For Wyoming, Nebraska has stood out on the Cowboys’ schedule since the game was announced in 2008 because hosting high-profile, Top 10, non-conference teams are a rarity at War Memorial Stadium.
“The town of Laramie and the state of Wyoming, they’ve been getting ready for this game now for three years,” third-year coach Dave Christensen said.
Wyoming players and coaches, however, are quick to point out they aren’t doing anything special in preparation and are trying to keep a matter-of-fact demeanor leading up to what many fans and the school are calling the biggest home game in Wyoming’s football history.
“It’s another team,” Cowboys senior linebacker Brian Hendricks said. “We’re not going to change the way we prepare for them.”
For Nebraska, it’s the Huskers’ first road game of the season and last game before their highly anticipated first Big Ten Conference matchup at Wisconsin the following week. However, Nebraska players and coaches say they are taking the usual one-game-at-a-time approach.
“I don’t want to look forward to conference play when I have these Wyoming Cowboys,” Nebraska receiver Kenny Bell said. “This is college football. You can see No. 1-ranked teams lose to anybody.”
Both teams enter the contest undefeated after their first three games. It is Wyoming’s first 3-0 start since 1996, although two of its games this year were against FCS teams.
“We have to play our best game, probably a near perfect game,” Christensen said.
Despite being neighboring states, Nebraska and Wyoming have met only five previous times with the Huskers winning each time—all at home. The two teams last met in 1994 when Nebraska won 42-32—its second-closest game in that 13-0 national championship season.
Saturday’s game at Wyoming will be Nebraska’s first road game at a non-BCS conference school since a 38-14 win in 2003 at Southern Miss.
The game pits two teams whose offenses have been the main reason both are undefeated.
Nebraska is averaging 44.3 points a game, ranking it No. 13 in the NCAA in scoring offense. It is the first time it has opened the season with three straight games scoring 40-plus points since 1995, when did so in the first four.
The Huskers are No. 11 in rushing offense with 252.3 yards a game. Wyoming is averaging 36 points a game so far, ranking No. 35. The Cowboys rank No. 20 in rushing offense at 226.7 yards a contest and are 16th in total offense at 492.3 yards.
Cowboys freshman quarterback Brett Smith ranks No. 16 in total offense with 310.7 yards per game, earning the admiration of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.
“He is tough, and I would say he is a winner,” Pelini said.
Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez ranks No. 21 in total offense at 291.3 yards a game.
“Obviously he’s an excellent football player, and we got to do everything we can to minimize his big plays,” Christensen said.
Defensively, the two teams have given up chunks of yardage and points to opponents. Nebraska has surrendered 24.7 points a game, ranking it 66th in scoring defense, and 364.7 yards a contest, 67th in the NCAA. Wyoming has given up 23 points (55th) and 414.7 yards (94th) a game.
Pelini said he isn’t worried about his team looking ahead to the Wisconsin game on Oct. 1.
“We keep our guys in the moment, and we do a good job of that,” he said.
But try as he might not to look ahead at Wisconsin, Bell allowed himself a glimpse of the Big Ten game when commenting about playing on the road in a small stadium before heading to Madison.
“It’s important to get a taste of what it’s like to be on the road,” he said. “It’s hard to compare Wyoming, though, with a place like Madison.”
Thanks to temporary seating being installed, about 32,500 people are expected to pack War Memorial Stadium, which has a listed capacity of just over 29,000. The listed capacity is the smallest stadium Nebraska has played in since 1971 when the Huskers played in front of 23,500 fans at Hawaii.
Bob Moen can be reached at www.twitter.com/bobmoen