By Neil Patrick Healy
A college football season brings the promise of change. “This is the year,” says every fan of every school across America. It may be the year for some, but others have to hold out hope that the future holds something better. Is this the year for Nevada football, or does Wolf Pack Nation have to wait until the fabled “next year?” Well, the fans get to see for themselves starting Sept. 3 against UC Davis whether these hopes will be dashed or fulfilled.
Nevada is coming off a mediocre 7-6 season where many fans didn’t quite know what to make of the team’s performance. The Wolf Pack came up just short in games against Arizona, Boise State, Colorado State and Air Force, where the margin of victory was seven points or less. The loss of record-setting quarterback Cody Fajardo ushers in a new era for Nevada football, but this new era may be ushered in differently from past Wolf Pack teams.
LEADING THE PACK
Flip the script of the Wolf Pack teams you know, because 2015 should be different. The positive story all offseason for Nevada football has been the emergence of the formidable front seven of the defense. The defensive line in particular has been garnering high praise and for good reason. Starting linemen Lenny Jones, Ian Seau and Rykeem Yates bring both talent and experience and will set the tone in the trenches. Linebackers Jordan Dobrich and Bryan Lane Jr. are just some of the extra names floating around this deep and talented group, which is the best unit Nevada has seen in years.
THE BIGGEST QUESTION
Any football coach will tell you that the way to win games is to be able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The defense has the ability to do so, but the questions lie on the shoulders of the offensive line.
The starting unit has talent, but they are inexperienced. Combine that with the alarming number of offensive linemen who have either transferred or have retired and this unit is thin depth-wise. Head coach Brian Polian said that he has had to rotate in their third-string offensive tackle during practice due to the lack of depth. One bad case of the injury bug could cause this offense to have difficulty moving the ball efficiently.
Nevada takes advantage of a lightweight Mountain West Conference schedule and wins the West division with about nine victories. The Pack doesn’t play Boise State, Colorado State or Air Force, who all narrowly beat Nevada last season by seven points or less. The combined record of the Wolf Pack’s conference opponents last season stood at a disappointing 40-63 due to the underwhelming performances of schools such as UNLV, New Mexico, Hawaii and San Jose State.
The season starts off horribly by dropping three out of four non-conference games and by being embarrassed by both Texas A&M and Arizona. This would then lead to Nevada underperforming in conference play and taking a step back in the progress of the football program. The Wolf Pack’s toughest conference games are all on the road with Nevada traveling to play Wyoming, Fresno State, Utah State and San Diego State. If the Pack drop those road games, reaching a bowl game will be very unlikely.
Expect the telling of the story to be different but the outcome to be the same. Nevada will be playing it close in most of the games they play this season due to a strong defensive front seven, but they will most likely fall short in two or three of those tough road games toward the end of the season. Combine that with an inexperienced offensive line, an overhauled secondary and a new starting quarterback and there are still questions throughout the roster. Expect an underwhelming yet respectable seven- or eight-win season and finishing just short of winning the West division.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.