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The Nevada Wolf Pack should take a step forward in 2016, but a big enough one?

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Brian Polian's Nevada return enough to have a loaded offense, but this defense has a huge question.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. A bowl win in your setback year

Brian Polian's hire was confusing. He had spent the last eight seasons as special teams coordinator and/or position coach at Notre Dame, Stanford, and Texas A&M, he had never served as an offensive or defensive coordinator, and he had no ties to Chris Ault or Nevada.

If nothing else, 2014 was a partial vindication. But the squad was senior-heavy, and Polian will have to turn the team over to youngsters. That could pay off, especially if Polian's ability to identify talent turns out to be a strength.

But whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, the Wolf Pack will see a lot of change, and that usually results in setbacks.

-- The 2015 Nevada preview

On paper, my sentiment in last year's Nevada preview was right. With turnover at quarterback, the Wolf Pack fell from 64th to 91st in Off. S&P+. With inexperience in the secondary, they fell from 87th to 100th in Def. S&P+.

The quality in Polian's third season was Nevada's worst since probably 2004, the first year of Ault's final stint as head coach. Going by the S&P+ ratings, they were the second-worst bowl team, ahead of only No. 101 New Mexico.

That said, Nevada was quite a bit better than 99th over the season's final month. This was destined to be a reset season, and one of your biggest goals in a year like that is to be better at the end than at the beginning. Nevada pulled that off and scored a bowl win to boot. In an awkward MWC-vs-MWC matchup in Tucson, the Wolf Pack took down Colorado State to win the inaugural Arizona Bowl and finish 7-6.

Tangible late growth and a happy finish? There are worse ways to go about a reloading year.

Entering Polian's fourth season, the question shifts to the long-term. What are the expectations in Reno? With an offense now loaded with experience and a secondary deep enough to perhaps account for part of a massive rebuild in the front seven, it feels safe to assume Nevada again ranks between about 80th and 100th. Their odds of making a third straight bowl (and an 11th in 12 years) are solid.

Polian has been a decent recruiter by MWC standards and has decent results. Is that enough? The Wolf Pack have finished 7-6 four times in five years since the wonderful 13-1 of 2010, and 2016 is probably in a similar range. Hell, 2017 probably will too -- just as the defense finds a solid level of experience again, the offense will have to replace a ton of starters.

At some point, do those with influence tire of being decent? Have they already? There are a lot of hard jobs in the Mountain West, and from a revenue perspective, the Wolf Pack lag behind other schools in the conference. And while they're not too far removed from the Bay area, they still have at least a slight disadvantage compared to a San Jose State or Fresno State.

What should be a reasonable result for UNR each year? Did Ault's innovation and success set the bar too high? Is Polian succeeding a hall of famer, or is a conference-average performance below what we should expect?

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 2-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 97 | Final S&P+ Rk: 99
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
3-Sep UC Davis N/A 31-17 W 50% 98% +0.5
12-Sep Arizona 77 20-44 L 6% 1% -13.4 -12.0
19-Sep at Texas A&M 34 27-44 L 12% 2% +6.1 +17.0
26-Sep at Buffalo 98 24-21 W 51% 76% +0.3 +4.0
3-Oct UNLV 105 17-23 L 24% 40% -10.9 -13.0
10-Oct New Mexico 99 35-17 W 88% 100% +12.5 +13.0
17-Oct at Wyoming 115 21-28 L 9% 12% -16.7 -14.0
24-Oct Hawaii 120 30-20 W 24% 49% -0.4 +3.0
5-Nov at Fresno State 103 30-16 W 47% 82% +12.7 +10.0
14-Nov San Jose State 89 37-34 W 32% 38% +1.8 +2.0
21-Nov at Utah State 53 27-31 L 50% 63% +16.0 +11.0
28-Nov at San Diego State 43 14-31 L 13% 1% +1.9 0.0
29-Dec vs. Colorado State 86 28-23 W 41% 45% +13.1 +8.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 25.2 91 34.0 100
Points Per Game 26.2 86 26.8 62

2. A high-stress season

The numbers didn't like Nevada much, but with so many close games against opponents of a similar quality, this season could have gone in a couple directions. The Wolf Pack were 3-3 in games decided by one possession, and these games were as close on the chart as the scores suggested.

Win expectancy looks at the stats from a game and derives how frequently you would win said game with said stats. Nevada's season was topsy-turvy -- the Wolf Pack beat Hawaii, SJSU, and Colorado State despite a win expectancy under 50 percent, and they lost to Utah State despite expectancy over 60. They benefited a bit from turnovers luck, and they were probably a little bit lucky to reach a bowl at all, but with a few more lucky or unlucky bounces, 8-4 and 4-8 were both very much on the table.

If there's good news here, it's that the late-season product was definitely a little bit better than the mid-season product. With an S&P+ rating well into the 100s, Nevada exceeded expectations down the stretch.

  • Performance vs. S&P+ projection (first 8 games): -2.8 PPG
  • Performance vs. S&P+ projection (last 5 games): +9.1 PPG

The 40th percentile basically equates to a top-75 performance, and Nevada hit that level six times in 13 games and three times in the last five. But the scary part was the downside -- they hit 13 percent (~top 110) or lower on four occasions. The bad performances were usually away from home, but the Wolf Pack also managed to lose at home to in-state rival UNLV. Not a good look.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.19 99 IsoPPP+ 92.1 95
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.2% 63 Succ. Rt. + 94.1 99
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.6 104 Def. FP+ 31.4 101
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.8 37 Redzone S&P+ 97.6 83
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 15.7 ACTUAL 12 -3.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 86 96 99 95
RUSHING 25 75 101 54
PASSING 114 103 80 109
Standard Downs 105 106 97
Passing Downs 89 67 93
Q1 Rk 106 1st Down Rk 90
Q2 Rk 84 2nd Down Rk 106
Q3 Rk 99 3rd Down Rk 76
Q4 Rk 61

3. Pistol 2.0

Despite diminishing returns, Polian lost his offensive coordinator to a head coaching job. Over the last four seasons, Nevada's Off. S&P+ ranking fell from 34th to 41st to 64th to 91st, but Hawaii still hired alum Nick Rolovich. Rolovich had to work with a lot of youth last year, and the Warriors were willing to overlook 2015 struggles.

In Rolovich's place, Polian made an intriguing hire. Tim Cramsey comes to Reno after three years of manning a dominant offense at Montana State. A product of the Chip Kelly tree (he was New Hampshire's tight ends and running backs coach in the three years before Kelly made the jump to Oregon), Cramsey improved FIU's offense as coordinator in 2012 -- the Golden Panthers improved from 109th to 82nd in Off. S&P+ in Mario Cristobal's final season -- but ended up in Bozeman when Cristobal was fired.

Cramsey's Bobcat offense featured a mixture of spread principles; by most accounts, he works frequently from the pistol formation with which Nevada has become synonymous (Ault debuted the formation in the 2000s), but Montana State didn't lean heavily on the run. In 2015, including sacks as pass attempts, MSU ran 53 percent of the time. Cramsey might represent the evolution between Ault's original idea and a more pass-friendly system.

That said, his system is friendly to mobile quarterbacks, and he inherits a decent one in Tyler Stewart. Stewart's passing absolutely needs to improve -- he averaged just 5.7 yards per pass attempt last year, and Nevada ranked just 103rd in Passing S&P+ -- but in about six non-sack carries per game, he averaged 6.3 yards per carry. With an exciting pair of running backs, he could be part of a dangerous backfield.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Tyler Stewart 6'4, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8398 186 326 2139 15 7 57.1% 20 5.8% 5.7
Hunter Fralick 6'2, 205 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8225 0 3 0 0 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 0.0
Danté Mayes 6'2, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7883
Cristian Solano 6'1, 170 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685
Ty Gangi 6'2, 205 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Don Jackson RB 230 1082 8 4.7 6.0 30.9% 3 0
James Butler RB 5'9, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8123 209 1346 10 6.4 7.6 40.2% 1 0
Tyler Stewart QB 6'4, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8398 78 489 4 6.3 4.1 59.0% 5 2
Akeel Lynch
(Penn State)
RB 5'11, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8851 55 282 2 5.1 8.7 29.1% 0 0
Blake Wright RB 5'10, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7585 4 8 0 2.0 0.5 25.0% 0 0
Kelton Moore RB 5'11, 200 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000
Jaxson Kincaide RB 5'9, 180 Fr. NR 0.8000







4. An all-or-nothing ground game

In 2015, Nevada had a run-first offense that was drastically inconsistent at actually running the ball. It's easy to get distracted by the raw totals -- namely, the fact that Don Jackson and James Butler combined for 2,428 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns -- but only 35 percent of their carries gained five or more yards, and the Wolf Pack were very dependent on big plays to score points.

Big plays are great and necessary. But they are also rather random and unreliable. Relying on big gashes can also result in a three-and-outs problem.

The good news is that, despite Jackson's departure, Butler was the better of the two in 2015. He gained five yards on 40 percent of his carries (not great, but better than Jackson's 31 percent), and despite his 5'9 stature, he proved durable, rushing at least 16 times in eight of 13 games. His 189 yards on 24 carries powered the way to the bowl win.

Meanwhile, one all-or-nothing back leaves, and another one takes his place. Penn State graduate transfer Akeel Lynch was even less efficient (29 percent opportunity rate in both 2014 and 2015) and more explosive. With Butler, Lynch, and perhaps a youngster like three-star freshman Jaxson Kincaide, there will be as much big-play potential as ever. But less variance would be great. A line that returns all eight players with starting experience should help, even if the line wasn't incredibly effective.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Jerico Richardson WR-X 5'11, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8135 111 68 745 61.3% 35.0% 6.7 51.4% 48.6% 1.26
Hasaan Henderson WR-F 6'5, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8263 91 53 734 58.2% 28.7% 8.1 56.0% 49.5% 1.49
Wyatt Demps WR-Z 6'4, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8181 45 27 232 60.0% 14.2% 5.2 55.6% 40.0% 1.09
Jarred Gipson TE 6'1, 240 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7300 28 19 247 67.9% 8.8% 8.8 60.7% 60.7% 1.35
Don Jackson RB 12 7 77 58.3% 3.8% 6.4 16.7% 33.3% 1.74
James Butler RB 5'9, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8123 12 7 44 58.3% 3.8% 3.7 50.0% 25.0% 1.24
Victor Gonzalez WR-Z 6'0, 170 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7578 4 1 1 25.0% 1.3% 0.3 50.0% 0.0% 0.00
Kameron Richardson WR 6'7, 220 Sr. NR NR 3 1 7 33.3% 0.9% 2.3 66.7% 33.3% 0.58
Brayden Sanchez WR 5'11, 200 Sr. NR NR 2 2 27 100.0% 0.6% 13.5 50.0% 100.0% 1.09
Evan Faunce TE 6'4, 240 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7894 2 1 18 50.0% 0.6% 9.0 100.0% 50.0% 2.06
Rodney Lawson WR-Z 6'0, 190 Sr. NR NR 2 1 5 50.0% 0.6% 2.5 50.0% 50.0% 0.49
Tucker Melcher WR-F 6'1, 190 Jr. NR NR 1 0 0 0.0% 0.3% 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00
Austin Carrow TE 6'3, 255 Sr. NR NR 1 0 0 0.0% 0.3% 0.0 100.0% 0.0% 0.00
Andrew Celis WR 5'11, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8167
Ahki Muhammad WR 5'9, 185 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7985
Matt Moen TE 6'3, 245 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7585
Brandon Scott TE 6'3, 230 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7659
Dominic Christian WR 6'1, 180 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8033
Trevion Armstrong WR 6'3, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8538

5. Got the receivers?

Cramsey's passing knowhow played a role in his hire, and between a senior quarterback (Stewart) and a receiving corps led by three seniors and a junior, he inherits a passing game with all the experience you could want.

Experience doesn't automatically equal quality, though. The foursome of upperclassmen returning in 2016 -- receivers Jerico Richardson, Hasaan Henderson, and Wyatt Demps and tight end Jarred Gipson -- combined to average just 7.1 yards per target over 21 targets per game. That's not the worst average, but when you account for competition, it's pretty bad. Only passes to Gipson had a success rate over 50 percent, and there weren't enough big plays to account for the mediocre efficiency.

There might be room for new blood. Cornerback Ahki Muhammad has been working as a slot receiver this spring and has earned praise from Polian. And either of two three-star youngsters -- redshirt freshman Dominic Christian or true freshman Trevion Armstrong -- could slip into the rotation.

If Cramsey is able to engineer improvement in the passing game, the run could be spectacular.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 98.2 2.97 3.47 38.3% 59.6% 20.3% 87.5 3.0% 9.5%
Rank 82 53 42 75 106 85 81 24 96
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Austin Corbett LT 6'4, 300 Jr. NR NR 13 25
Jeremy Macauley RG 6'1, 300 Sr. NR NR 11 23
Nathan Goltry C 6'2, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8333 13 13
Jacob Henry RT 6'4, 280 Sr. NR NR 13 13
Joey Anglemire LG 6'3, 295 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7444 1 11
Ziad Damanhoury LG 6'6, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8200 8 8
Adam Khouri LG 6'3, 300 Jr. NR NR 4 6
Daren Echeveria RG 6'4, 280 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR 2 2
Humberto Lopez LT 6'5, 310 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 0 0
Brent Roling LG 0 0
Thomas Newton C 6'1, 250 Jr. NR NR 0 0
Ilya Lopez RT 6'3, 275 Jr. NR NR 0 0
Sean Krepsz OL 6'5, 320 So. NR 0.7000 0 0
Jake Nelson OL 6'5, 275 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.21 42 IsoPPP+ 91.6 96
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.8% 89 Succ. Rt. + 88.2 106
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 26.5 124 Off. FP+ 26.5 118
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.1 42 Redzone S&P+ 93.1 96
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.6 ACTUAL 21.0 +2.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 73 98 106 96
RUSHING 91 93 91 92
PASSING 52 101 120 80
Standard Downs 92 110 81
Passing Downs 107 97 110
Q1 Rk 58 1st Down Rk 97
Q2 Rk 117 2nd Down Rk 75
Q3 Rk 84 3rd Down Rk 102
Q4 Rk 103

6. Bending, then breaking

Like a lot of the Mountain West, Nevada's pass rush was pretty solid in 2015. The Wolf Pack ranked 60th in Adj. Sack Rate and proved better than most at generating pressure on standard downs.

The problem was that even with a good pass rush, Nevada only brought down the quarterback once for about every 16 passes. And when the QB didn't go down, he was probably finding an open receiver.

With almost all of the pass rush coming from the line, defensive coordinator Scott Boone elected to play it safe with his linebackers, hoping their presence in coverage would help out a green secondary. But usually it just delayed the inevitable. Nevada played extreme bend-don't-break defense and was okay in the redzone, but the Wolf Pack didn't have the depth (or the offensive efficiency) to avoid wearing down. They ranked 58th in the first quarter and 84th in the third but fell into the triple digits in both the second and fourth quarter.

To the extent that this was a depth problem, it probably won't get any better in 2016. Nevada basically played seven linemen, but the top four are gone, including a pair of dynamic pass rushers (Lenny Jones and Ian Seau, who combined for 17 sacks, eight breakups, and 31 tackles for loss).

It's the same story at linebacker, where five of the primary seven contributors are gone. Polian has recruited relatively well in the front seven, but that recruiting is going to have to reap major dividends in 2016. Otherwise a more experienced secondary is just going to be covering for a frazzled front seven this time around.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 89.7 3.19 3.52 40.9% 66.7% 18.7% 101.7 6.2% 6.2%
Rank 108 109 95 94 69 84 60 26 87
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Lenny Jones DE 13 42.5 5.8% 12.5 7.0 0 4 0 0
Ian Seau DE 13 35.0 4.8% 18.5 10.0 0 4 5 0
Rykeem Yates DT 12 24.0 3.3% 5.0 2.0 0 1 0 1
Kevin McReynolds NT 13 20.0 2.7% 3.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Salesa Faraimo NT 6'2, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7300 12 16.0 2.2% 4.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Malik Reed DE 6'1, 245 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 13 15.0 2.0% 3.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Korey Rush DT 6'1, 260 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8514 12 10.0 1.4% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Patrick Choudja DE 6'3, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8519 13 7.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jarid Joseph DE 6'2, 230 So. NR 0.7733 10 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kalei Meyer DT 6'1, 270 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7544 12 2.0 0.3% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Silva DE 6'4, 245 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7633
Kori Collons DE 6'5, 215 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8316
Ricky Thomas Jr. DE 6'1, 215 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8044
Hausia Sekona DT 6'1, 265 RSFr. NR 0.7967
Nakita Lealao DT 6'2, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8333
Kameron Toomer DE 6'3, 235 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8200
Nick Gregg DT 6'0, 294 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7700








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jordan Dobrich LB 12 79.0 10.7% 6.5 1.0 2 2 1 0
Matthew Lyons LB 12 62.5 8.5% 6.0 1.0 0 0 0 1
Bryan Lane Jr. LB 12 44.5 6.1% 2.5 1.0 1 3 0 0
Faigofie Faaituala LB 13 38.5 5.2% 2.0 0.0 0 4 0 0
Alex Bertrando LB 6'2, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 9 24.0 3.3% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 1
L.J. Jackson LB 6'0, 200 Sr. NR NR 12 18.0 2.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Trevor Taft LB 12 10.0 1.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Travis Wilson LB 6'1, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733 8 4.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Colton Concellos LB 6'3, 220 Jr. NR NR 5 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jake Lacaden LB 5'11, 215 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433
Lucas Weber LB 6'0, 215 So. NR NR
Riley Brand LB 6'1, 215 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8156
Gabe Sewell LB 6'0, 230 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8141
Lawson Hall LB 6'0, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8260
Alec Simpson LB 6'1, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8289
D.J. Powe LB 6'2, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8007








7. New blood

Boone did seem to make a concerted effort to get 2016's starters some action in 2015. Sophomores Malik Reed and Korey Rush and junior Patrick Choudja all made appearances on and of, and Reed and Rush flashed some play-making potential.

Between these three, senior tackle Salesa Faraimo, JUCO transfer Nakita Lealao, and three-star youngsters (Kori Collons, Ricky Thomas Jr., Kameron Toomer, Nick Gregg), you figure there are enough candidates to create a decent starting four on the line. And at linebacker, seniors Alex Bertrando and L.J. Jackson have experience in the rotation, and there are five more three-star freshmen (two redshirts, three true) in the mix.

The odds of finding seven decent starters are relatively solid. But the second string is going to be completely unproven, and it will be a lot to ask for these players to spell the eventual starters effectively. Depth appears it might again be a big issue on D.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Asauni Rufus SS 6'0, 190 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7807 13 81.5 11.1% 0 0 1 2 1 0
Dameon Baber FS 5'11, 180 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8475 10 55.0 7.5% 0.5 0 6 2 0 0
Kendall Johnson CB 6'0, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7906 13 37.0 5.0% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Elijah Mitchell CB 5'8, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 13 32.0 4.4% 2 0 1 4 0 0
Ahki Muhammad CB 5'9, 185 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7985 13 28.5 3.9% 0.5 0 0 3 0 0
Elijah Moody CB 5'11, 175 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 12 13.5 1.8% 0 0 1 3 0 1
Randy Uzoma CB 6'1, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8332 13 11.5 1.6% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Jaden Sawyer SS 6'0, 195 Jr. NR NR 13 10.5 1.4% 0 0 1 0 1 0
Teré Calloway S
3 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jimbo Davis S 5'10, 180 Jr. NR NR
Daniel Brown CB 5'10, 165 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8048
Kevin Howell DB 5'10, 179 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7974
Daylon Johnson DB 6'1, 171 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926








8. The secondary has no choice but to step up

Sophomore, sophomore, junior, senior, sophomore, sophomore. A majority of this year's top returnees in the secondary were freshmen last year, and that tells a pretty specific story. Nevada was dreadful and conservative even with a good pass rush last year.

There were flashes of potential, though. Dameon Baber had three interceptions against Fresno State and two against Buffalo, and corners Elijah Mitchell and Elijah Moody combined for nine passes defensed -- not a great total, but decent.

Even if Muhammad sticks at slot receiver, this unit has almost no choice but to improve over last year's numbers. Baber and Asauni Rufus should make for an increasingly solid safety duo in the coming season, and former star recruit Randy Uzoma still has one last chance to make waves.

With this much returning experience, the pass rush should almost certainly improve. But it might need to improve a lot.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Alex Boy 6'3, 200 Sr. 65 42.0 4 28 18 70.8%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Brent Zuzo 5'10, 180 Sr. 67 61.4 28 2 41.8%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Brent Zuzo 5'10, 180 Sr. 38-40 13-13 100.0% 4-6 66.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Elijah Mitchell KR 5'8, 180 Sr. 25 26.4 1
Rodney Lawson KR 6'0, 190 Sr. 2 26.0 0
Andrew Celis PR 5'11, 190 So. 11 13.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 7
Field Goal Efficiency 12
Punt Return Success Rate 33
Kick Return Success Rate 43
Punt Success Rate 25
Kickoff Success Rate 65

9. Special teams might be the defense's best friend

Offensive and defensive efficiency are the single biggest factors in deciding a game, but special teams can flip close games in your favor. And while Nevada had plenty of efficiency issues in 2015, the Wolf Pack special teams unit made up for a lot of deficiencies. Because of Brent Zuzo, they were almost guaranteed three points when they got inside the opponent's 30, and strong coverage and returns meant that Nevada had only bad field position (because of efficiency issues) and not the worst field position in the country.

Everybody's back in this unit -- Zuzo, punter Alex Boy, return men Elijah Mitchell and Andrew Celis. There is a lot of variance in special teams results, but this should be a strong unit again.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Cal Poly-SLO NR 18.9 86%
10-Sep at Notre Dame 11 -24.5 8%
17-Sep Buffalo 109 10.5 73%
24-Sep at Purdue 88 -4.6 39%
1-Oct at Hawaii 118 5.7 63%
8-Oct Fresno State 94 4.2 60%
15-Oct at San Jose State 92 -2.9 43%
22-Oct Wyoming 110 10.8 73%
5-Nov at New Mexico 102 0.6 51%
12-Nov San Diego State 55 -4.7 39%
19-Nov Utah State 73 -1.5 47%
26-Nov at UNLV 114 4.9 61%
Projected wins: 6.4
Five-Year F/+ Rk -9.0% (78)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 96 / 93
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 9 / 2.9
2015 TO Luck/Game +2.3
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 84% (95%, 73%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 6.1 (0.9)

10. Progress over here, regression over there

The pieces appear to be aligning for the Nevada offense. There's experience in the passing game and on the offensive line, and there's major big-play potential in the backfield. The Wolf Pack might be able to match last year's explosiveness while taking a few steps forward in the efficiency department.

That's good because the defense is going to have to fight to tread water. Nevada hasn't had a particularly good defense since 2011, but the Wolf Pack are replacing almost every starter up front and hoping that their secondary can go from overwhelmed to seasoned in a single offseason.

S&P+ projects Nevada at 91st, and that feels about right to me -- that suggests the offense will improve a little more than the defense regressed. And of course, in the tossup-heavy Mountain West, that should mean another fall of drama and close games.

Nine of Nevada's 12 opponents are projected 88th or worse, and the Wolf Pack are given between a 39 and 63 percent chance of winning in eight games with three likely wins and one likely loss. That should make for another bowl campaign and another hard ceiling around seven or eight wins.