The Nevada football team’s projected win total this season is 7.5 games, which seems low considering the talent on the roster. The team’s road schedule is difficult, but anything less than nine or 10 wins would be deemed an underachievement by a group of players who have set their sights on winning the school’s first Mountain West championship. So how will the season play out? Here are our game-by-game predictions for Nevada’s 2021 season.
* Nevada 28, Cal 24: The Wolf Pack opens the season at the Pac-12 Bears for the second time in the last nine seasons, looking to repeat the 2012 win in which Nevada scored in the waning seconds to upset Cal, 31-24. This Wolf Pack offense should be Nevada’s best group since that 2012 team and should be strong enough to score an upset win. Record: 1-0, 0-0 MW
* Nevada 52, Idaho State 17: The big question isn’t whether Nevada will win or lose this game, but whether the Wolf Pack will be able to host the FCS Bengals given the ever-changing air quality in Northern Nevada. The Wolf Pack lost to Idaho State, 30-28, in Jay Norvell’s first season (2017), but he’s built his roster to the point that won’t happen again. Record: 2-0, 0-0 MW
* Kansas State 38, Nevada 35: The Wildcats started last season 4-1 before losing its last five games. The issue was obvious. Kansas State’s defense fell apart, allowing 40.6 ppg in the last five contests after limiting teams to 23.8 ppg in the first five. This should be a high-scoring shootout as the Wildcats have their best offense in years. Record: 2-1, 0-0 MW
* Nevada 35, Boise State 31: What a way to open MW play. The Wolf Pack hasn’t won at Boise State since 1997 and is 1-16 in its last 17 contests with the Broncos. These are the preseason MW favorites to win their respective divisions, and it should be a tight game. This comes down to me trusting Carson Strong more than Hank Bachmeier. Record: 3-1, 1-0 MW
* Nevada 45, New Mexico State 14: The Wolf Pack will complete non-conference play against New Mexico State, its old WAC rival. Nevada hasn’t lost to the Aggies since a 48-45 loss in 2008, one of the most embarrassing defeats in school history. Fun fact: Current Wolf Pack OC Matt Mumme was NMSU’s offensive coordinator in that game. Record: 4-1, 1-0 MW
* Nevada 35, Hawaii 21: One of the Pack’s two losses in 2020 came at Hawaii, but Nevada is hosting this game, and that’s always been a big determining factor in who wins the Wolf Pack-Rainbow Warriors matchup. Hawaii coach Todd Graham will certainly scheme up a strong defensive game plan, but it won’t be enough to spring another upset. Record: 5-1, 2-0 MW
* Fresno State 41, Nevada 38: The Wolf Pack doesn’t have an envious road schedule this season, and you have to figure Nevada will trip up in one or two of those games. Fresno State has an explosive offensive and threw for 485 against the Wolf Pack last season, ultimately being undone by its special teams. I have the Bulldogs winning a barn-burner. Record: 5-2, 2-1 MW
* Nevada 40, UNLV 20: The Rebels have somehow won three of their last four games at Mackay Stadium despite typically being one of the nation’s worst teams, and after losing its season opener to FCS school Eastern Washington on Thursday, that title shouldn’t change. Weird things can happen in rivalry games, but Nevada will keep the Fremont Cannon. Record: 6-2, 3-1 MW
* Nevada 31, San Jose State 27: The Spartans knocked off the Wolf Pack with a MW championship game berth on the line last season, and this game very well could determine who wins the West Division this year. Both teams return most of their talent. SJSU was far superior to Nevada in the trenches last year. The Wolf Pack will respond to the challenge. Record: 7-2, 4-1 MW
* Nevada 28, San Diego State 19: The Wolf Pack has upset the Aztecs each of the last two seasons, with the defense leading the charge in each victory (SDSU has averaged just 17 points per game in those losses). While the Aztecs’ defense can almost single-handedly win games, I don’t see SDSU’s offense being able to keep pace with Nevada. Record: 8-2, 5-1 MW
* Nevada 38, Air Force 30: It’s been a couple of years since Nevada had to play the triple-option offense, so the Wolf Pack, which has had a solid run defense under Jay Norvell, could have some difficulties with that scheme. But this one is at Mackay Stadium, and the Wolf Pack should have enough offensively to top the Falcons. Record: 9-2, 6-1 MW
* Nevada 35, Colorado State 20: The Wolf Pack caps its regular season at Fort Collins, the easiest of Nevada’s six road games (the first five road opponents should be bowl teams). The Rams’ pass rush should be among the MW’s best, so Nevada’s offensive line will be challenged. But Colorado State won’t have enough offensively to keep up with the Wolf Pack. Record: 10-2, 7-1 MW
* MW title game: Nevada 34, Boise State 31 (OT): If the season plays out as predicted above, the Wolf Pack will most likely be hosting the MW title game, and we’ll pick Boise State as the team’s opponent. We’ll use the same score as the epic 2010 contest between these teams, a 34-31 overtime win by the Wolf Pack, which takes home its first MW title. Record: 11-2, 7-1 MW
* Bowl game (Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl): Nevada 30, Stanford 20: The Wolf Pack’s season began at Palo Alto, Calif., where Stanford allowed Nevada to use its practice facility for two weeks due to poor air quality in Reno. It also ends against Stanford in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, the MW’s top bowl destination. Nevada caps the campaign with its second win over a Pac-12 foe. Record: 12-2, 7-1 MW
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.