Nevada football kicks off its truncated eight-game conference schedule on Saturday, Oct. 24 against Wyoming. Uncertainty remains if a full Mountain West Conference football season will be played this year, but the Wolf Pack can break through in the Mountain Division if the pieces all come together.
Below is a preview of Nevada’s upcoming football schedule with a preseason verdict. Nevada has a tough test with several solid home opponents and new coaches scattered throughout the conference.
Week 1: Wyoming, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020
Wyoming features a dominant strong ground-and-pound attack led by All-Conference running back Xazavian Valladay. Valladay, who earned All-Mountain West first team honors last year, placed atop the Mountain West with 1,265 rushing yards and 1,476 yards from scrimmage. Wyoming returns all five starters on the offensive line and boasts one of the best groups in the Mountain West. The graduations of first-team All-Mountain West members Alijah Halliburton and Logan Wilson along with five players opting out have complicated things defensively for defensive-minded head coach Craig Bohl. Though I predict a high-scoring affair, Wyoming squeaks out the season opener against Nevada. Preseason Verdict: Loss (0-1 MW)
Week 2: at UNLV, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020
The Rebels hired former Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo for his first head coaching job of his career. They also have an entirely new staff, and with limited practice due to COVID-19, there is not a lot of familiarity on both sides of the ball. Though there is inexperience in some departments, UNLV returns eight offensive starters. Just like the season opener, the Pack will be tasked to stop an elite All-Conference running back in Charles Williams. After receiving a five-year extension in the offseason, Nevada head coach Jay Norvell faces pressure to bring home the Fremont Cannon after two straight defeats. Preseason Verdict: Win (1-1)
Week 3: Utah State, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020
The Aggies lost quarterback Jordan Love—who trails only Jose Fuertes for the most passing yards in school history—to the NFL and second string quarterback Henry Colombi to Texas Tech, so this will be a very inexperienced unit heading into 2020. Dual-threat talent Andrew Peasley is likely to take over the starting role, who appeared in just four games over the past two seasons. The Aggies also lose running back Gerold Bright, but retain speedster Jaylen Warren. The offensive line returns all five starters and boasts an above-average defensive core, despite losing All-Mountain West linebacker David Woodward. Preseason Verdict: Win (2-1 MW)
Week 4: at New Mexico, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020
It has not been easy sledding for New Mexico in the past few seasons. The program finished 2-10 last year, which signified its worst season since 2011. It has not accumulated more than three wins in each of the last three seasons after a bowl appearance in 2016. The short lived Bob Davie Era is now over, as Danny Gonzalez enters hoping to improve his alumni. Gonzalez fetched Rocky Long from San Diego State as the Lobos’ new defensive coordinator. Long, who spent the last nine years as the head coach of the Aztecs, has a strong defensive track record and will look to revamp a Lobo defense that placed fourth-worst in the nation last year in defensive efficiency. It’s a project that will take time with this Lobo core. Nevada can take advantage this season. Preseason Verdict: Win (3-1 MW)
Week 5: San Diego State, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020
Despite the abrupt loss of Long, the Aztecs still pose as one of the strongest threats to Boise State for the Mountain West crown heading into 2020. Brady Hoke inherits arguably the best defense in the Mountain West, led by three defense stalwarts in the secondary in Dwyane Johnson, Tariq Thompson and Darren Hall. Look for San Diego State to get its ground attack rolling again with the trio of Chase Jasmin, Jordan Byrd and Chance Bell. It totaled less than 2,000 rushing yards as a squad for the first time since 2009. The Aztecs are dominant in several aspects, and they pose several hurdles for Nevada. Preseason Verdict: Loss (3-2 MW)
Week 6: at Hawai’i, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020
This will be Nevada’s fifth opponent with a first-year head coach. Though quarterback Cole McDonald forgoed his senior season and departed to the NFL, Chevan Cordiero still brings starting experience. Entering his sophomore season, Cordeiero threw for 907 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions in three starts last year. Tailback Miles Reed becomes a centerpiece in Todd Graham’s run-and-gun system. Hawai’i boasted a .500 or better record on the islands in three of the last four seasons. Norvell is looking to move to 2-0 in his head coaching career at Hawai’i after a disastrous home showing against the Rainbow Warriors last year. Preseason Verdict: Loss (3-3 MW)
Week 7: Fresno State, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020
A year removed from being Fresno State’s offensive coordinator, Kalen DeBoer looks to re-establish his high-powered offense in the Mountain West. The Bulldogs return a majority of its skill position players and bring back a solid defense. They were better than their record showed last year, suffering a multitude of injuries combined with an unlucky 1-5 record in one-score contests. DeBoer is one of the best offensive minds in the conference, and the Wolf Pack defense will have to be in peak form to win this game. Despite the obstacles, I think Nevada nabs a big home win before the regular season finale. Preseason Verdict: Win (4-3 MW)
Week 8: at San Jose State, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020
With Colorado State’s star wideout Warren Jackson opting out, San Jose State arguably has the best wide receiver duo in the conference in Tre Walker and Isaiah Hamilton (sorry, Wolf Pack fans). The Spartans replace quarterback and 2019 Mountain West Player of the Year Josh Love with former Arkansas and Texas A&M signal caller Nick Starkel. Starkel was unimpressive last year with the Razorbacks, but will look to rebound in a pass-heavy system. Edge rusher Cade Hall leads the Spartans’ defensive unit that ranked as the second-least efficient defense in 2019. Brett Brennan, going 5-7 last year after going 3-22 in his first two seasons, will look to get back to .500 for the first time since 2013. But the Wolf Pack ends the regular season on a high note with back-to-back victories. Preseason Verdict: Win (5-3 MW)
Matt Hanifan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SagebrushSports.