Note: For 11 straight days, I’ll post a brief team preview for each school in the Mountain West (except Boise State). I’m going in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the West Division.
NEVADA WOLF PACK
Coach: Brian Polian
Record: 4-8 (one season)
Last year: 4-8 overall, 3-5 MW
Last bowl: 2012 New Mexico (L, 49-48 to Arizona)
Returning starters: 7/9/1 (offense/defense/specialists)
Story line: The Wolf Pack retained their leaky defense from the Chris Ault era but lost the potent rushing attack. They’ll need to fix at least one of those problems to capitalize on one of the Mountain West’s best assets — senior quarterback Cody Fajardo. The Pack are coming off a disappointing, 4-8 season. “It was growing pains,” Fajardo said. “We struggled on the road. A lot of that was probably the wide-eyed freshmen. If you look at our schedule last year, if you just take the first half of each game, we were a 10-win team. For us, the meltdowns were in the second half. We’re going to be a lot better this year.” To improve, the Pack need to get better in the trenches. They rushed for 3.8 yards per carry last year and allowed 6.6 yards. “We’ve got to get the offensive line fixed,” Polian said. “That, to me, on offense, was the biggest genesis of all of our issues was the lack of a consistent lineup. On defense, we have to stop the run. We have pass rushers.”
Star player: If Fajardo stays healthy, he’ll challenge for Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year honors. He rushed for 621 yards and eight touchdowns last year while completing 67.9 percent of his passes. But he missed two games and was not always at full strength when he played. “Coming into my senior year, knowing I have to stay healthy, I think I’ll rely on my arm more,” Fajardo said. Defensive end Brock Hekking also is a standout, one of the best defenders in the league (nine sacks last year). “We were a bad defense collectively, but nobody can deny that Hekking is a difference-maker,” Polian said. “I would say he and (Boise State’s DeMarcus) Lawrence were the best two natural pass rushers in the league.”
Quotable: “I just want Cody to be Cody, because when Cody is just himself and relaxed and playing, he’s pretty dangerous. And I think statistically that proves out. I don’t want him to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.” — Polian
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