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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.
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
|19-Sep||at Texas A&M||34||27-44||L||12%||2%||+6.1||+17.0|
|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|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||106||1st Down Rk||90|
|Q2 Rk||84||2nd Down Rk||106|
|Q3 Rk||99||3rd Down Rk||76|
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.
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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|
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||58||1st Down Rk||97|
|Q2 Rk||117||2nd Down Rk||75|
|Q3 Rk||84||3rd Down Rk||102|
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.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Bryan Lane Jr.||LB||12||44.5||6.1%||2.5||1.0||1||3||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|
|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.
|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|
|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.
|Alex Boy||6'3, 200||Sr.||65||42.0||4||28||18||70.8%|
|Brent Zuzo||5'10, 180||Sr.||67||61.4||28||2||41.8%|
|Brent Zuzo||5'10, 180||Sr.||38-40||13-13||100.0%||4-6||66.7%|
|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|
|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
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|10-Sep||at Notre Dame||11||-24.5||8%|
|15-Oct||at San Jose State||92||-2.9||43%|
|5-Nov||at New Mexico||102||0.6||51%|
|12-Nov||San Diego State||55||-4.7||39%|
|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.