Despite a brutal non-conference schedule, Nevada is the favorite in the WAC.
By: Braden Gall | 6/6/11, 3:23 PM EDT
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You can read the entire Nevada preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
HEAD COACH: Chris Ault, 219-97-1 (26 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chris Ault | DEF. COORDINATOR: Andy Buh
For the first time since Colin Kaepernick took over the reins of head coach Chris Ault’s Pistol offense in 2007, shattering records along the way, Nevada is looking for a new signal-caller. Who will replace Kaepernick, the only quarterback in NCAA history to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000 in his career, is still an open question.
The smart money to start the season would be on senior Tyler Lantrip, a drop-back passer and Kaepernick’s longtime backup. But redshirt freshman Cody Fajardo, a dual-threat option, could push for playing time early in the season, and sophomore Mason Magleby might be the most athletic quarterback of the group.
“I like the situation we have because we have three quarterbacks right now who are very talented and very competitive,” Ault said during the spring.
The good news for the player who wins the job is that he will have an experienced offensive line that returns three starters and one of the better receiving units in the WAC. Senior Rishard Matthews, who emerged as a gamebreaker late in 2010, figures to be Nevada’s top threat.
The bad news is that Nevada will not have running back Vai Taua, a three-year starter who teamed with Kaepernick to become the most prolific career rushing duo in NCAA history. Junior speedster Mike Ball, who sat out most of spring drills with a knee injury, is the favorite to get the bulk of the carries. Senior Lampford Mark, another speedster who is recovering from knee surgery in 2010, also will likely see carries if healthy.
Andy Buh, who came from Stanford to coordinate the defense at his alma mater before last season, turned this once-struggling unit into a playmaking bunch that led Nevada to a win over Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
The Wolf Pack lost at least one front-line starter at every level of the defense, including two-time All-WAC defensive end Dontay Moch. But Nevada still has a solid group of returners, led by middle linebacker James-Michael Johnson. Senior Brett Roy was a productive defensive tackle, and senior corner Isaiah Frey and junior safety Duke Williams are all-conference-caliber players.
The Pack will need Johnson, the lone returning captain from last year, and others to step up, both in terms of production and leadership, as Nevada opens 2011 with a treacherous four-game road stretch.
The Pack return two of the better return men in the WAC in Ball (kickoffs) and Matthews (punts). But a big priority in the offseason is in the kicking game. Sophomore kicker Anthony Martinez made the biggest kick in school history against Boise State, but he has limited range. The team came out of spring ball with three-year walk-on Jake Hurst as the only punter on the roster.
A repeat of Nevada’s historic 2010 is unlikely with the loss of key players and a murderer’s row schedule that includes road games against Oregon, Texas Tech and Boise State. But Nevada’s offense should still be able to move the ball, although not at the same pace as in recent years, and the Wolf Pack’s defense should be improved.
If both are true, a favorable conference schedule that includes home dates against fellow WAC favorites Fresno State and Hawaii could lead to another conference championship and a seventh consecutive bowl appearance.