The theme is simple as it’s plastered all over the Nevada campus.
A new era begins after Chris Ault stepped down last season, paving the way for Brian Polian as the Wolf Pack finally opens the season this weekend at the Rose Bowl.
So much uncertainty is cast over this new football team, much like the smoke engulfing the state from the Rim Fire. Polian has never been a college head coach after spending time at Notre Dame and Texas A&M working on recruiting and special teams. The Tampa 2 defense replaces the traditional 4-3 and 3-4 schemes that Nevada has implemented since moving up to Division I in the 1990s.
The uniforms now have last names, and the design is different as well as the helmets. Don’t forget there’s a new athletics director in town, too, as both Doug Knuth and Polian hope to start a new, winning tradition at Mackay Stadium.
So what can you expect from the 2013 Pack? Don’t be surprised if Nevada has its first losing season since 2007, or if the Wolf Pack is embarrassed in most of their road contests, which include ranked affairs with UCLA, Florida State and Boise State, and possibly Fresno State and San Diego State.
Nevada fans have been extremely fair weather, to say the least, as they only come out of hiding when the team’s winning and pretend to have kids in Pop Warner so they don’t have to show up at Mackay. This year is going to be one of the toughest in program history with its daunting schedule and personnel changes.
But this team has to start somewhere and Nevada will need your support in the stands. For a region that proudly displays its Wolf Pack apparel, window decals and specialized licensed plates, it’s a mystery why 30,000 people cannot show up in one place six times a year. Mediocre showings hurt the program, the university and Northern Nevada.
The Wolf Pack needs your help this season and it starts with the Bruins as Nevada looks to beat its second-straight Pac-12 opponent to open the season.
Here’s how I see the season developing in Polian’s first year with the Silver and Blue.
Nevada at UCLA, Aug. 31
Playing on the road has always been a problem but Nevada’s track record at large venues has been abysmal. The Rose Bowl is full of history and now houses a nationally ranked team giving USC problems for bragging rights in Los Angeles.
Bruins by 14
UC Davis at Nevada, Sept. 7
Fans will get to experience first-hand the new era when Nevada welcomes the FCS school on Chris Ault Night. Nevada has managed to handle FCS teams pretty well as the Pack should have no problem giving Polian his first win.
Pack by 17
Nevada at Florida State, Sept. 14
The Seminoles should contend for a top-five ranking this season as they continue to produce an abundance of NFL talent every season, including two starting quarterbacks in Buffalo (E.J. Manuel) and Minnesota (Christian Ponder). Nevada will have a tough time hanging with Florida State for all four quarters.
Seminoles by 28
Hawaii at Nevada, Sept. 21
The Warriors have been awful the last two seasons and that trend should continue this year. Another home game, another first for Polian as he gets his first conference win.
Pack by 21
Air Force at Nevada, Sept. 28
The Wolf Pack looked lost last year in Colorado. The Falcons ran for miles against a team that usually holds its own against the run. Will Nevada be able to adjust against the triple option?
Pack by 3
Nevada at San Diego State, Oct. 4
The winning record will not last long as Nevada travels to Southern California. The Aztecs are one of the few teams to beat Boise State on the blue turf and are dangerous at home.
Aztecs by 14
Nevada at Boise State, Oct. 19
This rivalry continues to grow strong but nearly every time the Wolf Pack travel to Idaho, the Broncos put on a show. Nevada came back last year to lose by a touchdown but it hasn’t challenged Boise State on the road since the quadruple-overtime game in Colin Kaepernick’s first-ever start.
Broncos by 18
UNLV at Nevada, Oct. 26
What’s not a better way to spend the Nevada Day weekend than watch the Silver State’s universities battle for the Fremont Cannon? The cannon was in danger of being painted red until Nevada miraculously defeated UNLV last year. But Polian will find out how much these schools hate each other as he vows for his first win against the Rebels.
Pack by 14
Nevada at Fresno State, Nov. 2
The Wolf Pack enters a critical stage in the season when it could end up losing its last four games and missing a bowl game for the first time since 2004. The Bulldogs should be ranked in the Top 25 by November but Nevada could be hitting its stride after working on problems on the defense and offensive line.
Bulldogs by 10
Nevada at Colorado State, Nov. 9
The pieces will finally come together and Nevada avoids jeopardizing the bowl streak. Look for the Pack to get its first conference road win and even its record as it returns home for the final two games.
Pack by 7
San Jose State at Nevada, Nov. 16
A former Wolf Pack quarterback leads the Spartans now and could be drafted in the first round next year. The Spartans have improved drastically in its last year in the WAC and will make this affair much closer than in previous years. Nevada will need one more win to become bowl eligible but that might not guarantee a postseason game by playing tough conference.
Pack by 3
BYU at Nevada, Nov. 30
The last time the Cougars visited Reno, it saw its national ranking fall as a sold-out Mackay Stadium celebrated one of Nevada’s biggest upsets last decade. BYU is much stronger 11 years later, but Nevada thrives at the opportunity to ruin a team’s season after Thanksgiving. The Wolf Pack will be challenged throughout the game but Polian’s group will have the tools to overcome adversity and give the first-year coach the biggest win of the season.
Pack by 6
Bowl game, TBD
Seven wins should get Nevada into a bowl game for the ninth year in a row.
Polian’s team will endure growing pains; it’s inevitable. But the biggest challenge will be how Nevada can not only handle change but adversity. Will the Wolf Pack be able to rise to the occasion and make believers out of everyone to the point that sellouts will never be a problem at Mackay?
Don’t be shocked if Nevada finishes with only four wins. Don’t be shocked if the Wolf Pack wins nine games and upsets UCLA and BYU.
The blueprint to success has been created. It’s just a matter of time of when Nevada will become a regular in the Top 25 polls.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.