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Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl . (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

COLUMBIA, MO. • Missouri and Wyoming’s football programs meet for the first time Saturday, but Cowboys coach Craig Bohl hardly is a stranger around Faurot Field.

As a University of Nebraska player, graduate assistant, position coach and coordinator, Bohl faced the Tigers 14 times over four decades with seven visits to Columbia.

Bohl wore his Nebraska scarlet and cream for some of the most memorable matchups in a series that now lives only in memories and photographs thanks to conference realignment.

He was a backup defensive back in the 1978 game when Tigers running back James Wilder trampled coach Tom Osborne’s Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb., a 35-31 Mizzou victory.

Bohl was Nebraska’s linebackers coach in 1997, when the ’Huskers outlasted Mizzou with the infamous Flea Kicker, Matt Davison’s diving touchdown catch of a pass that deflected off the foot of teammate Shevin Wiggins.

Four years later, Bohl was the ’Huskers’ defensive coordinator and watched quarterback Eric Crouch bolster his Heisman Trophy campaign with a 95-yard run against Gary Pinkel’s Tigers.

As a player and coach, Bohl is 13-1 against Missouri — 7-0 in Columbia.

Skip ahead two jobs and nearly two decades and Bohl finds himself in unfamiliar territory: an underdog against Mizzou.

Bohl has led Wyoming (1-1) to two straight eight-win bowl seasons, built with traits that reflect his ’Huskers heritage: a power running game and a ravenous defense that thrives off turnovers. Last season, quarterback Josh Allen was the headliner in Laramie, Wyo., but the Cowboys got by with an offense that ranked No. 126 in yards per game while the defense led college football with 38 takeaways.

“They’re an aggressive team, assignment sound, aggressive in their coverages but also understand where they need to be every snap,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “You don’t see guys running uncovered. You don’t see missed assignments. They’re coached very well and have good players.”

One thing the Wyoming program has lacked in Bohl’s four-plus seasons is a signature victory over a team from a Power 5 conference. The Cowboys have lost 13 straight games against Power 5 teams, going 0-7 on Bohl’s watch. Wyoming has been outscored by an average of 29.7 points in those games.

The only single-digit defeat during the streak came in 2013, Dave Christensen’s final season as coach, a 37-34 loss to Nebraska.

Could the streak end Saturday, when 18-point favorite Missouri tries for its first 2-0 start under Odom? Wyoming’s last win over a Power 5 team was its last game against a member of the Southeastern Conference, in 2008, when the Cowboys upset Tennessee in Knoxville.

Odom and Bohl, two linebacker coaches at heart who started their college coaching careers at their alma mater, crossed paths at a camp this summer.

“He’s played in this stadium a number of times when Mizzou and another school were in the same conference,” Odom said. “He’s excited to make a return trip. I’ve got a lot of respect for the job he does.”

It’s a job that’s proven to be one of the most challenging in college football. As the lone Division I program in the country’s least populous state, Wyoming relies on out-of-state recruits to fill a roster that competes with established Mountain West stalwarts Boise State and San Diego State.

Former Missouri offensive coordinator Christensen was an instant hit as Wyoming’s coach with bowl seasons in 2008 and 2010, but couldn’t sustain his success. Bohl, fired from Nebraska after the 2002 season, resurfaced as the coach at North Dakota State and won 104 games in 10 years and three straight FCS national championships.

Hired at Wyoming to replace Christensen after the 2013 season, Bohl sought to build a program in the likeness of those fierce Nebraska programs under Osborne, knowing he’d have to win with less heralded recruits. Bohl’s five Wyoming recruiting classes have ranked No. 128, 113, 116, 99 and 127 by 247Sports.com.

In Wyoming, he’s looking for grit over glitz, such as former Belleville West High running back Brian Hill, a two-star recruit in 2014 who rushed for 4,200 yards and 35 touchdowns in three seasons under Bohl.

“The guy that’s running out there on the West Coast that’s a five-star guy that’s been shopping around and thinks it’s all warm and fuzzy, when the rubber meets the road they’re going to spit the bit out,” Bohl told USA Today last year. “We’re going to have our hand in the dirt and knock the (stuff) out of you.”

Bohl repeated his “spit the bit” line this week talking about his team’s fourth-quarter meltdown Saturday in a 41-19 loss to Washington State. The Cowboys led coach Mike Leach’s team late in the third quarter then came undone by penalties and defensive breakdowns.

Bohl didn’t lose his folksy charm in defeat.

When a Laramie reporter asked a question during Bohl’s Monday news conference, the coach feigned caution at the reporter’s journalism degree from Mizzou.

“Here’s my concern,” Bohl said. “You’re a Missouri graduate. Things I say will go right down to Columbia to Coach Odom. You’ve probably got black and gold underwear on right now. You’re supposed to be objective. If this is an objective question, I’ll answer it.”

It was, and Bohl kindly answered. The bigger test for Bohl and his program comes Saturday.

“Missouri’s had one game and didn’t get tested very much,” he said. “I think the makings of a great college football game are there.”

MATTER'S SEC POWER POLL

1. Alabama

2. Auburn

3. Georgia

4. Louisiana State

5. Mississippi State

6. South Carolina

7. Texas A&M

8. Missouri

9. Florida

10. Ole Miss

11. Vanderbilt

12. Kentucky

13. Arkansas

14. Tennessee


Dave Matter is the Mizzou beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.