The 2019 college football season has begun, and as part of the "official" opening week ("Week 0" was last week), we'll have one of the more interesting non-conference matchups on the schedule. The Big Ten's Purdue Boilermakers (6-7 in 2018) will travel to Reno, Nevada, for the first time in school history to take on the Mountain West's Nevada Wolf Pack(8-5). Purdue won the first meeting between these two teams in West Lafayette back in 2016 by the final score of 24-14.
The Boilermakers overcame an 0-3 start to win six of their last nine games in 2018. Unfortunately Auburn proved to be too much to handle in the Music City Bowl at season's end. The Wolf Pack got off to a .500 start last year (3-3), but finished 4-2 the rest of the way to become bowl eligible. Nevada would go on to defeat Arkansas State in an overtime thriller at the Arizona Bowl. Purdue averaged just a shade under 30 points per game one year ago, while Nevada scored 25 or more points in nine of its 13 games.
Both teams are hoping to start the season off with a win as they have some tough games ahead of them. After hosting Purdue, Nevada makes a very difficult road trip to Oregon, with a very competitive Mountain West schedule soon to follow. Once Purdue leaves Nevada, the Boilermakers head home for tough home games against Vanderbilt and TCU. And their 2019 Big Ten slate includes four teams that are ranked in the Top 25.
Jeff Brohm is looking for his third consecutive bowl trip at Purdue, while Jay Norvell hopes to guide Nevada to back-to-back winning campaigns for the first time since 2014-15. The Boilermakers are 1-1 all-time against the MWC, while the Wolf Pack are 1-6 all-time against the Big Ten.
Purdue at Nevada
Kickoff: Friday, Aug. 30 at 9:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Purdue -10.5
When Purdue Has the Ball
Elijah Sindelar is back, he's healthy, and he's ready to fully take the reins of this Boilermaker offense. He spent the better part of the last couple of seasons sharing the duties under center with David Blough, and he dealt with some tough injuries along the way. But despite the physical setbacks, Sindelar has completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,547 yards with 20 touchdowns (13 interceptions), and he averages six yards per completion. His top targets from last year, wide receiver Rondale Moore and tight end Brycen Hopkins (a combined 1,841 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns last year), are back to lead the attack for Jeff Brohm's offense.
Purdue's offensive line has a mixture of youth and experience (freshman tackle Will Bramel, sophomore center Viktor Beach, junior tackle Grant Hermanns, and senior guards Alex Criddle and Matt McCann), but the run game is the big question mark for Purdue this year. D.J. Knox (883 rushing yards, 8 TD's in 2018) and Markell Jones (537 yards, 5 TD's) have used up all of their eligibility, and now Purdue turns to a new generation of backfield talent. Senior Tario Fuller and sophomore Alexander Horvath are the most experienced backs on the current roster and collectively posted 159 yards from scrimmage on 32 total touches last season. The key for Nevada on defense (35 sacks last year) is to pressure Sindelar, take away the passing game and put Purdue's under-experienced running backs to the test.
When Nevada Has the Ball
While Purdue has a familiar face at quarterback, Nevada is going with a newer one. Last year's starter, Ty Gangi, has moved on to the next phase of his life. The initial plan for coach Norvell's unit this year was to go with last year's backup, Cristian Solano (23-of-45 passing for 200 yards in his reserve role), as the starter for 2019. But a hand injury halfway through training camp will cause Solano to miss this game and perhaps more. So now the Wolf Pack will turn to redshirt freshman Carson Strong against the Boilermakers.
Strong beat out three other players to earn the starting role, but he only registered a four-yard rushing attempt before redshirting last year. But until Solano returns to the lineup, the gig is his. Thankfully, he'll have a strong rushing attack as his support system. The Wolf Pack return their top three leading rushers from last season. Toa Taua (872 yards, 6 TDs, 4.9 yards per carry), Kelton Moore (433 yards, 4 TDs, 4.8 YPC) and Devonte Lee (193 yards, 7 TDs, 4.3 YPC), will all get their fair share of carries against Purdue.
Strong also has experience at wide receiver, which will be a nice assist. Nevada returns three of its top four pass catchers from last season in Kaleb Fossum (734 receiving yards, 10.5 yards per catch), Romeo Doubs (562 yards, 13.1 yards per reception) and Elijah Cooks (348 yards, 6 TDs). Purdue's defense will be tested by Nevada's ground attack, but aside from that, the Boilermakers can depend on their defense, which collected 25 sacks and had 13 takeaways last year.
The Wolf Pack are 7-5 at home under Jay Norvell, while Purdue is 5-5 on the road (outscoring those opponents 232-192) under Jeff Brohm. But aside from going 1-6 against the Big Ten, Nevada has gone 2-8 against Power 5 teams since 2014. Purdue is 3-5 against the Group of 5 during that same time span. Both defenses will be aggressive, but in the end, the Boilermakers' passing game, their previous success against Nevada and their efficiency away from West Lafayette help them pull out a close victory to start the season.
Prediction: Purdue 28, Nevada 25
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.