This might be the most-scrutinized Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in the game’s 21-year history.
Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen — a potential first-round NFL Draft pick — will return from an injury to his throwing shoulder to start against Central Michigan at 2 p.m. Friday at Albertsons Stadium.
Allen is a conundrum for NFL scouts, who love his size, speed and arm strength but are concerned about his mediocre stats. His return from missing two and a half games with a shoulder injury adds to the intrigue.
At least a half-dozen NFL teams are scheduled to have representatives at the game, including general managers and an owner, according to the bowl.
“Without a doubt, Josh Allen is the most polarizing prospect in the draft,” tweeted Bucky Brooks, a draft analyst who is a former NFL player and scout. “He will test every evaluator’s value system when it comes to potential vs. performance/production. Super-talented QB but he hasn’t performed like a (star) on the field.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Allen as the No. 3 quarterback prospect in the upcoming draft, which means he could land in the top 10 picks.
NFL teams are drawn to Allen’s 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame with dazzling arm speed and strong running ability. He also plays for a coach, Craig Bohl, who already helped develop one under-the-radar quarterback prospect into an NFL star — the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz.
On the other hand, Allen ranks 83rd in the nation in pass efficiency with a 56.2 percent completion rate, 13 touchdowns, six interceptions and 165.8 yards per game. He was 32nd last season, when he had a much better supporting cast.
But anyone who thinks Allen isn’t an impact player on his team hasn’t paid attention. He was injured in the third quarter of a win against Air Force and missed games against Fresno State and woeful San Jose State. The Cowboys scored a total of 31 points without him, nearly getting shut out by Fresno State and losing to San Jose State.
The Cowboys are 7-3 when Allen starts this year. He led them to a Mountain West Mountain Division title and the Poinsettia Bowl last year.
“I’ve had extended conversations with a lot of (NFL) general managers,” Bohl said, “and they’ve all wanted to know about Josh’s will to win, his competitive nature, and he’s a 10 out of 10, so we’re excited about having him back. He will make a profound difference on our football team.”
Allen is a junior and hasn’t declared his intention to enter the NFL Draft yet. However, he was honored on senior day — so it’s expected that this will be his final college game. There was rampant speculation that Allen would skip the bowl, as some high-profile prospects have done in recent years, but Allen said all along that he’d play if healthy.
“It was never a thought to sit out voluntarily,” Allen said. “I’m not that type of guy. I want to play. This is the team I’ve been on the last three and a half years. I owe a lot to Coach Bohl for extending me an offer to play at the University of Wyoming. I feel like I owe it to my teammates. Missing the last two games killed me. Getting back on the field was something I really felt I needed to do.”
The Chippewas say they’re happy that Allen will play so they can test themselves against a big-name QB. They rank seventh in the nation in pass-efficiency defense, tied for second in interceptions and tied for 25th in sacks.
“It was fun watching him (while scouting),” Central Michigan coach John Bonamego said. “About probably two hours into my film study, I had to check myself because I became a fan. I just really enjoyed watching him compete and play.”
Allen’s teammates say his return has provided a spark in practice. And they know there’s a significant difference in what can happen offensively when he’s on the field.
“His arm strength is absolutely ridiculous,” sophomore linebacker Logan Wilson said. “Some of the throws, and the windows that he can sink that ball into, are just insane. That’s what will let him be great at the next level.”
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Who: Wyoming (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (8-4)
When: 2 p.m. Friday
Where: Albertsons Stadium
TV: ESPN (Roy Philpott, Tom Ramsey, Alex Corddry)
Vegas: Wyoming by 3
Tickets: $20 to $75 at FamousIdahoPotatoBowl.com