After one of the University of Wyoming football program’s most successful season in years, the Cowboys find themselves packing for a familiar trip.
The Cowboys (8-4, fourth in the Mountain West) are headed to their second straight Arizona Bowl — and third trips to Tucson overall — to face the Toledo Rockets (11-2, first in the Mid-American Conference) on for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff Dec. 30.
The game will again be live-streamed by Barstool Sports, but this time also carried by conventional cable network The CW.
The CW is looking to crack into the live sports scene, and will air as many games as CBS and Fox this college football bowl season.
Dave Portnoy’s Barstool Sports has carved out a cyber man cave overstuffed with beer, boobs and bizarrely off-brand content that makes clickbait appear a nutritionally balanced diet.
But the Barstool team did a commendable job with 2022’s Arizona Bowl featuring Wyoming and Ohio. It was the first time a bowl game was live-streamed.
Recognizing they would have to play it a bit straighter than, say, a drunken Manning bros MNF commentary, the brew crew did a fairly conventional job of broadcasting it last year even if it was a disappointing ending for Pokes’ fans — but not totally.
Midwest v. Real West
Similar teams meet in this year’s Arizona Bowl. The Toledo Rockets are an oft-overlooked blue collar football team full of Ohioans who couldn’t crack the Buckeyes’ roster. Mirroring their hardworking, lunch-pail-carrying city, the Rockets roster is not typically pocked with high draft picks bound for the NFL.
They punch above their weight and play with the pride of a perennial underdog. They can be junkyard dog fierce when backed into a corner.
The Wyoming Cowboys are similar in many ways. The Pokes’ Western version of blue collar is the “cowboy way.” It’s a credo, a worn bootheel ethic that include “Ride for the brand” and “Always finish what you start.” In all, 10 actual cowboy codes spelled out by James P. Owen and adopted by Wyoming Legislature.
No college football team embraces the straight-shooting cowboy way more than the Pokes.
Recruiters and coaches look for that special brand of toughness in its football players. The university itself built a marketing campaign around what it means to be a member of the UW student body (“The World Needs More Cowboys”).
Be True To Your School — NOT
The NCAA needs more of this magic dust.
College football is a mess these days. No one riding for the brand. Players leaving their teams, jumping in the transfer portal with the belief their discontent will be cured wearing a different color uniform.
The shuffling is largely the product of players chasing NIL money. That’s right, college football players are being paid now (compensation for use of their name, image and likeness).
Schools themselves aren’t hardly loyal either. Conference jumping and realignment has made a mess of the college football landscape.
And then there’s the postseason. Too many bowl games featuring lousy teams all to make sure ESPN keeps the onscreen yule log burning until the end of the calendar year.
And pigskin pundits can’t even decide what four teams will play for a championship without causing national strife before bowl season is even underway.
Headed into the holiday showdown, both teams announced recent commitments in the wake of National Signing Day. Both talking the talk, but showing appropriate respect headed into the postseason matchup. Neither giving the other any bulletin board material for motivation.
Wyoming will bring its always dependable defense and a gutsy QB who will play his final competitive football game. Pokes signal-caller Andrew Peasley isn’t the kind of player likely to show up on the radar at the NFL combine. But he’s a warrior on the field, enhanced by heart.
Peasley is what they call “good in the huddle.” His teammates love him.
Peasley’s counterpart, the quarterback responsible for most of Toledo’s offense, won’t be playing. Dequan Finn declared for the portal, which makes him ineligible for postseason play.
Ditto Toledo’s only other source of offense, MAC Offensive Player of the Year Peny Boone — a bruising 242-pound running back — also will not be on the field for the bowl game.
Outside of each school’s market, not much interest will be generated across the country for this one. Barstool Sports will have its work cut out for them competing with SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten supporters.
One thing’s for sure, Wyoming fans will show up. The Brown and Gold travels well. Always has. At last year’s Arizona Bowl, it was Pokes fans that filled the stands even if the game itself failed to draw enough to make the 57,400-seat Arizona Stadium look even half-full.
Déjà Vu And Karma?
Maybe this Cowboy team is doomed to repeat last year’s bowl game after an overtime loss to the Ohio Bobcats.
A year to the day. Same place. Same bowl game. Another Ohio team. Repeat until it ends better.
Sorry, Toledo. Hollywood has written this script already and your role is the bad guy.
The next step in this Cowboy karma is winning an Arizona Bowl, vanquishing an opponent from Ohio, sending off a beloved head coach in fitting fashion.
Here’s a little heads up for the production crew at Barstool Sports. The guys in the truck. This is what it will look like when the gun goes off ...
At triple zeroes, head coach Craig Bohl will be showered with a cooler of colorful Gatorade. He’ll celebrate his 61st victory at UW on the shoulders of his 2023 team, carried off into an Arizona desert sunset.
A 61-60 career record with the Boys. One game over .500. A million games over what anyone could have hoped for when he was hired to turn the program around in 2014.
Adios, vaquero. Thanks for the memories.
And don’t miss this shot: Fists and helmets raised high, the entire team huddled tight around a prized trophy hoisted by an anonymous player. We don’t wear our names on the back of our jerseys, we play for the name on the front.
Western Thunder sparks up a rendition of “Ragtime Cowboy Joe.” A spirited pint-sized pony gallops hellbent for leather around the field, Pistol Pete not far behind waving the Bucking Bronco.
In the stands, blubbering fans embrace each other — a mezzanine prairie of brown and gold knitted in allied elation. Then they rush the field to be with their classmates, their helmeted heroes.
Karma journey completed for now.
It might be Tucson, Arizona, but it will be as close to Laradise as a cowboy or cowgirl can get on New Year’s Eve.
Jake Nichols can be reached at: Jake@CowboyStateDaily.com