Second year coach Brian Polian has been quoted as saying that the perfect schedule for a school like Nevada would be an FCS foe, two BCS schools, a "mid-major" school, and finally the conference schedule.
Last year coach Polian got that schedule, with a caveat. Those two BCS schools, UCLA and Florida State (EVENTUAL NATIONAL CHAMPION!), were preseason top 25 teams with both games on the road. Essentially unwinnable games, the Wolf Pack played in them for a hefty paycheck. The home FCS game against UC Davis separated the damage that the Bruins and Seminoles caused in the record book. The last game of the year was the final non-conference game against BYU at home.
This year the Wolf Pack's non-conference schedule is a lot more favorable. The Wolf Pack will open up the year at home on August 30th with what is essentially a tune up game against Southern Utah, an FCS school. Following that game the Wolf Pack will play back-to-back games against PAC-12 opponents. First comes a home game on September 6th against the Washington State Cougars who finished 6-7 last year with a bowl game loss to Colorado State. The following week, the Wolf Pack will play their first road game of the year against the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson. The last non-conference game is mid-year matchup against the BYU Cougars on October 18th in Provo.
Lets break down this non-conference schedule before we move to the conference games. All four non-conference games are winnable. Last year, the Wolf Pack struggled with depth and experience at most positions. This year, experience should not be an issue so all games should be competitive. Washington State and Arizona are the perfect games for Nevada to play year in year out. Both provide a stiff challenge against BCS teams that are quality opponents, but are not automatic loses like UCLA and Florida State last year. If Nevada can manage to beat one of the two PAC-12 teams they play, it should be seen as a success. The BYU game is sandwiched between two conference games in the middle of October. Last year the Wolf Pack lost 28-23 at home to the Cougars, so this year the game should again be close.
The conference schedule is pretty favorable for the Wolf Pack. Last year they finished 3-5 in conference, but this year shapes up for a better finish. The toughest games for the Wolf Pack seem to be at home, while games against the lower competition seem to be on the road. The road games include tilts against San Jose State, Hawaii, Air Force and UNLV. Those teams were a combined 10-22 in conference last year. At home Nevada draws Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State, and Fresno State. Those teams were a combined 24-8 in conference. Nevada fans should be thrilled at this schedule. It sets up perfectly for a bounce back year for the Wolf Pack.
The big games on that schedule are Nevada's two biggest football rivals. Boise State at home is always a big game and draw for Wolf Pack fans. That game will take place on October 4th. That game should be a toss up. The biggest game of the year should be the last game of the year, the battle for the Fremont Cannon. Last year the UNLV Rebels beat their instate rival the Nevada Wolf Pack 27-22 for the first time in eight years. The Nevada players will be fired up for the November 29th season finale in Vegas.
In conference Nevada should win three of four road games. At home it all depends on Boise State and Fresno State's ability to replace their starting quarterbacks from last year, Joe Southwick and Derek Carr. I suspect Nevada will at worst go 2-2 at home in conference and at best 3-1 with that loss being to the Boise State Broncos.
Overall, the way to early prediction for best-case scenario for the 2014 Nevada Wolf Pack football season would be 8-4 with a 2-2 non-conference record and a 6-2 conference record. Worst-case scenario would be a 5-7 finish, 1-3 non-conference and 4-4 in conference, missing out on a bowl game for the second consecutive year.