Nevada is on the verge of returning to a bowl game for the first time since 2015 with Colorado State coming to town on Saturday. The Wolf Pack need only a victory in one of their final three games to become bowl eligible.
This became possible after Nevada (5-4, 3-2 MW) upset San Diego State 28-24 on Oct. 27. The Wolf Pack have seen radical defensive improvement in Mountain West play. They are allowing just 24.6 points per game against conference opponents after giving up 39.5 points per contest in four non-conference games.
Colorado State (3-6, 2-3) finds itself in a desperate situation. The Rams need a win to keep any scant bowl hopes alive for another week. It won't be easy. Colorado State is saddled with a two-game losing streak that has arisen out of inconsistent offense and porous defense.
The Rams lead the all-time series 12-3 and have won three straight regular season meetings over the Wolf Pack. Nevada's last win over Colorado State came in the 2015 Arizona Bowl when the Wolf Pack scratched out a 28-23 victory.
Colorado State at Nevada
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Nevada -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Nevada gain an edge with big plays?
The Wolf Pack gained 150 fewer total yards than San Diego State and trailed the Aztecs by as many as 14 points in the first quarter in their last outing. They totaled just 297 yards and 14 first downs while averaging 4.5 yards per play. Yet Nevada came out on top because it turned the tide with big plays on offense and defense.
Doing the same against Colorado State isn't out of the question. The Rams are giving up 444.8 yards and 37.3 points per game this season. They have held only two opponents under 30 points.
Nevada's senior quarterback Ty Gangi is a capable playmaker who could give the Rams' pass defense plenty of trouble. Gangi has thrown for 2,118 and 16 touchdowns in eight games. His favorite targets, Kaleb Fossum and McLane Mannix, have combined for 1,244 yards and six touchdowns on 90 catches. The Wolf Pack have averaged 35.8 points per game with Gangi at quarterback this season.
2. Izzy Matthews closing in on a milestone
A big performance from Izzy Matthews in the backfield could mean success for Colorado State on Saturday. It could also lead to the senior putting his name in the team record books.
Matthews needs just 57 rushing yards to pass Alvin Lewis and move into 10th place among the school's career rushing yardage leaders. He enters the game with 2,466 career rushing yards. Lewis accumulated 2,522 rushing yards with the Rams. Matthews already ranks fourth at Colorado State with 29 career rushing touchdowns — tied for fourth with Cecil Sapp. He fell short of crossing the 2,500 yard plateau against Wyoming after being held to minus-5 yards on seven carries.
Colorado State could use increased production in the backfield from Matthews after losing senior receiver Bisi Johnson to an ankle injury. Johnson has tallied 601 yards and four touchdowns on 43 catches this season. He is the no. 2 receiver for the Rams. The three-year starter has 104 career receptions for 1,824 yards to his credit.
3. Is Mike Bobo on the hot seat?
The heat is starting to turn up on Mike Bobo in his fourth season in Fort Collins. Three straight 7-6 seasons have conveyed the sense that the football program has been stuck in neutral for much Bobo's tenure. Now it seems the Rams maybe going in reverse.
Colorado State has suffered bad loss after bad loss en route to a 3-6 mark and seems to be regressing. The Rams are the only team to let Wyoming score more than 30 points this season. Rivalry games with Colorado have turned into one-sided affairs favoring the Buffaloes. The Rams also got dominated by FCS opponent Illinois State in their final non-conference game.
If Bobo can't find a way to win out against Nevada, Utah State, and Air Force in the next three weeks, his chances of returning for a fifth season could rapidly diminish. He could be facing a must-win in more ways than one against the Wolf Pack.
Nevada doesn't have a history of much success against Colorado State. Still, you can throw out those history books this time. The Rams don't have a defense capable of slowing down the Wolf Pack. Nevada, on the other hand, is equally capable of getting stops and putting up points as needed. Look for the Wolf Pack to lock up bowl eligibility on Saturday.
Prediction: Nevada 35, Colorado State 24
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo courtesy of @NevadaFootball)