By Jack Rieger
Nevada football begins the season with four non-conference games against opponents of all shapes and sizes. The home opener against UC Davis is designed as a cakewalk for Nevada. The postgame press conference should consist of reporters complimenting coach Brian Polian on his choice of quarterback and Don Jackson reminiscing on his 200-yard day.
But remember this: Every year a small school like UC Davis upsets a much more celebrated football team like Nevada (Appalachian State over Michigan, 2007). Beyond UC Davis, Nevada’s non-conference schedule is pretty demanding. Arizona, Texas A&M and Buffalo in consecutive weeks is about as tough as it gets for a MWC team. Arizona at home is manageable, but Texas A&M on the road is not winnable. The Aggies have never lost to a MWC team in program history, so don’t expect that to change in week three. The road game against Buffalo has trap game written all over it, especially since it follows two very tough games with Arizona and Texas A&M.
Prediction: Nevada goes .500 in non-conference play with wins against UC Davis and Buffalo while falling to both Arizona and Texas A&M.
Nevada has their easiest conference schedule since joining the MWC in 2011, mostly because the West Division lacks the talent of the Mountain Division. Nevada’s conference opponents combined for a lackluster 40-63 record last year. The Wolf Pack avoid facing conference champion Boise State as well as Colorado State and Air Force.
Many of Nevada’s more difficult conference games come on the road, specifically against Fresno State, Utah State and San Diego State. This could prove problematic considering Nevada’s road record over the past two years is just 4-8.
Prediction: Nevada falls just short of winning the West Division. The road schedule is too difficult down the stretch and the Pack will drop games either at Utah State or San Diego State in November.
Nevada takes a trip to eastern New York to take on the Buffalo Bulls on Sept. 26. This is a potential upset because the Buffalo offense brings back all of their firepower from a season ago. Senior running back Anthone Taylor, senior quarterback Joe Licata and senior wide receiver Ron Willoughby lead an offense that brings back both experience and playmaking ability. Licata in particular will look to pick apart an inexperienced Nevada secondary with his ability to throw down-field and build on the 60 touchdown passes in his career.
Prediction: Nevada escapes Buffalo with a hard-fought win, but the Bulls expose some holes in the secondary.
Expect a seven- or eight-win season and a berth in a lower-tier bowl game. Two tough non-conference games and a tough slate of road games in the month of November will lead to Nevada to fall just short of a birth in the MWC Championship Game.
Jack Rieger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JackRieger