2013 is certainly going to be a year full of changes for the no. 76 team on our Top 100 Countdown, the Nevada Wolfpack. Not only are there going to be changes in personnel on the field, but the program’s most crushing loss may come from their leadership on the sidelines. After his third stint as head coach of the Wolfpack, legendary head man, and innovator of the pistol offense, Chris Ault retired following the 2012 campaign. This opened the door for first-year head coach Brian Polian to lead the charge in Reno beginning this season.
With that, let’s take a look at our no. 76 team, the Nevada Wolfpack.
While this may be where the loss of Ault may be felt the most, it helps having QB Cody Fajardo returning. Tossing the rock for over 2700 yards and 20 TDs last year and rushing for over 1,000 as well, many have Fajardo as a preseason candidate for Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
With RB Stephon Jefferson taking off to the NFL, it’ll be up to the trio of Chris Solomon, Xavier Stephens, and Nate McLaurin to provide some production in the running game.
Targets for Fajardo to throw to shouldn’t be an issue. Returning this season are experienced, reliable wideouts Brandon Wimberly, Richy Turner and Aaron Bradley. All had at least over 400 yards receiving last season.
Offensive line is where the biggest transition may be. Polian needs to replace three starting men up front to take care of his versatile offensive playmakers. Only T Joel Bitonio and C Matt Galas come back. As the other three linemen progress in their development, so should the offense.
With the front-four returning on a defensive line that wasn’t exactly terrible by any means last season, this could be the strength of the defensive unit. Lenny Jones, Brock Hekking, Jack Reynoso, Jordan Hanson and Rykeem Yates are all names you should hear causing havoc in opposing backfields.
The linebacker unit will be anchored in the middle by sophomore Jordan Dobrich, a former walk-on. Junior Jonathan McNeal and sophomore Bryan Lane Jr. should be at the other two slots, although others could see significant playing time, which include Burton De Koning, Ian Seau and Matthew Lyons.
Charles Garrett is the only returning starter in the secondary, and he is switching positions from corner to safety this year. If there is any unit on this team that is going to have to grow up, and fast, it’s this one. Facing off against some strong passing units this year, they’ll need to progress quickly over the summer.
Scheduling in 2013 could provide the biggest hurdle for the Wolfpack. With road games against the likes of the Florida State Seminoles, UCLA Bruins and Boise State Broncos, it’s not going to be an easy haul by any stretch of the imagination. Their final game of the regular season at home against the BYU Cougars won’t be a cake walk neither. This is the kind of schedule, that if you can be successful, a team from the Mountain West dreams of in the BCS era.
For as talented as this team can eventually be, 2013 may have some rough patches that could prevent this team from improving on last year’s 7-6 overall record. But, this program showed last year that they are capable of pulling off some surprises. They were able to defeat a team like the Cal Bears last season, so they can show up when they need to. Still, especially with some of the transitions, coaching and on-field personnel, I’d be surprised if this team could improve on 7-5.