Wyoming Football: First Look At The Northern Colorado Bears
The Cowboys will host FCS Northern Colorado as they look to rebound from a very disappointing 2021.
Can the Bears compete in 2022?
After opening 2022 against Illinois and Tulsa, the Wyoming Cowboys will host the Northern Colorado Bears at War Memorial Stadium in Week 2.
It’s been a while UNC has been competitive in one of the FCS’s toughest conferences — they have just two winning seasons since joining the Big Sky in 2006 — and after an off-season of turmoil it may not be much better for the Bears this fall.
Location: Greeley, Colorado
Conference: Big Sky
Series History: XX
2021 Record: 3-8 (2-6 Big Sky)
Head Coach: Ed McCaffrey (third year at Northern Colorado, 3-8 overall). It’s hard to imagine a FCS head coach having a rougher start to his tenure than McCaffrey. After COVID wiped out the team’s 2020 season, reports of turmoil within the program throughout a trying season prompted a huge number of transfer portal departures, 40 in all, and an unexpectedly hard reset.
David Hoage, LB
Hoage was one of the top defenders anywhere in the FCS last year, pacing the Big Sky with 23 tackles for loss while setting a Northern Colorado record with 10.5 sacks. If nothing else, the Bears will have at least one disruptive playmaker who could make things tough for the Cowboys.
— Northern Colorado FB (@UNC_BearsFB) November 6, 2021
Kassidy Woods, WR
The UNC offense didn’t offer many big plays down the field, but Woods had a solid year despite the overall scuffles and led the Bears with 43 catches, 483 yards, and four touchdowns. If the quarterback situation can be settled, he could do a lot more damage with the targets coming his way.
Elijah Dotson, RB
Dotson could prove to be a massive transfer portal addition if he plays anywhere near the level he did at conference rival Sacramento State. Dotson was a two-time first-team all-conference running back with the Hornets before stepping away from the team for family reasons after four games in 2021. He had over 1,000 all-purpose yards in three straight seasons, so it’s likely he’ll be a focal point of the Bears offense.
Dylan McCaffrey, QB
The son of head coach Ed McCaffrey had a rough introduction as the team’s QB1 after transferring in from Michigan. Though he completed 60.4% of his throws, he only averaged five yards per attempt and threw five touchdowns against seven interceptions.
Nick Ciccio, DB
Hoage is the defense’s leader, but Ciccio had a decent year of his own in 2021. He finished on the team with 47 tackles but led the Bears with five passes defended and contributed two tackles for loss and an interception, as well.
No matter how you slice it, the UNC offense stunk in 2021. Among other things, they were 115th with 14.9 points per game, 117th in yards per play, and 119th in third-down conversion rate, so new offensive coordinator Max McCaffrey — who, like potential QB1 Dylan, is Ed McCaffrey son — has plenty on his plate to address after being elevated from wide receivers coach.
Dylan McCaffrey’s hold on the quarterback job isn’t a given, though, with Jacob Sirmon‘s arrival after stops at Washington and Central Michigan. Dotson should be able to replace last year’s leading rusher Gene Sledge, who left via the transfer portal, but other transfers like Jordan Hornbeak (Fresno State) and David Afari (Miami of Ohio) may be most likely to make up the depth behind him.
That may be the same situation in the passing game, too, where Woods is the only returner who had more than ten catches in 2021. A mix of younger veterans like sophomore Ty Arrington and transfers such as Will Horn IV (UNLV), Trevin Graham (Texas State), and tight end Kyle Helbig (Colorado State) should make up the difference.
Considering the offensive struggles, the Bears defense did well above the FCS average in allowing 5.36 yards per play and only 37.3% of third-down conversions, though they had a hard time stopping opponents in the red zone (93.6%, next-to-last in FCS).
However, established playmakers are few and far between this year after Hoage and Ciccio. That means, however, that the unit is rich with opportunity for many new faces to step up, like Navy transfer Tama Tuitele, Colorado transfer Alec Pell, and Florida transfer Lamar Goods. Regardless, one area for improvement is in creating turnovers: The Bears had just 12 takeaways last seasons and only Idaho had fewer among Big Sky defenses.
The Cowboys had real trouble putting away what proved to be a very good Montana State team last season, but it would be a shock if, despite the personnel turnover, this year’s contest against UNC was anywhere near as close.
Wyoming 38, Northern Colorado 13