Dave Walsh: Remember Wyoming’s Only Win Against A Big Ten Team

Columnist Dave Walsh writes: "I guess Im somewhat surprised that Wyoming has played a Big Ten team just 20 times in the 125 seasons of Cowboy football."

Dave Walsh

June 17, 20225 min read

Dave walsh Uw
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Another much-anticipated Cowboy football season is sneaking up on us. 

All Cowboy football seasons are highly anticipated, I suppose, and the 2022 season is no exception. Fewer than 10 weeks remain in the countdown to Wyoming’s season opener. The Cowboys will get the season underway in 70 days in faraway Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. 

The Fighting Illini will be the first of four non-conference opponents on the schedule. Tulsa, a brief former league foe, Northern Colorado, a lower-divisional regional foe, and BYU, a former bitter rival, round out the non-league line-up. The schedule that the Mountain West Conference puts forth is always a challenge.

It really is quite a schedule the Pokes have before them. And it certainly gets your attention right from the start. The opener is always important, it’s always a “big” game. This season’s big curtain lifter will take place in Big Ten country, against a Big Ten team. Wyoming will hit the so-called “Big Time” right out of the chute this season, and that’s a “Big Deal.”

Wyoming and Illinois will knock heads for the first time ever on a football field. It’ll be just the 21st time that the Cowboys have played a team from the Big Ten. And that includes all games played against the current members of the Big Ten. 

By the way, there are 14 football-playing members of the Big 10, the three newest members being Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers. And over the years the Cowboys have faced seven of the 14 teams of the Big Ten. 

The last time Wyoming played a Big Ten team was in 2017. Ironically, that game was the season opener, on the road, against Iowa.

I guess I’m somewhat surprised that Wyoming has played a Big Ten team just 20 times in the 125 seasons of Cowboy football. The Nebraska Cornhuskers were the opponent in eight of those 20 games. Wyoming has played Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin three times each. And the Pokes have played Ohio State, Minnesota, and Northwestern once.

Maybe it’s the success, or in this case, the lack thereof, that has kept the scheduling of games with Big Ten teams down. You see, the Cowboys are 1-19 against the Big Ten over the years. That’s one win, 19 losses, against the Big Ten! Wyoming is 0-8 vs. Nebraska. The Cowboys are 0-3 against Iowa and 0-3 vs. Michigan State. The Pokes have lost twice to Wisconsin, and one time to Ohio State, Minnesota, and Northwestern. Those are the losses. 

It’s that one win, the lone victory over a Big Ten team, that is most memorable.

The one-and-only Wyoming win over a Big Ten team took place during the 1986 season. Wyoming had lost all 11 games it had played against the Big Ten when first-year and “only-year” Cowboy head Coach Dennis Erickson took the Pokes to Madison, Wisconsin, for a game against the Badgers. This would be the third time the two teams had played, and Wisconsin had won the first two meetings in 1973 and 1985. This game was the last time the two met, and this third game was the charm for the Cowboys.

Wisconsin Badger home football games are a very unique experience. Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, is a classic college football venue, with some of the greatest fans in the country. The Badgers always play in front of a full house and Camp Randall was jammed that day in ’86 when 64,954 fans showed up to see the Badgers play the Cowboys. 

And were they ever active! Well before the game, the stadium was full and they started singing! Not just the student section, not just the cheerleaders, but all of the nearly 65,000 in attendance had locked their arms and were singing. They were singing school songs and pop songs. And they would sing, and cheer, the entire game.

Even when the Cowboys took charge and were winning, the fans kept singing. Even after the Cowboys took a 14-3 lead at halftime, they kept singing. And they sang right up to the final gun.

Randy Welniak threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 91 yards. The Wyoming offense clicked for 451 yards of total offense and the Cowboy defense gave up just 227 yards and only 12 points. Wisconsin scored first with a field goal at the end of their first possession, just 3 minutes into the game. But Wyoming scored two touchdowns in the second quarter and led the rest of the way to win 21-12.

And when the game was over, the fans in Camp Randall Stadium sang some more. And when the Cowboys were leaving the field after beating the Badgers, those Wisconsin fans gave the Pokes a standing ovation!

Oh it was a most memorable day, the day the Cowboys beat the Wisconsin Badgers 36 seasons ago. It’s still the one-and-only Wyoming victory over a team from the Big Ten Conference.  

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Dave Walsh

Sports Columnist