Fans are about to find out if last year’s failures will become the norm in Wolf Pack football.
When Nevada opens the season next weekend against Southern Utah, it will have had nearly two years of getting used to Brian Polian’s coaching methods, both on and off the field. Last year can be forgiven, mostly, since it was Polian’s first season as a head coach on the collegiate level but success will be expected this year.
Can Nevada improve on its 4-8 mark from 2013 and recover the Fremont Cannon from UNLV? Will Cody Fajardo complete an entire season or will we see another third-string quarterback make his debut? Will Nevada be able to go bowling after snapping a lengthy streak last year?
The schedule favors the Wolf Pack this season with the stronger Mountain West teams making the trip to Mackay Stadium. Instead of predicting every game this season, here are five must-see contests that will determine if Nevada plays in December or January after the regular season.
1. Boise State at Nevada, Oct. 4
While most would argue that the No. 1 game this season should be against the in-state rival, this Boise State rivalry had produced some memorable games over the last few seasons.
Nevada has beaten Boise State only once since the Wolf Pack joined the WAC and then the Mountain West and everyone in the Silver State should remember that classic overtime victory four years ago. But the lone win isn’t good enough and with the Broncos under new leadership, this year could be also one of the few opportunities to not to only beat Boise State, but send a message to the conference that Nevada means business in 2014.
Plus, it’s Homecoming.
2. Nevada at UNLV, Nov. 29
The best rivalry trophy pits the Silver State’s only universities and it’s about time Nevada and UNLV play during the nation’s rivalry week.
So much more than the trophy could be riding on this game as UNLV is just coming off a bowl season and Nevada is itching to get back into the postseason. A win could possibly send the Pack into the MWC title game or a loss could eliminate them from bowl eligibility.
Don’t you love college football?
3. Washington State at Nevada, Sept. 5
Forget about the season opener next weekend. It means absolutely nothing.
Heck, the school’s trying to give away tickets at Del Taco during the day.
The season really begins on this Friday night in September when the Pac-12 visits Reno for the first time since Cal was embarrassed four years ago. Mike Leach returns with the Cougars after his nationally ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders invaded the Biggest Little City in 2008 when Graham Harrell was throwing touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree.
4. San Diego State at Nevada, Nov. 1
November will be the toughest month for the Pack and it begins with the Aztecs, who stole two victories in the last two meetings.
This is becoming a great rivalry and with both teams in the same division, the stakes are even higher to who wins the battle. Nevada has a tough stretch against the conference but fortunately most of the games are at home.
Home dominance, however, needs to be restored after the mediocre showings in the last two years at Mackay.
5. Fresno State at Nevada, Nov. 22
David Carr is gone but that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs will have no bite this season.
Most of these meetings have been entertaining, from Nevada upsetting Fresno in 2005 to the spanking last decade when Ryan Matthews left the game with an injury. This pre-Thanksgiving battle, however, has trouble written all over it because UNLV is next and Nevada can’t afford to overlook the Bulldogs.
I’m hopeful the Pack can improve from last year. It’s hard in this conference to go worse than 4-8 but optimistically, Nevada finishes with an 8-4 record and makes it to the conference championship. Realistically, though, the Pack could end the season at the .500 mark in Polian’s second year and another missed bowl opportunity.
If Nevada’s offense can return to its potent days, Fajardo stays healthy and the defense actually plays defense, 2014 could turn into a memorable season.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at email@example.com.