QB Allen plans to play in bowl for Wyoming

The Sports Xchange

December 17, 2017 at 1:05 pm.

Nov 11, 2017; Colorado Springs, CO, USA; Wyoming Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen (17) attempts a pass in the first quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Falcon Stadium. Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 11, 2017; Colorado Springs, CO, USA; Wyoming Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen (17) attempts a pass in the first quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Falcon Stadium. Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

NFL draft prospects opting out of bowl games is an issue of increasing newsworthiness in recent years, but it should not impact Friday’s Famous Idaho Bowl matchup between Central Michigan and Wyoming at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho.

Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, a potential first-round pick in the spring’s draft, dealt with a shoulder injury down the stretch of the regular season. With almost a month between the Cowboys’ finale against San Jose State and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, however, Allen said he is working to play.

“If I’m 100 percent I’m playing in this game. I owe that to this university, to this team,” he said in his bowl-game press conference on Dec. 4.

“The shoulder’s getting better day by day; getting back into the swing of things with some (7-on-7) and team sessions the last couple of days,” Allen said. “It’s not where I want it to be, where I need it to be, but the ball’s coming out nicely.”

Allen will aim to lead Wyoming (7-5) in its pursuit of snapping two different skids. The Cowboys closed the regular season with consecutive losses to Fresno State and San Jose State by nine combined points. Wyoming also carries a losing skid in bowl games, last winning one in 2009.

The Cowboys went to just two in the subsequent seven seasons, however. In fact, Friday marks the program’s first back-to-back bowl appearances since 1987 and 1988.

Central Michigan (8-4) is in its fourth bowl game in as many seasons, and sixth in the last seven seasons. The Chippewas have dropped three straight in the postseason, including a 55-16 rout in last December’s Miami Beach Bowl to Tulsa.

“Anytime you let up that many points you’re going to come off (angry),” defensive tackle Chris Kantzavelos told “That game’s behind us now and we’re just excited to go get the next one in Boise because I know we’ll perform better.”

Central Michigan and Wyoming come into this matchup — their third all-time and first since 2002 — on much different trajectories.

The Chippewas rallied from down 17-0 in the regular-season finale against Northern Illinois on Nov. 24 to win, 31-24. The victory marked five straight for Central Michigan to close out the campaign.

The strong finish earned Central Michigan’s way out West. Friday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl marks the program’s first postseason excursion west of the Mississippi since appearing in 1994 Las Vegas Bowl.

“This is a bowl game that traditionally features close, exciting games, and we give our seniors an opportunity to play in a unique stadium against one of the best teams in the Mountain West,” Chippewas head coach John Bonamego said in his bowl-game announcement press conference on Dec. 3.

Exciting games have indeed highlighted the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in recent years, particularly when Mid-American Conference teams are involved. Since 2009, two points or fewer decided three games involving MAC programs: Idaho’s 43-42 win over Bowling Green in 2009; Ohio’s 24-23 defeat of Utah State in 2011; and Akron’s 23-21 victory against Utah State in 2015.

That may well be a trend Central Michigan and Wyoming are poised to continue. The Chippewas played four games decided by a touchdown or less in the regular season, while Wyoming participated in five such contests.

The two teams also employ similar defensive styles that result in takeaway opportunities. Central Michigan ended the regular season second in the nation with 19 interceptions, while Wyoming finished 12th with 16 interceptions.

“It all starts with the (defensive) line,” Allen said in his Dec. 11 press conference. “When you’ve got a good defensive front, you can play coverage. You understand you’ve got seven guys back trying to catch the ball.”

Allen referred to the Central Michigan as “ball hawks.” Two members of that unit — defensive backs Josh Cox and Sean Bunting — are two of college football’s interceptions leaders with six and five, respectively.

Wyoming counters Central Michigan’s passing attack, led by quarterback Shane Morris and his 2,908 yards, with Rico Gafford and Andrew Wingard. Both picked off four passes in the regular season.

Allen said establishing the run will be critical, but doing so has proven difficult for the Cowboys in 2017. Wyoming ranks No. 119 in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 107.8 rushing yards per game. Central Michigan was not prolific on the ground, but averaged 40 yards more per game.