by Eric Uribe
1. The Wolf Pack will finish the season 7-5 (6-2 Mountain West Conference)
There is no way Nevada can do worse than last season’s 4-8 campaign. The Silver and Blue’s schedule is lightyears lighter, there’s more experience among the players and coaches and the injuries can’t possibly pile up as badly as in 2013. I’m expecting a three-game improvement and a return to a bowl game. However, 6-2 MWC record won’t be enough to reach the conference championship game.
2. Nevada will lose all four of its toughest games
Make no mistake about it, the four most difficult teams on the Wolf Pack’s schedule are Washington State, Arizona, BYU and Boise State. Both Pac-12 matchups are winnable games, but Nevada (outside the legendary 2010 team) is historic for coming up short against top-tier teams. Thankfully, the only game that really matters is against the Broncos. If the Wolf Pack can pull off the upset, a MWC championship is attainable — but that’s a big if.
3. Cody Fajardo will start every game this season
Cody Fajardo will start every game this season — With a healthy Fajardo, I believe Nevada has a shot at winning every single game in 2014. Fajardo has proven he’s one of the best college quarterbacks in the country, but he hasn’t proven he can withstand an entire season. After missing at least one start due to injury each of the previous three seasons, Fajardo bulked up over the offseason. Being it’s his senior season and given Fajardo’s character, I imagine he’ll do whatever it takes to start each game this season.
4. The Wolf Pack’s running game will once again struggle
Up until last year, running the ball effectively was Nevada’s calling card during its Pistol offense era. The program’s reputation took a nosedive after averaging a meager 3.8 yards a carry in 2013. I don’t expect a giant improvement this season either. Kendall Brock is out of the running back picture, being moved to wide receiver. Don Jackson is a home-run threat, but is too frail and will likely end up injured. Freshman back James Butler could be the X-factor, but he’s too inexperienced for me to bank on to save this run game.
5. Hasaan Henderson will become Fajardo’s go-to receiver
With Brandon Wimberly gone, the Wolf Pack’s wide receiver position is paper-thin. The only returner with a wealth of experience is senior Richy Turner. However, the sophomore Henderson is poised for a breakout season. Henderson burst onto the scene at the end of last season, netting 23 of his 29 catches in the final four games. Henderson and Wimberly are eerily similar — tall, possession catchers. I expect Henderson to become Fajardo’s security blanket a la Wimberly.
6. Nevada’s defense will be improved, but will remain the team’s Achilles heel
I’m not sure how bold this prediction is, but can the defense fare any worse than its 117th-ranked squad in 2013? There wasn’t a lot of talent or depth last year, but nearly the entire unit returns this season with an extra year of experience under its belt. More importantly, the Wolf Pack’s awful Tampa-2 defense ran by Scottie Hazelton has been replaced by Scott Boone. The leap from FCS to FBS will prove to be difficult for Boone this season, but again, it doesn’t get worse than last year, right?
7. Brock Hekking will emerge as the program’s most tantalizing NFL prospect
When Hekking isn’t milking his #TeamMullet campaign for all the attention it’s worth, Hekking is a player opposing defenses game plan around. The 17 sacks he’s racked up the previous two years proves he’s a formidable pass rusher. At six-foot-4 and 255 pounds, Hekking is freakishly athletic. But to really latch onto the NFL, Hekking might have to bulk up or convert to linebacker. I don’t think getting bigger will be a problem for Hekking, who was rail-thin in high school.
8. Linebacker Jordan Dobrich will emerge as the face of the defense
Perhaps no position on a 4-3 defense is more important than Dobrich’s middle linebacker spot and the six-foot-two, 235-pounder is equipped to handle it. The two-time team captain possesses all the intangibles, but his run-clogging skills really flew under the radar last season. The one area I want to see Dobrich really thrive in is making game-changing plays — forced fumbles, interceptions, sacks, etc.
9. The biggest game of the season will be against Fresno State on Nov. 22
The West branch of the MWC is wide open. I think it’ll be a three-way battle between Nevada, San Diego State and Fresno State for a chance to face Boise State in the MWC Championship. That’s why a Nov. 22 battle with the Bulldogs will be so crucial to the Wolf Pack. A win could catapult them to first-place in the West, but a loss could eliminate them for MWC title race. In spite of losing its offensive firepower in Derek Carr and Davonte Adams, the Bulldogs remain a talented team with a great head coach in Tim DeRuyter.
10. The Fremont Cannon will once again be painted blue
This is more than a prediction, it’s more like a foregone conclusion. The Rebels lost both their quarterback and running back from last season, but return NFL-player-to-be in wide receiver Devante Davis. However, the Wolf Pack have been seeking vengeance for a year and won’t let down its fanbase again.
Eric Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org