The decision Brian Hill made to come to Wyoming in 2014 wasn’t necessarily a difficult one. But it was an important one.
The Illinois native had offers from Northern Illinois, Georgia State, Eastern Michigan and Indiana State out of Belleville West High. Wyoming was coming off of a 2013 season where the Cowboys finished 5-7, won three Mountain West games and fired coach Dave Christensen. Northern Illinois, on the other hand, had a 12-2 season and was ranked as high as No. 16 in the nation.
But Hill’s decision to commit to Wyoming, an isolated school with an all-time winning percentage of 46.2, was more than about wins and losses. It was about the potential of a program of newly named coach Craig Bohl, who won three straight national titles at FCS North Dakota State and had coached Hill’s cousin there.
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“He was successful at the level he was at,” Hill said. “I knew a lot about coach Bohl and what he was about. I liked what he was saying.”
Hill was the foundation of Bohl’s first recruiting class in Laramie. He, quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Lucas Wacha have the Cowboys (5-2, 3-0) a win away from their first bowl game since 2011 and in position to win the Mountain West’s Mountain Division with a victory over Boise State on Saturday (5 p.m., CBSSN).
Though Wacha and Allen were not part of the 2014 recruiting class, the pair represents another important part of what has turned Wyoming around: buy-in from JC transfers and from the players Bohl inherited from the prior regime. Bohl got that buy-in by reassuring them greatness was on the way.
“For us to be 3-0 in conference, we’re certainly pleased. To say, has that susprised me? Maybe a little bit at the beginning of the year. Maybe a little bit ahead of where I thought I’d be,” Bohl said. “But we saw a really good team coming in.”
Before landing at Wyoming, Allen played at Reedley College in Calif. Wyoming had just finished its first season under Bohl, which featured an uninspiring 4-8 record and 2-6 mark in conference play.
But when Bohl visited Allen and his parents at their home, something struck a chord. Sure, the success Bohl had with Brock Jensen at North Dakota State didn’t hurt. He also recruited current Philadelphia Eagles starter Carson Wentz prior to taking the Wyoming job. But more than the pedigree was the fact Bohl looked Allen’s parents in the eyes and told them the truth: Allen was the man for the job.
“(Bohl said) I’ve traveled the country and the quarterback I want is your son. My parents started to cry,” Allen said. “He’s just a great man. To play for a man, like him, it’s an honor.”
Wyoming has eight junior college players on its roster, many of whom have contributed to the 5-2 start.
Wacha faced a different set of circumstances when Bohl was named coach in December of 2013, as he was recruited by Christensen in 2012. The senior knew about Bohl from watching the Bison upset Kansas State in 2013. Still, he didn’t know much about him and admitted the idea of a new coach wasn’t appealing.
“It’s different. They didn’t recruit you,” he said. “New faces, coaches that recruited you (are gone). You had great relationships with those guys.”
But when Bohl sat the team down for its first meeting, Wacha knew there was something special in the making. And all of Christensen’s players who were on the fence about Bohl immediately felt the same way.
“First thing he did when he came in, the whole team was sitting in the war room. … He came in and looked each person in the eye. He gave us a long speech and said we would be champions one day,” Wacha said. “I have such high respect for (somebody like that).”
After finishing with a combined 6-18 record in Bohl’s first two seasons, Bohl’s promise of championships are coming sooner rather than later. And that isn’t a surprise to Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin.
“They have a formula. They have a process. They’ve trusted it, they’ve continued to stick with it,” Harsin said. “There’s a reason why they hired Coach Bohl. ... He doesn’t surprise me one bit.”
Mountain West’s star running backs
Saturday’s game between Wyoming and Boise State features two of the nation’s top running backs in Brian Hill and Jeremy McNichols. The Mountain West currently boasts four of college football’s top-10 leaders in rushing yards.
Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
Brian Hill, Wyoming
Jeremy McNichols, Boise State
James Butler, Nevada
Wyoming at a glance
The Cowboys have turned the corner in 2016, having already won three more games than all of last year. Coach Craig Bohl, formerly of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, has stayed true to his roots with a power running game, solid quarterback play and a capable defense.
Wyoming features a running game that averages 226.6 yards per game (26th in FBS). Brian Hill is the catalyst with 1,010 yards on the season. Quarterback Josh Allen has added a new dimension to the offense. In addition to running for 278 yards, the strong-armed JC transfer has thrown for 1,339 yards, 10 TDs and six interceptions. The offense averages 34.4 points a game (37th in FBS).
The Cowboys feature a stout run defense that surrenders 139.4 yards per game (39th in FBS). They are suspectible to the pass, however, ranking 123rd in FBS, giving up 299.4 yards per game. As a whole the team gives up an average of 30.3 points per game (83rd).
PLAYER TO WATCH: BRIAN HILL, RB
Hill has been prolific in his three seasons at Wyoming, rushing for a combined 3,437 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has followed up his first team All-Mountain West 2015 season (1,631 yards) with a spectacular junior year season where he ranks second in the nation in rush yards (1,010) and is tied for fifth in touchdowns (11). He has had mixed success in two games against Boise State, rushing for 65 yards and two TDs in 2014 (63-14 loss) and 76 yards in 2015 (34-14 loss). He also caught seven passes for 58 yards in the two games.
“He’s relentless. He works as hard as anyone in the nation. And I’m convinced of that. It seems like every time he touches the ball, it’s positive play after positive play. He just wants it more.” — Wyoming QB Josh Allen
No. 13 Boise State at Wyoming
▪ When: 5 p.m. Saturday
▪ Where: War Memorial Stadium (FieldTurf, 29,181 capacity, 7,200 elevation), Laramie, Wyo.
▪ TV: CBS Sports Network (Adam Archuleta, Rich Waltz, Cassie McKinney)
▪ Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
▪ Records: Boise State 7-0 (3-0 Mountain West); Wyoming 5-2 (3-0)
▪ Kickoff weather: Low 60s, sunny, gusty winds
▪ Vegas line: Boise State favored by 13 1/2
▪ All-time series: Boise State leads 10-0