Pokes Insider: Lying in the weeds (again)

LAS VEGAS – New head coach. New coordinators. New starting quarterback.

Mountain West media had their justification for picking Wyoming, which returns 16 starters from the nine-win team in 2023, to finish sixth in the preseason poll released Wednesday.

Run back Harrison Waylee and defensive tackle Jordan Bertagnolewho represented the Cowboys during the conference’s media day event at Circa Resort & Casino, were not surprised by UW’s place in the pecking order.

“We’ve already talked about this as a team. This is what we kind of predicted. This is how the people see us,” Waylee said. “But the people that are actually in our group, we know what we can do and we know how we can go out and perform and we know what we’ve been through, what we’ve prepared for.

“Being sixth doesn’t affect us one bit because we already had a chip on our shoulder and now we have to go get that chip.”

The Pokes also came in sixth in the 2023 preseason poll, finishing tied with Air Force for fourth in the MW standings. Craig Bohl, who said his team was “in the weeds” before the campaign, retired after the 9-4 finish, which was the most wins UW has had in a season since 1996 (10-2).

Bohl retired after the thrilling victory over Toledo in the Arizona Bowl. Jay Sawvel is one of seven new head coaches in the MW, but it’s business as usual inside the High Altitude Performance Center.

Aaron Bohl has committed to defensive coordinator duties and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson installs a more balanced system led by Waylee in the backfield and Evan Svoboda at quarterback.

“Hiring internally a guy who cares about this program and has a lot of pride in it was definitely huge,” Bertagnole said of the transition. “Coach Sawvel is that person and kind of the perfect guy. You can see how everybody looks at him and thinks about him. I feel like you need a great guy that cares and wants what’s best for the guys on the team. There’s no better for it than Sawvel.”

Bertagnole was one of three Pokes selected to the preseason all-MW team, along with offensive lineman Jack Walsh and tight end John Michael Gyllenborg.

Center Nofoafia Tulafonosecurity Wyett Ekeler and Waylee were surprising omissions from a brown and gold perspective.

“I always say the preseason is cool to get accolades, but all that matters is the postseason,” Bertagnole said. “(Waylee) is a big part of our offense and our team in general. When I woke up this morning and saw that I looked at it and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’

“If anything, he’ll take it as a chip on his shoulder and he’ll show them.”

Sawvel doesn’t want his players to talk about winning the program’s first MW championship. The goal is understood, and the work is put in behind the scenes to get it done.

The long road to the top begins against Arizona State on August 31st in Tempe. The Sun Devils, who were finally selected 16Th in the now 16-team Big 12, will also be highly motivated to prove the preseason prognosticators wrong.

“I was honestly surprised they were picked last in the Big 12 because they’re a new team and I think they look a lot better than they’re getting credit for,” Bertagnole said. “That one should be really fun.”

Boise State, which visits War Memorial Stadium on Nov. 23, is the heavy favorite to win the MW with 38 first-place votes. The Cowboys will not play No. 2 UNLV or No. 3 Fresno State during the regular season. Front Range rivals Air Force and Colorado State were voted No. 4 and No. 5, respectively.

no. 7 Utah State, no. 8 San Diego State, no. 9 Hawaii, no. 10 San Jose State, no. 11 New Mexico and no. 12 Nevada rounds out the poll.

The MW Championship match is scheduled for December 6th.

UW’s new head coach was the defensive coordinator for the past four seasons. The new defensive coordinator was made for the job by his father and Sawvel. The new offensive coordinator was a 2021 Broyles Award finalist at Michigan State.

The new quarterback is a 6-foot-5, 245-pound junior who had the Cowboys tied with Texas entering the fourth quarter of his first career start and led the game-winning drive in the bowl to send Craig Bohl out with a smile.

“Our experience is much better than it was last year because we went through last year to get this experience,” Waylee noted.

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