Early look at Wyoming's showdown with SJSU

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Jun. 29—For the next seven weeks, WyoSports' Josh Criswell will continue to examine each game on the University of Wyoming's 2022 football schedule. Here is a look into the Cowboys' matchup against San Jose State.

Dominant defensive line

The Spartans had their share of defensive struggles last year, ranking outside the top eight in the Mountain West in sacks, interceptions and stopping the pass. They were fourth against the run, however, in large part due to the presence of veteran defensive ends Viliami Fehoko and Cade Hall. Hall was the 2020 MW defensive player of the year, while Fehoko is a two-time first-team All-MW pick. Both could receive NFL opportunities with a strong 2022 campaign.

Stumble down the stretch

SJSU entered the home stretch of the season with a strong shot to reach a bowl game, improving to 5-4 overall and 3-2 in MW play after back-to-back wins over Wyoming and UNLV. These hopes took a turn south the next week, however, on a last-second field goal by Nevada. The Spartans proceeded to lose their final two games by a combined score of 88-26, finishing fifth in the West Division one year removed from winning the conference.

Changing of the guard

After stops at Texas A&M and Arkansas, Nick Starkel helped lead SJSU to its first MW title in 2020. Injuries plagued the senior quarterback last fall, though, as he threw for just nine touchdowns with seven interceptions and a career-low completion rate of 51.6%. Former Hawaii signal-caller Chevan Cordeiro will take the reins of the offense this season after compiling 7,250 total yards and 58 touchdowns in four years with the Rainbow Warriors.

The Spartans were actually more successful with the mobile Nick Nash filling in last year — going 3-2, compared to 2-5 with Starkel — so Cordeiro's versatility could be a perfect fit. He had his ups and downs in his second full season as a starter, posting career-worsts in interceptions and completion percentage, while recording career-bests in passing yards, touchdowns and yards per attempt. Cordeiro closed 2021 on a strong note, racking up 409 total yards and four touchdowns in a win over the Cowboys.

Weapons at wide-out

The loss of star tight end Derrick Deese Jr. will undoubtedly hurt, but the Spartans' depth at receiver inspires optimism that their aerial attack will look more like it did in 2019 and 2020 — when they ranked first and third in the league, respectively, in passing offense. They return their top four wide-outs from last season, and also add experience with the arrival of Elijah Cooks, who hauled in 115 catches for 1,478 yards and 18 touchdowns in five years at Nevada.

By the numbers

The matchup between the Cowboys and Spartans seems to be a toss-up on paper.

Wyoming is viewed as the better team in ESPN's Football Power Index, ranking 15 spots ahead of SJSU at No. 94. The Spartans, meanwhile, are favored more heavily in the futures odds that have been released by DraftKings Sportsbook. SJSU is listed at 28-to-1 to win the MW title, with the Pokes having 45-to-1 odds to secure the conference championship.

Josh Criswell covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at jcriswell@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @criswell_sports.