The goal is always the same for coach Joe Glenn's Cowboys: A Mountain West Conference championship.
"Joe's got an empty ball case in his office," said assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Mike Breske. "That's for the conference championship. That's a goal, and Joe reminds the kids of that. Who wants to look at an empty case? You want something in there."
Glenn's arrival paid immediate dividends. The Cowboys fell one win shy of matching their total of the previous three seasons, and their improved play helped lure some fans back to War Memorial Stadium. And even with new starters at several key positions and a lack of depth, Glenn is sure Wyoming will be better in 2004.
"I know we're improved," Glenn said. "How much? I couldn't tell you that right now. But I know we're improved."
OffenseWyoming has new starters at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end, leading to uncertainty about the team's offense.
Corey Bramlet takes over at quarterback for his brother, Casey, the program's all-time leader for total offense, passing yards and touchdown passes. Corey is a fine athlete -- the Cowboys plan to incorporate more running plays for the quarterback into their offense -- but his passing skills are not as refined as Casey's.
In search of its first 1,000-yard rusher since Marques Brigham in 1998, the Cowboys lured Joe Harris, an NJCAA All-American last season at Butler County Community College in Kansas. Harris is a powerful runner who isn't afraid to take a hit -- or deliver one.
The Cowboys do return a potential star -- Jovon Bouknight -- at wide receiver. He'll be joined by sure-handed Josh Barge and Dustin Pleasant, who, like Bouknight, has the ability to create after the catch.
Harris isn't the only NJCAA All-American expected to bolster Wyoming's offense. John Wadkowski is the projected starter at tight end after starring for two seasons at California's Ventura College.
DefenseThe Cowboys won't emerge as true contenders in the Mountain West Conference until their defense can consistently put pressure on the quarterback and stop the run.
Wyoming's frontline, anchored by noseguard Zach Morris -- who has emerged as the vocal leader of the defense -- is bigger and stronger following a dedicated offseason effort in the weight room. But will the Cowboys be better? Since 2000, they've managed just 50 sacks and allowed an average of 216.5 rushing yards per game.
The linebacking corps, led by Randy Tscharner, Guy Tuell and Austin Hall, should again be the strength of the defense. But Wyoming will miss Tyler Gottschalk, the team's leading tackler each of the past two seasons.
The Cowboys' greatest concern is at cornerback, where only Derrick Martin is a proven commodity. The outlook is better at safety, where Jay McNeal, Marcial Rosales and John Wendling are more than capable.
SpecialistsThe Cowboys' only unproven player on special teams is punter Adam Brooks, a junior who has yet to appear in a collegiate game. Brooks has the leg for the job -- coach Joe Glenn has joked Brooks can kick the football to Saratoga, some 100 miles from the school's Laramie campus -- and he worked during spring camp to improve his operation time.
Deric Yaussi, who led all MWC underclassmen with 70 points last season, is back to handle place-kicking duties. Yaussi made 12-of-17 field goals last season -- including nine in a row late in the year -- and Glenn has predicted he'll be the conference's best kicker in '04.
Final AnalysisWill Bramlet prove capable of replacing his brother, Casey, as the quarterback? Will Harris spark a stagnant running game? Is the defensive line tough enough? Who's going to play cornerback?
There are simply too many questions to expect Wyoming to make a move in the Mountain West. If the Cowboys hope to be respectable, they'd better take advantage of a friendly schedule to the begin the season. Four of Wyoming's first five games are at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, including matchups against Division I-AA Appalachian State and I-A lightweight Louisiana-Monroe.