the Huskies. His NIU teams are 31-11 in his three previous years as head coach. 

The Huskies return six starters on offense this season. NIU’s top threat offensively is running back Joel Bouagnon (pronounced bwon-YO). He was a First Team All-MAC running back after leading the league with 108 points scored and finishing second in rushing yards per game (91.8). He led NIU in carries (283), rushing yards (1,285) and rushing touchdowns (18). His 18 rushing TDs tied for 10th in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).  Quarterback Drew Hare was one of the most efficient QBs in the MAC prior to being injured versus Toledo on Nov. 3.  He suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in that game. Hare started the first nine games of the 2015 season and completed 63.8 percent of his pass attempts and threw for 1,962 yards, with 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Receiver Kenny Golladay led the Huskies with 1,129 receiving yards on 73 catches with 10 touchdowns in 14 games.

 The Huskies return six starters on defense led by junior cornerback Shawun Lurry, who led the nation in interceptions, with nine in 2015.  He was named a First Team All-American as a sophomore by the Football Writers Association of America.                        

Northern Illinois returns the nation’s top kick returner in Aregeros Turner, who was named the 2015 MAC Special Teams Player of the Year.  He finished as the FBS leader in kick return yardage with 1,181 yards on 45 attempts both of which were NIU school records. Kicker Christian Hagan was also named First Team All-MAC connecting on 14-of-18 field-goal attempts.

Five Wyoming Cowboys have been selected by their teammates as team captains for the 2016 season.  This year’s five team captains are: senior offensive lineman Chase Roullier, senior linebacker Lucas Wacha, senior tight end Jacob Hollister, sophomore quarterback Josh Allen and sophomore strong safety Marcus Epps.

Roullier and Wacha were voted team captains for the second consecutive season, while Allen, Hollister and Epps were each named team captains for the first time.

Epps came to Wyoming as a walk-on in 2014, before starting the final 10 games of the 2015 season to earn a scholarship.  He is the first former Cowboy walk-on to be named a team captain since place-kicker J.D. Wallum in 2002.

Sophomores Allen and Epps become only the fourth and fifth sophomores in school history to be named team captains.  The only other Cowboy sophomores to earn that honor were wide receiver Ryan McGuffey in 2001, quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels in 2010 and quarterback Brett Smith in 2012.

Saturday’s game will be televised live on CBS Sports Network, beginning at 8:30 p.m.  The game will also be broadcast on radio over the 25 stations of the Cowboy Sports Network beginning with the pregame show at 7:30 p.m.