By Neil Patrick Healy and Jack Rieger
HOW LONG DOES TYLER STEWART REMAIN QUARTERBACK?
Jack: I think Stewart has a great chance of finishing the season as the starter. While not having an overwhelming camp, Stewart proved that he could be trusted to lead the Nevada offense. He’s not Cody Fajardo, and he’s not Colin Kaepernick, but Stewart stands tall in the pocket and is a strong, accurate thrower. The junior quarterback has been complimented regularly by coaches and teammates throughout camp for his arm strength and improved footwork. Is he a guy that’s going to rush for 100 yards per game and tear up the stat sheet? Maybe not, but he’s the most experienced quarterback on the roster, and he has a good understanding of what he needs to do to win games. Also, I don’t think Stewart is the type of player that will let the pressure to perform affect him negatively.
If the over/under for games started is 6, I’m going way over. I’m officially Team Stewart.
Neil: History tends to repeat itself, and Tyler Stewart faces the unfortunate task of being on the wrong side of it. Nevada’s last two quarterbacks were Colin Kaepernick and Cody Fajardo, and both of them replaced an established veteran midway through the season to start through their entire career. Head coach Brian Polian has said that the battle between Stewart and redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick was dead even statistically. Stewart earned the job mainly because of his experience at the college level, but if he struggles, Polian can turn to a capable freshman.
If the over/under is 6, I’ll take the under. I’m not extremely confident about this pick, but I also don’t want to bet against a trend either.
WHAT IS THE TOUGHEST GAME ON THE SCHEDULE?
J: Sept. 19 at Texas A&M, and it’s not close. First off, Texas A&M has never lost to a Mountain West team in their program’s history (9-0) and have outscored Mountain West opponents 365-127. Secondly, the game is played at Kyle Field in College Station, which holds over 106,000 rowdy college students every Saturday. Thirdly, Nevada travels to College Station shortly after a tough home game against the 22-ranked team, Arizona Wildcats.
If Nevada beats Texas A&M, I propose athletic director Doug Knuth change the name of the field to Brian Polian Field and extend Polian’s contract for the next 30 years.
N: Jack, you’re being hysterical. Yes, A&M’s airstrike passing attack will be tough for Nevada’s young secondary to match up against. The Aggie passing offense was 14th in the nation last year with about 306 yards per game. No doubt A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin will continue to air it out against the Pack. That being said, the Aggies went 8-5 last season and had one of the worst defenses in the country. Beating a team that gave up 449 yards a game last year doesn’t justify declaring Polian a deity.
I’m going with 22-ranked Arizona on Sept. 12 in Mackay Stadium. The Wildcats finished last season with a 10-4 record and won the grueling PAC-12 South while racking up 461.5 total yards from scrimmage. Star sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon will look to pick apart Nevada’s young secondary, and Nevada’s offense will go up against a formidable linebacking core lead by the All- American, and awesomely named, Scooby Wright.
WHO WILL BE A BREAKOUT PLAYER FOR NEVADA THIS SEASON?
N: I’m a firm believer that if junior quarterback Tyler Stewart has consistent success this season, Jarred Gipson is one main reason why. Yes, Gipson has been getting some media recognition recently, but he has the chance to become one of the better playmakers in the conference. He will break out from a role player to a go-to threat.
Gipson had 33 catches for 291 yards and four touchdowns last season while playing with run-heavy quarterback Cody Fajardo. Stewart doesn’t have the wheels that Fajardo did, so he’s going to have to complete passes downfield to keep drives alive. I told you this last week, Jack – a young quarterback’s best friend is a reliable tight end to move the chains. Look for Gipson to be targeted more often, and watch his numbers shoot up.
J: I’m not sure how Gipson qualifies as a “breakout player,” considering he was named one of the best tight ends in the country, but I’ll let it slide, Neil. The guy that stood out to me the most in practice over the past couple of weeks has been starting nose tackle Salesa “Charles” Faraimo. Faraimo has been an active force for the defensive line, regularly bombarding his way into the backfield while unleashing colossal hits on multiple offensive units. Faraimo was the first defensive lineman off the bench last season but is now listed as the starter. Expect his defensive statistics, along with his impact, to take a big jump.
HOW LIKELY IS A MWC CHAMPIONSHIP FOR NEVADA IN 2015?
N: Not likely. A conference championship would be astounding for Nevada this season. To beat out Boise State and Colorado State would be an enormous upset, but winning the West division wouldn’t be so upsetting.
Nevada lucked out in terms of their conference schedule. Nevada doesn’t play Boise State or Colorado State who were both the two best teams in the conference last year. Nevada’s conference opponents combined record last season was a dismal 40-63, and the Wolf Pack got some easy wins in San Jose State, UNLV and Hawaii. The Pack have some tough road games in Fresno State, Wyoming, San Diego State and Utah State, so I think Nevada falls just short of winning the West division.
J: Neil, I hate to agree with you, but I also don’t see Nevada winning enough games to even qualify for the Mountain West Championship Game. San Diego State returns the best player in the conference in running back Donnel Pumphrey, as well has three other all-conference players. Nevada’s silver lining is that after San Diego State, the West division is rather mediocre, so a 7-5 record may be enough to win the division and skate into the Mountain West Championship Game.
That potentially makes the season finale against San Diego State very important, but Nevada would need to outperform their expectations in order to make that possible. I give Nevada 10-1 odds of winning the conference title. Any takers?
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.
Jack Rieger can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @JackRieger