In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 96 Nevada
Nevada won three games last year, the fewest in 16 years and third-fewest in program history, and suffered an ugly loss to Idaho State. Nonetheless, football felt fun again in Reno.
Now, head coach Jay Norvell enters year two of a mini-rebuild and is a year or two away from challenging for the Mountain West title but there's a lot to love about the Wolf Pack in 2018 and beyond.
2017 Record: 3-9 (3-5, Mountain West)
Nevada had as encouraging of a three-win season as possible, especially one that included a loss to an FCS team and four losses by at least 19 points.
The defense struggled to deliver consistent pressure and couldn't get off the field. They did, however, find a temporary solution at quarterback in then-junior Ty Gangi, had fun rolling the dice and got much-needed experience for some youngsters.
Head Coach: Jay Norvell (2nd Year, 3-9)
Jay Norvell got his first coaching job at 53 years old when the longtime Power Five assistant replaced Brian Polian last year. After a three-win first season, he retooled some of his staff, adding former UCLA assistant Angus McClure as offensive line coach and former Minnesota defensive coordinator David Lockwood as safeties coach.
In just one year, Norvell is already far more beloved than his predecessor and has Wolf Pack fans optimistic again.
WR Wyatt Demps, OT Austin Corbett, DE Patrick Choudja, LB Austin Paulhus, LB Travis Wilson, CB Elijah Moody
The big one here is tackle Austin Corbett, a second-round pick of the Cleveland Browns. A two-time all-conference selection, Corbett didn't allow a sack last year. Elsewhere, Wyatt Demps was the top target for Ty Gangi and had 20 touchdowns the last two years, and Austin Paulhus led the team in tackles and tackles for loss and ranked second in sacks.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Ty Gangi, RB Kelton Moore, RB Jaxson Kincaide, WR McLane Mannix, WR Brendan O'Leary-Orange, OT Sean Krepsz
Ty Gangi wasn't supposed to be the guy at Nevada. He was a walk-on at Colorado, spent time at Ventura College and was expected to sit behind Alabama transfer and former four-star recruit David Cornwell.
He's now the guy at Nevada, even if it's only for one more season. Gangi played poorly in September and was benched but Cornwell nor Kaymen Cureton fared better, giving Gangi a second chance. He seized it, playing well in October and November. Nevada averaged 34 points over his final seven starts and he threw eight touchdowns over their final three games.
"Hat’s off to the kid,” offensive coordinator Matt Mumme said this spring. “He’s so resilient. You go into spring, you’re the starter. Halfway through the spring, you’re not the starter. You go into fall camp, you’re not the starter. Halfway through camp, you are the starter. Two games into the season, you’re not the starter anymore."
Wyatt Demps is gone but their other top weapons return, including running back Kelton Moore. After limited playing time as a freshman, he exploded as a sophomore, running for nearly 700 yards over their final seven games. He and Jaxson Kincaide form one of the best backfield duos in the conference.
Sean Krepsz is one of only two returning linemen with significant experience.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Korey Rush, LB Malik Reed, CB Akhi Muhammad, S Dameon Baber, S Asauni Rufus, S Nephi Sewell
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is tasked with turning around a unit that was picked apart through the air and worn down against the run but all eyes are on David Lockwood, their aforementioned new safeties coach.
Just like last year, safety appears to be a position of strength for the defense, though Lockwood needs to get better results from a group that can be darn good. That starts and ends with seniors Dameon Baber and Asauni Rufus but also keep a close eye on rising sophomore Nephi Sewell.
“Their communication and their understanding of how they fit into the defense,” Norvell said in April of their safeties. “It’s so important making adjustments against formations and being where you’re supposed to be and playing with confidence. That should be a position of strength for us going into this year. With good coaching, we should eliminate mistakes and we should improve.”
The secondary gets a lot of attention in Casteel's 3-3-5 defense but linebacker Malik Reed (above) is a stud and end Korey Rush had his breakout season (eight tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks). Reed moved to linebacker this offseason after twice earning all-conference selections at defensive end.
“It’s going to take a lot of time and film and stuff like that, but he’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever met, so I’m sure he’s going to do what he has to do to get it done,” center Sean Krepsz said of Reed in April
Casteel is still building depth but they need some results from a unit laced with athletes and capable players.
QB Carson Strong, DT Kevin Scott, DT Tristan Nichols, LB Lamin Touray,
After redshirting last year, Lamin Touray will crack the rotation, as will JUCO transfers Kevin Scott and Tristan Nichols on the defensive line. Both were three-star recruits who can clog the middle and provide occasional backfield disruption.
The most intriguing — and important — addition is a guy who might not play a snap this year. That's 6-foot-5 true freshman quarterback Carson Strong. He enrolled early and was constantly praised during spring ball.
"He’s got a great arm,” Matt Mumme said. “He’s got a great release. When he wants to throw it, it’s going to come off his hand fast and he’s going to put the ball on them. That’s only going to get better as he gets stronger in the college game."
Nevada plays Vanderbilt for the first time in program history when they visit Nashville in Week 2. They've met their other Power Five opponent, Oregon State, three times but their last meeting was 19 years ago.
They play four of five games at home from early October through mid-November before closing the season with back-to-back road games.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. Portland State|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||at Vanderbilt|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||vs. Oregon State|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||at Toledo|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||at Air Force|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||vs. Fresno State|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||vs. Boise State|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||at Hawai'i|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||vs. San Diego State|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||vs. Colorado State|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||at San Jose State|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||at UNLV|