By Jack Rieger
5. TYLER STEWART – QUARTERBACK
Coach Brian Polian named Tyler Stewart the starting quarterback for the opening game against UC Davis on Sept. 3. Stewart — a junior from southern California — beat out redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick for the job. Stewart has just one career start under center and is tasked with replacing Cody Fajardo, who led the Wolf Pack in both passing and rushing yards last year. Stewart doesn’t possess the running ability of recent Nevada quarterbacks, and therefore will depend heavily on his arm to win games. At its core, Nevada is primarily a running offense that doesn’t necessarily depend on a downfield thrower. If Stewart can be effective with his short to medium throws and convert at least 45 percent of third downs, expect the Nevada offense to have consistent success.
4. HASAAN HENDERSON – WIDE RECEIVER
If Tyler Stewart expects to finish the season as Nevada’s quarterback, he will need to become well acquainted with the Wolf Pack’s best receiver Hasaan Henderson. Henderson was seriously injured last November against Air Force after taking a shot to the neck, which sidelined the receiver for the rest of the season. Henderson suffered a head and spinal concussion that even included some nerve damage, but has been a full participant in practice after making a full recovery. Henderson is crucial to the success of the offense mostly because of his ability to be a vertical threat. The 6-foot-5 junior led the team in yards per catch last year (12.9) and was credited with 10 explosive plays. The Nevada offense struggled immensely last year after Henderson’s injury, specifically quarterback Cody Fajardo who averaged only 99 passing yards in the final three games of the season.
3. IAN SEAU – DEFENSIVE END
The Nevada defensive front seven is without a doubt the most talented group on the team, and Ian Seau is the most talented of all. The All-Mountain West first team senior had 8 1/2 sacks last year to go along with 39 tackles. He is the nephew of the late NFL Hall of Famer Junior Seau, who played for the Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots. Ian Seau will have the luxury of rushing the opposing quarterback with fellow standout defensive end Lenny Jones. If they work well together, both Seau and Jones should create havoc for opposing quarterbacks, which would alleviate pressure from a young secondary.
2. AUSTIN CORBETT – OFFENSIVE TACKLE
For the last eight years Nevada football has had two NFL-level quarterbacks under center, but the Wolf Pack is truly a run-first offense. Every running back depends on the success of their offensive line, and Austin Corbett is the most talented member of the group. Nevada’s offensive line is one of its biggest weaknesses heading into the season, mostly because of its lack of depth and experience. Derrick Stom, who was supposed to be a significant contributor to the line, transferred from Nevada last week, making an already young group even younger. As a sophomore, Corbett will have to emerge as a leader of “the union” while protecting the quarterback’s blind side.
1. DON JACKSON – RUNNING BACK
That leaves Don Jackson, who is faced with leading an offense consisting of a very inexperienced quarterback and offensive line. Jackson ran for 957 yards and seven touchdowns last year and is expected to surpass 1,000 yards as a senior. It’s not crazy to think Jackson will be expected to carry the ball as much as 25 times per game, especially since he won’t have the luxury of a running quarterback like he had last year. Jackson does have an underrated fellow running mate in sophomore James Butler, who ran for 635 yards and five touchdowns in 2014. If Nevada expects to get back to another bowl game and contend for a MWC championship, Jackson will have everything to do with it.
Jack Rieger can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.