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Tom R. Smedes, FR171463 AP
Wyoming running back Brian Hill runs for a touchdown in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Nevada on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 in Reno, Nev. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

PROVO — Nearly a month ago, BYU accepted an invitation to play in this year's Poinsettia Bowl. On Sunday, Wyoming did the same.

The Cougars (8-4) and Cowboys (8-5), former conference rivals in the WAC and Mountain West Conference, will face each other in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. MST at Qualcomm Stadium (ESPN).

“It is a great opportunity to play an old rival in BYU. For our fans, I know this matchup will be one they will be very excited about. As with past bowl games we’ve been involved with, we look forward to seeing a great number of our fans in San Diego on Dec. 21," Wyoming Athletics Director Tom Burman said in a statement.

Here's what BYU fans should know about the Cougars' bowl opponent.


How Wyoming got here

The Cowboys earned a spot in the Mountain West championship game, which they lost 27-24 to San Diego State on Saturday night, by going 6-2 in league play and winning tiebreakers over New Mexico and Boise State to take the Mountain Division's title-game spot.

Wyoming went 2-2 in non-conference play, beating Northern Illinois and UC Davis but losing to Nebraska and Eastern Michigan.

The Cowboys then got rolling with a 5-0 stretch to begin conference play, including a 30-28 victory over then-No. 13 Boise State on Oct. 29 that gave Wyoming control in the MWC's Mountain Divison. The other league wins included victories over Colorado State, Air Force, Nevada and Utah State.

Wyoming stumbled at the end of the year, though, losing three of four, with losses to UNLV (69-66 in triple overtime) and New Mexico (56-35) before the loss to San Diego State in the MWC championship game. The Cowboys did, however, beat the Aztecs in Wyoming two weeks prior (34-33) to help them earn a spot in the title game.

The Cowboys went 4-4 against teams that are headed to bowl games.


The players: Three stars

Brian Hill, RB: The junior has had a standout season, rushing for 1,767 yards — fourth nationally — and 21 touchdowns. Hill, a Doak Walker Award semifinalist and first-team all-MWC honoree, averages 135.9 rushing yards per game and has rushed for more than 100 yards in nine games this year. That includes two games over 200 yards rushing: 207 yards and two touchdowns vs. UC Davis, and 289 yards with three touchdowns against Nevada.

Combined with his 2015 season, Hill has rushed for 3,398 yards the past two seasons with a 6.62 yards-per-carry average. His 2015 and 2016 seasons are the top two rushing seasons in Wyoming history.

Andrew Wingard, DB: The sophomore has totaled 128 tackles on the year, a 9.8 per-game average that ranks 13th nationally and at the top of the Mountain West. Wingard was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which honors the nation’s top defensive back.

His top game of the season came against Colorado State, when Wingard, a first-team all-MWC honoree, recorded 17 tackles, including 10 solo stops, in a 38-17 victory over the Rams. He's also had 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception in 2016.

Josh Allen, QB: The sophomore has emerged as one of the nation’s top young talents at quarterbacks, having thrown for 2,996 yards, 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season to earn all-MWC second-team honors. His 26 touchdown passes rank 18th nationally and are tops among Mountain West quarterbacks.

Allen has a QB rating of 147.6 and is dangerous as a rusher as well, with 485 rushing yards for seven touchdowns. He’s averaging 267.8 yards of total offense per game, 41st nationally.


Who else to watch

Logan Wilson, LB: The MWC Freshman of the Year has 88 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions.

Jacob Hollister, TE: The senior was a first-team all-MWC honoree and has 30 receptions for 500 yards and seven touchdowns.

Chase Roullier, OL: The first-team all-MWC honoree moved to center this year and helped anchor a potent Cowboys offense.

Tanner Gentry, WR: The senior, a second-team all-MWC honoree, led Wyoming with 65 receptions for 1,213 yards and 12 touchdowns.

D.J. May, KR/PR: The senior earned second-team all-MWC honors by averaging 27.9 yards per kickoff return, 11th nationally.


Key team notes

- The Cowboys are balanced on offense, averaging 230.8 passing yards and 208.5 rushing yards per game.

- Wyoming is tied for third nationally with five defensive touchdowns. That includes two fumble returns for touchdowns and three interceptions for scores.

- The Cowboys scored 40 or more points five times this season and are averaging 37.1 points per game in 2016, No. 24 in the country.


The coach

Craig Bohl is in his third year as head coach of the Cowboys and signed a new seven-year deal this week with Wyoming, which will keep him in Laramie through 2023. Bohl was named the MWC Coach of the Year after improving the team's win total by six during the regular season over 2015 and led the Cowboys to win over ranked teams Boise State and San Diego State. That's the first time since 2002 that Wyoming has beaten two ranked opponents in the same season.


History with the Cougars

Overall series: BYU leads 44-30-3

Last 10 vs. BYU: 1-9. The Cougars have won the past seven meetings, from 2004-10, by an average score of 35.6 to 14.9.

In the postseason: BYU and Wyoming have met in the postseason once before, when the Cougars beat the Cowboys in the inaugural WAC championship game in 1996. BYU entered the game ranked No. 6 by the Associated Press and built a 13-0 halftime lead, though the Cougars lost dynamic tight end Itula Mili to a knee injury. Wyoming, ranked No. 20, rallied in the second half, taking leads of 17-13 and 25-20 by stifling the Cougar offense.

BYU rallied, though, after Wyoming took an intentional safety with just over a minute to play and Ethan Pochman hit a 20-yard field goal as regulation ended. In overtime, the Cougars' defense forced a long Wyoming field goal attempt that missed. Pochman then won the game for BYU with a 32-yard field goal in a 28-25 Cougars win.