RENO " Season-opening games have been unkind to Nevada in recent history.
The Wolf Pack has lost 11 of 12 opening games since 1996, including four straight under current head football coach Chris Ault, who started his third tour of duty at Nevada back in 2004.
Nevada hopes to start a new trend when it kicks off the 2008 season against Grambling State, a Football Championship Subdivision perennial powerhouse tonight at 6:05 p.m. (ESPN Radio 630 AM) at Mackay Stadium.
Nevada opened the 2004 season at Louisiana Tech and dropped a 38-21 decision, and then were blown out at home by Washington State 55-21. Two more road losses followed, a 28-19 setback to Fresno State in 2006 and a 52-10 thumping at the hands of Nebraska last season.
"It's nice to open at home; play in front of our fans," said starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. "Hopefully it will be a good day for us."
It should be. Grambling State is short on experience compared to the Wolf Pack.
"They're a nationally known team," Ault said earlier this week. "They always have good athletes. They have played in big games for years.
"They have seven (returning) starters on defense. That's their strength. They have a couple of good running backs. They can run the ball."
Grambling State coach Rod Broadway, who guided the Tigers to an 8-4 record last season, is impressed with the Pack, though he'd much rather play a team in his own classification.
"They (Nevada) are a real good team," Broadway said during a conference call earlier this week. "We have our work cut out for us right out of the box. I've watched the San Jose State and Louisiana Tech games. Nevada plays hard and has an excellent running game. We played Pitt last year, and I think they are better than Pittsburgh.
"Personally, I'd rather play Savannah State, Alcorn State, Alabama A&M or somebody like that. To play a Division I team, there is no benefit except maybe financial."
This will be the first test for a Nevada defense under first-year coordinator Nigel Burton. Nevada's defense dominated the first two scrimmages and played with plenty of emotion which Ault said was lacking last year.
Middle linebacker Josh Mauga and defensive tackle Mundrae Clifton are the leaders on the defensive side of the ball. Sophomore Greg Coulson is expected to start for a dinged-up Kevin Basped at one end. The Pack secondary, which features new starters at the corners, Antoine Thompson and Michael Evans, has been unimpressive during fall camp, according to Ault.
Sophomore Frank Warren gained 901 yards en route to being named the Southwestern Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year in 2007, while Cornelius Walker ran for 565 yards.
However, how much success the duo has hinges on the development of the Tigers' offensive line. Grambling is starting at least two freshmen " tackle Quint Roberts (6-6, 325) and guard Greg McGrue (6-8, 360) " both on the right side.
With new quarterback Greg Dillon at the helm, expect the Tigers to try to control the ball. Dillon is making his first-ever start.
"We're not going to ask him (Dillon) to do a whole lot," Broadway said. "We want him to manage the game. We have a pretty good defense and kicking game. We want to shorten the game, and hopefully we'll hang in there for a while."
Grambling, which plays a 4-2-5 defense, allowed just 95.1 yards a game on the ground a year ago, one of the top 1-AA marks in the country.
Junior defensive lineman Christian Anthony had 14 stops behind the line and six sacks. Melvin Matthews is back at a tackle. Kenneth Annio and Nigel Copeland return at cornerback, and Jeffrey Jack has moved from rover to strong-side linebacker. Lance Castleberry replaces Jack at rover. Both linebackers " John Carter and Keefe Hall " return.
"They (Grambling) play a lot of cover 1 and cover 3, and they will blitz, too," Kaepernick said. "They had a lot of success last year. I don't think they'll change that much for us."
Kaepernick, who started the final eight games of the season for the Pack after Nick Graziano broke his foot against Fresno State, has won the starting job for now.
Ault has said that both quarterbacks will play, though he didn't specify in what situation Graziano would enter the game.
Luke Lippincott, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards last season, has been added to the Doak Walker watch list. The award is given annually to the top running back in the nation. Lippincott is poised to put up even bigger numbers this year.
Notes: The famed Grambling band will perform at halftime, and then share the field with Nevada's band for a post-game concert...This is the second meeting between the schools. Grambling State beat Nevada 32-3 in 1972 at Grambling ... This is just the second time that Nevada has opened a season in August. The first time was 2003 against Southern Utah, which was the first night game at Mackay Stadium.