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1st Ever Panel of Pokes: Predicting 2011 Breakout Players

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The variety of news sources and gathering spots for Wyoming fans is bigger and better then ever now.  Over the last few years there has been great growth in message boards and blogs like this one.  With all this great knowledge scattered about I decided that it was time to try and tap in to all the wealth of Wyoming writers out there today and put them in spot. 

I contacted everyone that runs these sites and now we will have a "think tank" that will be a recurring feature on the site.  Luckily everyone was interested and wanted to take part.  The plan is that each month we will tackle a new topic and post our predictions and opinions.  Once college football season starts there is plan to have a weekly contest where we pick the score of every Mountain West game and keep a running tally.  

Let me go ahead and introduce our great participants who will be taking part in the panel.  Then we'll take a look at the question that everyone had to answer.

  • Brad Reed otherwise known as "Mr. Titleist" runs the popular message board  
  • Skyler Corcoran writer here for Cowboy Altitude.
  • Chad Smith runs the fan site 7220 Report.
  • Ian McMackin operates the Rivals site GoWyoGo and longtime message board.     
  • Matt Hargleroad - "The Road" of Cowboy Altitude

Matt Blaylock who writes for Cowboy Altitude and runs his own site Poke Pride will be joining us for future editions.


Our first topic was this: Pick one breakout player on offense and defense and why you chose them.

If you missed the rankings from Phil Steele then take a peek at his 2011 ALL-MWC Preseason Picks and where the Cowboy players ended up.  That is good way to gauge where he predicted Wyoming players would finish and is mentioned in our choices several times.

Here are the picks from everyone and then there are some final thoughts on everything posted at the end.  Feel free to make your predictions for breakout players in the comments.

The Road - Cowboy Altitude

Offense: WR Robert Herron

Herron had a great spring and established himself as the #1 WR on the team.  I feel the offense is ready to break things wide open under Gregg Brandon and the spread will finally be working as planned.  I know Herron had some issues with fumbles and drops as a freshman but I would expect that go away now that he has some experience under his belt and more confidence.  He is the fastest receiver out there and I think he has a solid shot at making the 1st or 2nd Team All MWC when the season is complete.

Defense: OLB Mark Nzeocha

This guy is a physical freak at 6-3 220lbs.  He started off spring camp as #3 on the depth chart at safety and is now sharing the starting duties at LEO with Korey Jones.  Those outside of Wyoming know nothing about him but the German will make some big noise this year.  Even better news is that he is just a freshman and he'll have three more years to tear things up in the Mountain West.  I expect him to earn at least Honorable Mention when the ALL MWC teams are named.


Skyler Corcoran - Cowboy Altitude

Offense:  WR Mazi Ogbonna

With the departure of wideouts David Leonard, Travis Burkhalter, and Zack Bolger, the Cowboys need a veteran to step up in the receiving corps.  That veteran will be senior Mazi Ogbonna.  Ogbonna showed flashes of his abilities last season, but struggled to get in rhythm in the spread offense.  In the spring game Ogbonna gave a glimpse of his play making skill set, catching a 36 yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman QB Emory Miller.  The Cowboy offense is searching for an explosive play maker and leader at receiver, and Ogbonna can be that guy.         

Defense:  DT Kurt Taufa'asau

As the Cowboys struggled towards the end of last season the coaching staff battled with the decision to leave the redshirt jersey on DT Kurt Taufa'asau.  The coaches ultimately decided to leave the redshirt tag on, and Taufa'asau benefited by competing against the starting offense all season in practice on the scout team.  At the conclusion of spring ball Taufa'asau was listed as a backup to DT Mike Purcell.  To keep the defensive line fresh I anticipate a heavy rotation of personnel, with Taufa'asau getting plenty of reps.  Taufa'asau will provide speed and athleticism to the interior line, and will make a big impact for the Wyoming defense.


Brad Reed - WyoNation

Offense: WR Mazi Ogbonna
I think Mazi is going to be a breakout receiver for the Cowboys this year. Last year was his first year as a Cowboy after transferring from Snow College in Utah. Last season he had 18 receptions for 183 yards, fourth on the team in receiving yards. The Cowboys passing offense struggled more often than not last year, but I think this year they will get it turned around, even with a QB who has not taken a division one snap. Ogbonna is fast and has a good physical build, something a new QB will need to be successful. I would predict 2nd or 3rd team MWC honors for Ogbonna at the end of the season. Honorable mention: Robert Herron

Defense: DE Gabe Knapton
The pick of Gabe Knapton here really isn't going out on a limb and predicting that he'll become a star for UW, because he already is, however before the 2010 season he was switched from inside linebacker to defensive end. There's a learning curve that goes along with switching from linebacker to defensive end, and as a result his tackles went down from his freshman and sophomore years, to be expected when playing on the defensive line. But here's why I picked Knapton: I think he's going to fortify himself as a standout defensive end in the MWC this year and cause all kinds of havoc in the backfield. Last year he finished with 67 tackles and four sacks. This year I think he reaches 70+ tackles and 8 sacks. He will be the anchor of the defensive line and finish 1st or 2nd team all-MWC. Honorable mention: Oliver Schober


Ian McMackin - GoWyoGo

Offense - WR Robert Herron
Herron would be my first pick based on a couple of factors. He's the Cowboys best breakaway threat at wide receiver since he's one of the fastest players on the team and showed the big play ability at times as a true-freshmen last season. Herron has progressed with his consistency catching the football and looked good in the spring game. The Cowboys are looking for candidates that can open up the offense and the UW staff will certainly be focusing on finding ways to get him into the open field. My honorable mention players would include WR Mazi Ogbonna and WR Jonathan Aiken. I'm also am excited to see incoming freshmen RB Kody Sutton. He looked really good on his high school tape and I know the UW coaches told me they are eager to see what he can bring in August camp.
Defense - LB Mark Nzeocha
Since Nzeocha was able to participate in spring drills and didn't disappoint with his progress. I think because of Nzeocha's athletic ability and work ethic, he has a chance to be a real special player at Wyoming and should make an immediate impact. He's in competition with Korey Jones for one of the outside LB spots and Jones will also be a player to keep an eye towards. I also like CB Quest Huff to really make an impact at the opposite corner from Tashaun Gipson. He's athletic and possesses good size and since he gained experience as a true-frosh he could really elevate himself this fall. Watch incoming freshmen defensive end Eddie Yarbrough. He was a good pickup for the program and already has the size to play at the college level this fall.


Chad Smith - 7220 Report

Offense: TE/WR Spencer Bruce

When the 6-5 225 lb Bruce moved from defense to the offense at the end of last season my eyes lit up. The Gillette product played WR and basketball in high school and has the size and athletic ability to cause problems in the passing game. His poisition change has gone very well so far finding himself listed behind TJ Smith at the TE/WR position. Given a full summer and a fall camp I think Spencer Bruce has a great chance to be a very relaible receiver for the Pokes especially on medium range third down situations given his size.

Defense: OLB Korey Jones

Jones may be from Fort Collins via Garden City CC in Kansas but he is wearing brown and gold now. He is listed as the co-starter at OLB with German product Mark Nzeocha. I would expect Jones to receive most of the playing time at this position while the german adjusts to the speed of the American game. Jones ranked 10th in the nation in tackles last year for a top ten JUCO team and should be able to contribute at a high level right away for the Pokes.


Final Thoughts...

The most popular picks were Robert Herron, Mazi Ogbonna and Mark Nzeocha with two picks each.  If the offense hopes to improve at all someone from the receiving corp will need to step up big time.  Herron and Ogbonna are certainly the two leading candidates.  No one chose a QB since there is a still a three way race for that spot.  All the defensive picks were linemen or linebackers with no one from the secondary selected.   Chad made some interesting choices with Bruce and Jones,  players that are a little lower on the radar but could still have huge seasons. Ian made incredibly smart, super genius picks since they were the same as mine.

After the season we can revisit this article and hopefully someone can use it for bragging rights.

Great to have so many writers from other sites take part and add their voice.  Remember to post your choices in the comments or say you who's picks you agree or disagree with.