The Nevada Wolf Pack has gone 7-6 and earned bowl berths each of the last two seasons under fourth-year coach Brian Polian. Nevada is expected to have a winning season again this year, although it's probably only the fifth or sixth best team in the Mountain West Conference. Polian, the St. Francis High School product, is 18-20 in Reno.
Nevada returned just one starter to its front seven but it's offensive line, running back and receiving units all rank among the top three in the Mountain West.
Here's a view of the Wolf Pack from Chris Murray, sports writer at the Reno Gazette-Journal. Follow him at @MurrayRGJ and http://www.rgj.com/sports/
1. How demanding are the expectations at Nevada? Brian Polian has gone 7-6 the past two years. Would another 7-6 year be just fine by most of the Nevada fan base?
Most fans would not consider 7-6 “fine.” A lot of that is because of Nevada’s schedule, which is the fifth easiest out of 128 FBS teams based on opponent win-loss percentage from last season. Couple that with this being Nevada’s most veteran team since at least 2012 and probably 2010 and the Wolf Pack is looking for more than seven wins. Polian even said seven wins isn’t good enough this season. He’s looking for the team to take the next step. Polian has only one year left on his contract following this season, so he’s pushing for an extension. A four-win season and Nevada might be looking for a new coach. An eight-win season and Polian might be headed to a lower-level Power 5 school or AAC school. Anything in between and it gets a little murky.
2. Last year Nevada’s front seven caused all kinds of disruption for the UB offense. What is the state of the front seven this year and who’s the best player there to watch?
The front seven has been rebuilt. Only one starter from that group is back and all-league defensive ends, Ian Seau and Lenny Jones, both graduated and had shots with NFL teams (both were cut in training camp). The top five linebackers all graduated, too. So, it’s a different group that actually held up well against Notre Dame’s huge offensive line that average 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds per player. But, through two games, Nevada is still looking for its first sack of the season (it did play a triple-option team in the opener). Seau and Jones are both in the top 10 in program history in sacks and tackles for loss, so those are big stats to fill. The man best capable of doing so and the man Buffalo has to watch out for is sophomore defensive end Malik Reed, who is the most talented pass rusher on the team. Redshirt freshman Gabe Sewell, the team’s middle linebacker, also is going to be an excellent player.
3. Is QB Tyler Stewart capable of stepping his game up this year? Or do you see him as a game manager asked to avoid mistakes in a run-first offense? What's your read on Ty Gangi?
I think he’ll settle in as a game manager. That’s what he was last year and has had one good game (against Cal Poly) and one really bad game (against Notre Dame) this season. Nevada’s receiving corps is better but I don’t think Stewart is going to go out and win a game on his own like predecessors Colin Kaepernick and Cody Fajardo did. Nevada is actually using three quarterbacks this season. Stewart will get most of the snaps but backup Ty Gangi, a mobile sophomore who began his career at Colorado, and safety Asauni Rufus also will get snaps. Gangi has read-pass options on his plays and Rufus runs a triple-option scheme, which he did in high school. The old saying is, “If you have two quarterbacks, then you really have none.” I wonder if there’s a saying about having three quarterbacks?