COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Mountain West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Chris Ault, 226-103-1 (27 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Nick Rolovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Bradeson
Nevada looks to challenge Boise State in its first season in the Mountain West.
Head coach Chris Ault wanted a more consistent passing game to complement the Wolf Pack’s run-heavy Pistol offense. So he looked to Nick Rolovich, a former Hawaii quarterback who spent the last two seasons as the coordinator of the Warriors’ Run ’n’ Shoot attack, to spruce up an offense that in 2011 ranked sixth in the nation in total yards but at times struggled to score.
Rolovich will have sophomore dual-threat quarterback Cody Fajardo, who was the WAC’s Freshman of the Year in 2011, to both run and pass in an offense that suits that skill set perfectly. Fajardo, who fought injury and inconsistency, needs to take a step forward from his freshman season if he is to be effective in the Mountain West Conference.
Fajardo should have a formidable offensive line to protect him, bolstered on the right side by two all-conference candidates in guard Chris Barker and tackle Jeff Nady.
Veteran receiver Brandon Wimberly, a two-year starter before missing last season after being shot in a summer altercation, and sixth-year tight end Zach Sudfeld should help the passing game.
A host of running backs — Stefphon Jefferson, Nick Hale, Kendall Brock and Tony Knight — will likely share time early in the season until one emerges as the go-to ball carrier.
When coordinator Andy Buh left for Wisconsin, Ault promoted Mike Bradeson, the Pack’s safeties coach. Bradeson, who previously served as a coordinator for John Robinson at UNLV, takes over a Nevada defense that lost major pieces at each level. Bradeson moved senior Albert Rosette from starting defensive end back to his natural middle linebacker spot to replace NFL-bound James-Michael Johnson. Rosette will be joined in the linebacking corps by Jeremiah Green, who broke out last year as a junior, and DeAndre Boughton, who missed 2011 with a broken leg.
The secondary should be a strength, with safeties Duke Williams and Marlon Johnson and corner Khalid Wooten all returning. Each was an all-conference-caliber performer, but Nevada will need to find another corner opposite Wooten. Senior Thaddeus Brown is a strong candidate, but keep an eye on junior college transfers Nigel Haikins and Markus Smith.
There are questions up front with All-WAC defensive tackle Brett Roy gone and only one regular, tackle Jack Reynoso, back. Redshirt freshmen Lenny Jones and Rykeem Yates will have an opportunity to move into the starting lineup, but they will face stiff competition from some junior college transfers.
Nevada enters fall camp with a decision to make at placekicker — strong-legged Allen Hardison or junior Anthony Martinez, who has limited range. Junior college All-American Chase Tenpenny should handle punts. But the Wolf Pack will have to find a replacement for Rishard Matthews, who averaged 11.5 yards per punt return in his career.
Nevada is taking a step up in competition by joining the Mountain West Conference. But before the Wolf Pack even get to conference play, they will have to navigate a non-conference schedule that includes a road game against California and a home game against South Florida. On the plus side, the Mountain West no longer has TCU, and two of the league’s better teams, Wyoming and Boise State, travel to Reno.
If Nevada can jell, it has a chance to compete for a league title and should be in line for an eighth consecutive bowl appearance.