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Preview: Southern Utah Thunderbirds

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The Wyoming Cowboys have won their last four season openers and look to make it five when they host the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah at the grand reopening of War Memorial Stadium.  The stadium went through extensive renovations over the last year including the new Wildcatter Suites and improved concessions and enhancements on the lower level.

So who are these T-Birds out of Cedar, City Utah?  After a 5-6 finish last last year the team must have been pleased since it was their best record since 2004.  The Birds have put together a 9-13 record under new head coach Ed Lamb.  Prior to Lamb taking over the team posted a 19 game losing streak.

Full preview after the jump.

Wide Receiver Tysson Poots is a pre season All-American and was named to the Walter Payton Award watch list the highest award for a FCS player.  Poots was second in the nation last year in receptions, scoring and yards per game last year.  Another T-bird wideout also named Fesi Sitake who is a threat on kick returns and special teams.

The staff is excited about QB Brad Sorenson that comes in at a beefy 6-5 225lbs.  Sorensen was a redshirt at BYU last year but has played in several years due to a mission after playing at JUCO San Bernadino Valley College.

The Pokes need return a boatload of starters on both sides of the ball with the once exception being the defensive line which has been completely replaced as well as switch to a 4-3 approach.  Mike Purcell and Patrick Mertins have stepped up to grab the tackle positions with Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns have moved from LB to DE.  All four players have shown great ability during the preseason but the big question mark is size.  Purcell and Mertens both weigh in at 269lbs which shouldn't be a major issue in the opener.  But how will they manage against FBS level competition down the road?

Overall the defense should be much faster and able to put pressure on the QB often.  The secondary is headlined by Senior CB Marcell Gipson and S Chris Prosinski.   Except the corners play a lot more man to man coverage this year after really stepping up their effort during the offseason.  MLB Brian Hendricks is excepted to play despite injuring his ankle last week.  If Hendricks is limited during the game he will be replaced with Oliver Schober the German sensation who is 23 years old and also has the starting job for kickoffs and has been pinning the ball deep in the endzone.

The offense is all about QB Austyn Carta-Samuels who led the Pokes to come from behind victories all season long including the New Mexico in an effort that earned him MVP honors.  ACS can carry the team with his legs or his arm and hopefully he will be able to use his arm more often this season.  The Pokes lacked the personnel to run a true spread offense last season and only reliable weapon was WR David Leonard who grabbed 77 passes for 705 yards.  Brought in to help "stretch" field were JUCO WR's Mazi Ogbonna and Jonathon Aiken, the latter initially walked on this Fall but has already earned himself a scholarship and lot of praise from the staff.

Another weapon to watch out for the Pokes will be true freshman Robert Herron who is currently listed at the #3 RB.  Herron is a speedster who chose Wyoming over a track scholarship from the University of Washington.  After starting off at WR he was moved to RB to help provide depth. Expect him to play a role on the ground, in the air and in the return game. 

Alvester Alexander returns as the top running back after compiling 640 yards and 7 touchdowns as a true freshman.  Alexander has been challenged for playing this year by freshman Nehemie Kankolongo who will miss the first game due to a one game suspension for violating team rules.  Also missing the opener will be K Ian Watts who is serving a one game suspension as well.  P Austin McCoy will cover the field goal duties this weekend.

Who would win in real life?

New segment for Cowboy Altitude that I will do for all the previews.  Take each teams mascot and determine who would win a real life battle.

So a Thunderbird against a Cowboy? Seems like a huge mismatch to me.  First off what is a Thunderbird?  Obviously a winged creature but Thunder? Seriously, who is really be scared by Thunder.  Yes it can be loud but no one has ever died after being struck by thunder.  This bird may have a beak and some talons but no match for a Cowboy. 

Verdict: The Cowboy wins easily and puts a feather in his cap.  The Wyoming Cowboys should also win easily to start the season 1-0.