Isaac Hoops/The Nevada Sagebrush. Led by quarterback Carson Strong, Nevada football has high expectations for the 2021-22 season.

On May 1, the Nevada Wolf Pack ran onto Mackay Field at Mackay Stadium for the first time in close to six months for the annual Silver and Blue Spring game. The Wolf Pack are coming off a strong and promising 7-2 season, which culminated in a huge win against Tulane in The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Returning nine offensive starters and roughly the same number for the defensive side of the ball, the Wolf Pack should be taking zero steps back this upcoming season.

The offensive trio of Carson Strong, Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner return to put up huge numbers through the air. Led by Strong, who is expected to be getting lots of NFL buzz after an electric sophomore season, the air attack should be just as potent last year.

Doubs finished 11th in total receiving yards last season. Cole Turner made the transition to tight end last season and finished with 49 catches for 605 yards and nine touchdowns. Both players are projected to be two of the most highly touted offensive players in the country.

The Wolf Pack also will be getting Elijah Cooks, who should help take defense’s eyes off of Doubs and Turner. Cooks will be back in the mix after missing all of last season with a significant shoulder injury. Led by Toa Taua and Devonte Lee, the running game should be even stronger. The offensive line returns four of its five starters from last year, including offensive tackles Aaron Frost and Jacob Gardner. The looming question will be how well first-year starter Drew Cannon will mesh with the rest of the offensive line. Ultimately, the offensive unit looks like it will take another significant step forward in play this fall after an up-and-down 2020.

Defensively, Nevada will have a few more new faces stepping up to take charge of a unit that largely held its own last season. The defensive line looks to be largely the same, headlined by the return of star defensive tackle Dom Peterson, who earned recognition last season with seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. His partner in crime, defensive end Sam Hammond, returns for the 2021 season to help bolster the front four. Nevada’s two leading sack leaders will be back to build off a strong 2020 campaign.

The linebacker group also returns in full capacity, led by Lawson Hall. Hall proved to be a more than capable replacement for former Nevada alums Gabe Sewell and Lucas Weber, as Hall racked up 65 tackles with 8.5 TFL and three sacks. His running mate, Daiyan Henley, stepped up and filled the role of weakside linebacker, also known as the WILL linebacker, and finished third on the team in tackles with 49 on the year. The secondary, which was the unequivocal strong suit of the defensive group, lost senior EJ Muhammad to graduation. Normally, the loss of a defender of Muhammad’s caliber would cause alarm, but the secondary is as deep as ever. Berdale Robins, who started across from Muhhamed, elected to return and use his extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic. In addition to Robins, starter Tyson Williams returns and is projected to slide right back into the free safety spot, while nickel defender Christian Swint should elevate himself into the spot next to Williams. Not only does Nevada have returning talent, but they also reached into the magical transfer portal to acquire commitments from veteran players Bentlee Sanders from USF and Miles Sanders from William & Mary.

Below are my predictions for how Nevada’s football season will turn out.

Week 1: Nevada at California
Nevada starts the season off in Berkeley, Calif., where they face the California Golden Bears, a PAC-12 team that has produced not only one of the best defenses in the country, but five defensive NFL draft picks over the last two years. Nevada will face a California defense led by one of the premier defensive minds in college football, head coach Justin Wilcox, as well as a defense that returns 11 out of its 12 leading tacklers. The defense, while experienced, had its fair share of issues last season. A lack of pressure being created by the front four and a secondary that just couldn’t create as many turnovers as it’d have liked to put California in several tough situations. The two players that helped them out in those tough situations? Potential NFL draft linebackers Cameron Goode and Kuony Deng, both of whom will be suiting up against the Wolf Pack this year. Offensively, Nevada’s secondary should not have any issue keeping up with Cal’s lackluster receiving corps, especially with the inconsistent but talented Chase Garbers under center. The place California could look to take advantage of the Wolf Pack defense would be on the ground in the run game, where Cal returns four starting offensive linemen and three talented running backs led by Christopher Brown. Nevada historically has beaten California in this faux rivalry—if it even deserves to be called one—beating them twice with Colin Kaepernick and once with Cody Fajardo. Now, it’s Carson Strong’s turn to go and plant Nevada’s flag in the Berkeley Hills once more. Final: Nevada 34 Cal 17

Week 2: Nevada vs. Idaho State
Normally, a game against a team of Idaho State’s ilk would be overlooked on a team’s schedule. Some would even pencil it in as a week to go easy in practice and get the back ups at some point during the week and game. That simply isn’t the case this year. Idaho State handed Nevada head coach Jay Norvell an embarrassing home loss in 2017. That was Norvell’s second game in Mackay stadium, and it immediately cast some doubt over the decision to hire him. Things have changed drastically since then. It’s rare to see David beat Goliath once, but even rarer to see it happen twice. Especially when Goliath has had a bad taste left in his mouth for the last four years. Final: Nevada 49 Idaho State 13

Week 3: Nevada at Kansas State
The post-Bill Snyder Kansas State Wildcats pose an interesting challenge to a hypothetically hot Nevada team going into Week 3. Historically, they’ve been an incredibly well coached and talented team, but that’s in the past. Chris Klieman, who led Division 2 powerhouse North Dakota State to much success, is entering his third year in what has been an up-and-down stint at KSU. Going from 8-5 to 4-6 in this 2020 pandemic-shortened season illustrates that there’s a little bit of instability Nevada could take advantage of. Lack of health hampered any aspirations the Wildcats had last year, but quarterback Skylar Thompson looks to be back at full strength heading into summer training camp. This obviously isn’t the best news for the Wolf Pack, as when Thompson is healthy he plays with his hair on fire. The good news for the Wolf pack however, is KSU’s porous secondary. Allowing 20 passing touchdowns in ten games last season should ring alarm bells for Nevada offensive coordinator Matt Mumme to air the ball out all game. In what will be a relatively tough litmus test against a well coached Big 12 team, I expect the pack to start off a little slow and then put the car into overdrive in the second half. Final: Nevada 31 KSU 21

Week 4: Nevada at Boise State
Back-to-back away games against overachieving teams is a tough pill to swallow for the Pack, although Nevada will have a week to come back to the Biggest Little City and rest up. To say the Wolf Pack will enjoy that extra week is an understatement. Playing on the blue turf has always been tough for not just Nevada, but Norvell as well. Since Kapernick’s improbable win in 2010, the Wolf Pack have lost six straight games to Boise State. To make matters worse, those losses have come out to a combined score of 214 to 135. Not pretty stuff. Boise returns its star babyfaced quarterback, Hank Bachmeier, who was one of the most talented true freshmen in the country. He had a solid pandemic season last year, and should be primed for a breakout sophomore season. The Broncos also will be welcoming their new head coach, Andy Avalos, who was a defensive mastermind during his time as the defensive coordinator at Boise State and more recently for the Oregon Ducks. Normally, I would say a hot Nevada team going to play a first year head coach would be a great matchup for the Wolf Pack to exploit, but in this instance,I’m not so sure. I think this game projects to be a shootout to the very end with the Wolf Pack falling short due to them being away from home and playing a team with a lot of returning talent. Final: Nevada 28 Boise State 31

Week 5: Nevada vs. New Mexico State
The Aggies, who used to be the doormat of the Mountain West Conference, are now FBS independents. However, they do end up playing seven Mountain West teams this year. NMSU doesn’t have any talent that jumps off the page and is worth mentioning, but JUCO transfer Jonah Johnson and Michigan transfer O’Maury Samuels should be the guys that carry the load for this team offensively. Coming off of a close road loss to the Pack could wind up in a trap-game situation. Look for this game to be close through the first half, with Nevada figuring itself out at halftime. Final: Nevada 42 NMSU 13

Week 6: Nevada vs. Hawaii
Hawaii played spoiler to Nevada’s perfect 5-0 start last season and will look to ruin another strong hypothetical start this upcoming season as well. Last year, a very hot Nevada team took the flight halfway over the Pacific to play in less than desirable conditions at Aloha Stadium. The Rainbow Warriors were rested and playing at home, so they were no stranger to the high winds and rain that ensued on game day. Local phenom quarterback Chevan Cordeiro even outplayed Carson Strong that evening, totaling 246 yards and one touchdown through the air. This year, Hawaii returns Cordeiro and running back Calvin Turner Jr., both of whom project to be early contenders for Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. New offensive coordinator Bo Graham has said that he wants to get the ball into the hands of his difference makers early and often, so the pressure will fall on Nevada’s secondary once again to come up with a few timely plays. Hawaii lost both Melquise Stovall, brother of Nevada receiver Melquan Stovall, and Rico Bussey to the transfer portal and the NFL, so expect at least ten targets to Calvin Turner Jr. Whether it’s the return game, as a receiver or as a runner, he could wind up being the most dangerous offensive weapon in the Mountain West. Containing Cordeiro on the ground as a runner will be another challenging task for the Wolf Pack linebackers. With all the offensive turnover for Hawaii, I project Nevada being able to contain Cordeiro and Turner Jr, while also being able to easily score in the familiarity of their home turf. Final: Nevada 28 Hawaii 17

Week 7: Nevada at Fresno State
This game will be a huge test for the Wolf Pack defense. Coming off what I imagine will be a good defensive performance against Hawaii, the team will travel down to Fresno, Calif. for a tough conference matchup against the Bulldogs. The Bulldog offense, led by second-year head coach Kalen DeBoer, played a high octane brand of football that ended with them finishing in the top five best passing teams in the country. This was largely because of transfer quarterback Jake Haener. A quick fun tidbit: Jake is the son of Julie Haener, who every Bay Area resident has seen on at some point while watching KTVU Channel 2 News. The Bulldog offense is fun to watch with Deboer’s innovative offensive philosophy and Haener’s precision through the air. Coupled with the fact that Fresno returns running back Ronnie Rivers, the offense will pick up right where they left off last season. Two players that will decide whether or not the Wolf Pack defense will be able to stonewall this vaunted offense are Dom Peterson and Sam Hammond. The offensive line protecting Haener did not end up doing too much protecting last season—allowing 24 sacks in just six games. The pairing of Hammond and Peterson will ideally give that group nightmares for weeks after the game. This defense might end up being the best the Wolf Pack face this season. The Bulldog defense returns almost all its starters and its top 20 tacklers and finished third in the country in sacks. It’s safe to say that this will be the offensive line’s biggest test this season. The one silver lining however, is that the Fresno State defense just can’t seem to get out of their own way. Expect Carson Strong and the Nevada offensive attack to really be hitting its stride by Week 7, ultimately leading to a close game through the first three quarters with Nevada pulling away in the fourth. Final: Nevada 37 Fresno State 27

Week 8: Nevada vs. UNLV
Where do we even begin with UNLV? The 0-6 record? The lackluster offense? How about the 37-19 loss that it took the last time both teams met. The Rebels are currently in a flux state of transition. Last year’s starting quarterback, Max Gilliam, is no longer with the team, which leaves three intriguing prospects to replace him: TCU transfer Justin Rogers, Doug Brumfield, and most notably Tate Martell. Yes, that Tate Martell. The very same Tate Martell who won a state championship at Bishop Gorman and the Gatorade National Player of the Year while there as well. Martell had a rough go at Ohio State and Miami and will look to see if he can capitalize by moving back home, but I don’t think this should worry Wolf Pack fans too much, as he may end up being a big fish in a pond that is much much too small for him. The talent is undeniable and he should be the clear favorite to win a quarterback job that was largely considered to be up in the air throughout the entirety of the summer, but one looming question remains: Will Tate Martell crumble when finally given the reins or will he give us a vintage Gorman performance?
Where Nevada will look to capitalize is on offense. The UNLV defense was historically poor in all phases last year, allowing 482 yards and 38 points per game, and having the biggest problem against the run as team after team was able to move the ball at will. With a veteran offensive line and an outstanding one-two punch between Taua and Lee, the Wolf Pack should look to deviate from their pass happy ways and elect to keep the ball on the ground. UNLV’s head coach, Marcus Arroyo, has made quite a few decent additions through the transfer portal, but none move the needle enough in my mind to consider this game being any closer than it was last season. Expect another commanding and dominant performance by the pack, and another year of disappointment for that team from down south. Final: Nevada 45 UNLV 20

Week 9: Nevada vs. San Jose State
Another revenge game for the Wolf Pack. Last year, the Pack squared off with the Spartans with a spot in the Mountain West title game on the line. Unfortunately, Nevada came up short and ended up playing for a trophy full of cold potatoes. Nothing much has changed in this timeline, as both teams should have similar records heading into this matchup. SJSU returns almost every single starter on both sides of the ball, including standout quarterback Nick Starkel who seemingly has been playing college football longer than I’ve been alive. SJSU did lose it’s top two field stretching targets, Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither, but the depth behind them is game tested and has played well when put in. The running game did what it was supposed to for the Spartans last season, but was not special by any means. Look for the Nevada defensive line to stifle any attempt at getting the ball moving on the ground. The key will be to force Nick Starkel to air the ball out and come up with a few timely deflections and interceptions, as Starkel tossed seven of those last year. Defensively, this might end up being as tough of a test for the offensive line as Fresno State was. SJSU features the best book end duo of defensive ends on the West Coast in Cade Hall and Viliami Fehoko. Together they combined for 16 and a half sacks last season, which is quite the statistic given the shortened season. SJSU loses Tre Webb from their defensive backfield, which should leave them susceptible to the Nevada air raid attack. Romeo Doubs was held to ONLY nine receptions for 75 yards, but with the departure of Webb who was largely responsible for playing over the top of Doubs, look for Carson Strong to get him the ball early and often. Coming off of an intense rivalry game victory, expect Nevada to come out guns blazing and avenge last year’s shortcoming against SJSU.
Final: Nevada 32 San Jose State 24

Week 10: Nevada at San Diego State
As The Wolf Pack saunters down to San Diego, the theme of the week on both sides of the ball will be centered around the run. San Diego State loves to run the ball, averaging close to 200 yards per game, and they love stopping the run as well. The Aztec defense finished in the top ten nationally when it came to stopping the run, allowing 98.2 yards per game. You can start to see what it’s going to take for the Wolf Pack to come out of this game on top. Just like last year, it will be paramount that the Aztecs get held to under 110 rushing yards. Once they get going, it quickly goes downhill. The more effective they are running the ball, the more time bleeds from the clock thus putting a ton of pressure on the Nevada offense to play fast. The Pack also will need to produce just as effectively through the air as it did last year. SDSU featured a future NFL player in Darren Hall, as well as two very competent safeties in Tariq Thompson and Dwayne Johnson. Romeo Doubs gashed the secondary, which was key to victory last year. With the entirety of the Pack air attack returning and finding themselves against a relatively new and untested Aztec secondary, look for the ball to be flying all over the field and eventually into the endzone. This game should be a tightly contested match as most games are when we face off with the Aztecs, but look for the Pack to be in firm control of both the scoreboard and line of scrimmage. Final: Nevada 28 San Diego State 20

Week 11: Nevada vs Air Force
If the run game was a focus the previous week against SDSU, it will be a hyper focus the following week against Air Force. The Falcons led the country in rushing last year, averaging an astounding 305 yards rushing per game. That number is a direct product of the offense that is run to almost perfection by the Air Force team. The triple option relies heavily on its quarterback to be able to make the right reads on every given play and Haaziq Daniels did that last year. The key to stopping the Air Force rushing attack falls on the shoulders of one of Nevada’s most impactful defensive players, Dom Peterson. If the Pack front four can generate enough havoc, it won’t stop the Falcons run game but it will be enough to slow them down. Once Air Force is forced to pass the ball more than they’d like, they’ll be playing right into our defense’s hands. Air Force will be returning zero starters on the offensive line, making the defensive line’s job a bit easier. For Nevada on offense, they aren’t as fortunate. The Air Force defense loses eight starters but gets a handful of players back who opted out last season as well some seasoned veterans who are returning after last year’s strong campaign. Two players who could cause some trouble for the offense are Demonte Meeks and Milton Bugg, both of whom were big contributors for the team before the pandemic. If Nevada can play with good rhythm and take advantage of the lackluster air force front line, the running backs should have a big day on the ground. Nevada will probably be forced to win this game on the ground and rest assured no team will dare force them to run the ball again. Look for the dynamic duo of Taua and Lee to stake their claim to fame during this contest.
Final: Nevada 35 Air Force 24

Week 12: Nevada at Colorado State
The Pack’s season finale sadly comes away from the comfort of Mackay Stadium. As the team heads to Fort Collins, the question that lingers is familiarity. The last time Colorado State and the Pack faced off was in 2018, which seems like it was decades ago. The Rams did not really get to play a real season last spring, so everybody should take last year and treat it as a scrimmage year for former Boston College head coach Steve Addazio. Granted, just because it was a “scrimmage year” doesn’t mean the results were promising. The Colorado State defense allowed a staggering 36 points per game while holding opposing offenses to 359 yards per game. The defense was incredibly susceptible to big plays that usually ended up with touchdowns being scored by the opposition. On top of that, the defense produced one interception in four games. Nevada offensive coordinator Matt Mumme should look to air the ball out early and often and test the shakiness of the Rams’ secondary. The defense does feature a pretty fearsome force in defensive lineman Scott Patchan who notched 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Nevada’s offensive line will be battle tested and proven by this point, so look for them to neutralize any impact made by Patchan. Defensively, no game should be overlooked, but this game should be one of the easier ones for the Wolf Pack defense. Colorado State’s presumed starter at quarterback is Todd Centeio, who completed just 39 percent of passes on 36 throws, and he will be playing behind one of the conference’s worst offensive line units. On top of that, the Rams really only seem to have one legitimate threat through the air in Trey McBride. Between a quarterback who can’t seem to hand his receivers the ball, an offensive line that cannot keep their quarterback upright, and a limited arsenal of offensive weapons, the Nevada defense should do just fine as long as it generates a few stops for the offensive unit to capitalize on. Final: Nevada 48 Colorado State 24

With the pieces in place and competition, I believe Nevada football finishes the regular season 11-1. The Wolf Pack have the pieces and experiences on all three phases to become a force in the Mountain West Conference and contend for a bowl game.

Devansh Mehra can be reached at or on Twitter @Devanshmehra9.