TN: Nevada lost the face of its program in the great Chris Ault after the 2012 season. Tell us a bit about the legacy he leaves and how you feel about the program's chances to replace him effectively with Brian Polian.
MWC: When you talk about Nevada football you are essentially talking about what Chris Ault built. Without Ault, the Nevada program would not be where it is today, a successful DI team that competes for a bowl appearance nearly every year. In fact Nevada has reached a bowl game in 8 straight years and a majority of that can be credited to Ault. The athletic department does not have great funding; in fact they are last in the Mountain West in funding, yet Ault always seemed to put a winning team on the field.
When Ault previously left the head coaching post, Nevada struggled, so that brings us to Brian Polian. Having never been an offensive or defensive coordinator, Polian is stepping right into the spotlight with replacing a legend. Polian is known as a great recruiter, but it is easy to recruit for placing like Notre Dame and Texas A&M (some of his previous stops), but harder to convince a 18 year old kid to come to Reno, Nevada. A lot of positive energy is surrounding the team with the coaching change, so I like Polian's chances.
TN: What are the expectations of Nevada fans for 2013?
MWC: The casual Nevada fan might say winning the west division of the MWC is the proper expectation. A more astute fan looks at the roster and sees a young inexperienced team that has one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the nation. With the struggles of San Diego State, Nevada looks like the third best team in the west division behind Fresno State and San Jose State. A bowl game for the Wolf Pack in my eyes would be a success.
TN: The Wolf Pack defense fell to an awful 111th in 2012. How has new defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton attempted to turn this group around? How quickly can he do so and who are his best players in 2013?
MWC: Hazelton brings a completely new scheme to a defense that last year was frankly awful. The Tampa 2 defense that Hazelton installed this year is a bend but don't break defense. The goal is to allow short passes and let nothing get behind you in the hopes of the offense making a mistake at some point. I doubt in year one he turns the defense around simply because of the youth of the players and the inexperience in the scheme.
The best players on the defensive side of the ball are on the defensive line with Brock Hekking and Jordan Hanson. Other than that there are not many playmakers on the field. Hazelton so far this year has favored doing mass substitutions to keep players fresh. Depth is not much of an issue, but the talent within the depth is.
TN: The offense, on the other hand, brings back offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich and excellent quarterback Cody Fajardo. However, it does lose three starters from the offensive line and features an inexperienced backfield. What do you expect from the Wolf Pack offense in 2013?
MWC: The offense for Nevada usually is not an issue. Fajardo is the unquestioned leader along with sixth year wide out Brandon Wimberly. The Union (aka the Nevada offensive line) is led by left tackle Joel Bitonio, but other than that there are lots of holes. During the spring a senior defensive tackle was switched to offensive guard and is now starting. The running back position gives me less of a worry. Nevada seems to produce 1,000-yard rushers every year, which is due to the system that we run. This year we have two running backs that have been splitting the carries in Kendall Brock and Don Jackson. If Jackson is healthy look for him to get the start.
TN: Tell us a bit about Nevada's special teams and any unmentioned players that FSU fans should keep an eye out for on Saturday afternoon.
MWC: Nevada's special teams are decent at best. The return game is not very explosive but is not poor. The kicking game rests on the foot of freshman Brent Zuzo who has been pretty solid, but has not really been able to show whether or not he has a strong leg. Coach Polian has shown the willingness to get creative on special teams, calling a fake field goal against UCLA that would have scored if it weren't for a false start.
A player to look out for would be middle linebacker Jordan Dobrich. So far on the year he has 14 total tackles, but as the middle linebacker he is the leader in the Tampa 2 scheme. If Nevada has any chance of winning he will need to have a big game.
TN: How do you see this game playing out? What will the Wolf Pack need to do to pull the upset over 31-point home favorite Florida State?
MWC: From an optimist point of view Nevada might be able to keep the game just under the spread. From the pessimist point of view Nevada could lose 70-10. I see neither of these happening, but rather somewhere in the middle. I predict a 52-17 win for the Seminoles. Honestly I see just about no chance of Nevada pulling off the upset, unless quarterback Cody Fajardo passes for 400 yards and runs for 150, which is very unlikely.
Big thanks to Keegan and Mountain West Connection! Head on over to MWC for more info on Nevada and the conference as a whole.