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Top-10 returning Nevada football players entering 2020

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 Nevada at San Diego State Photo by Justin Fine/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nevada football finished 7-6, earning its second consecutive seven-win season and appearing in its second straight bowl game for the first time since 2014-15. As we’re approaching the 2020 season, which is eight Saturday’s from now (barring any setbacks), I decided to conduct my Top-10 returning player list heading into the season. With the exception of a few players, this was a tough list to order. Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions:

Sam Hammond, DE

Devonte Lee, RB

Austin Arnold, S

Berdale Robins, CB

10. Carson Strong, QB

NCAA Football: Purdue at Nevada
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong (12) passes against the Purdue Boilermakers.
David Calvert-USA TODAY Sports

Strong had a rollar coaster redshirt freshman season. completing 63.4 of his passes for 2,335 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions in ten games. Strong returns all of his offensive line along all of his key skill position players, so look for the 6-foot-4 gun slinger to improve upon his 2019 season.

9. Lawson Hall, LB

San Jose State v Nevada
Tight end Billy Humphreys #81 of the San Jose State Spartans is taken down by linebacker Lawson Hall #30.
Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

Hall and defensive lineman Dom Peterson (more on him later) are Nevada’s only returning starters in the front-seven. In a breakout 2019 campaign, he recorded 58 tackles, three tackles-for-loss and 1.5 tackles-for-loss. The 6-foot, 230-pound force has displayed All-Conference potential with good instincts and a nose for the football last year. Hall could be among the Pack’s tackling leaders at the conclusion of the 2020 season.

8. EJ Muhammad, CB

Nevada v Northwestern
Justin Jackson #21 of the Northwestern Wildcats moves around EJ Muhammad #4
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Muhammad was granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA in March. Muhammad is coming off a career season where he totaled career-highs in tackles (58), tackles-for-loss (1.5) pass breakups (6) and fumble recoveries (1). With the loss of ornerback in Daniel Brown, Muhammad, with 18 career starts, will get his first taste as Nevada’s top corner entering this year.

7. Tyson Williams, S

San Jose State v Nevada
Defensive back Austin Arnold #28 of the Nevada Wolf Pack celebrates with defensive back Tyson Williams #6 of the Nevada Wolf Pack after a pick-six.
Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

Williams totaled a team-high 85 combined tackles that ranked among the top-20 in the Mountain West last season. He also recorded eight pass breakups, one interception and two tackles-for-loss. Williams enters 2020 as Nevada’s top safety after his breakout sophomore season.

6. Toa Taua, RB

San Diego State v Nevada
Running back Toa Taua #35 of the Nevada Wolf Pack holds the ball during a passing play to run against the San Diego State Aztecs.
Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

Taua enters his junior year coming off back-to-back 800-yard rushing seasons. Taua did not build off his stellar in his stellar freshman season, seeing decreases in his rushing total (872 to 807 yards), yards per carry (4.9 to 4.1) and yards per game (67.1 to 62.1). With continuity behind the offensive line — which returns all five starters after ranking the fourth-worst run-blocking grade — Taua looks to produce his first 1,000-yard season in his career.

5. Nate Brown, OT

Nevada v Vanderbilt
Nate Brown #76 of the Nevada Wolf Pack plays against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Brown is Nevada’s best and most experienced offensive lineman. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound offensive lineman won the team’s Basalite Blocker of the Year award last year as a junior. Brown will help lead the offensive line — formally known as “The Union” — which returns all five starters after a dismal 2019 season.

4. Romeo Doubs, WR

Nevada v San Diego State
Romeo Doubs #7 of the Nevada Wolf Pack eludes Luq Barcoo #16 of the San Diego State Aztecs.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Doubs is coming off a stellar sophomore campaign, leading the team with 14.8 yards per reception. He hauled in 44 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns, garnering All-Mountain honorable mention honors. With three of Nevada’s top-5 wideouts graduating, expect Doubs to produce another All-Conference year as one of Strong’s top targets on the outside.

3. Elijah Cooks, WR

NCAA Football: Idaho Potato Bowl-Ohio vs Nevada
Nevada Wolf Pack wide receiver Elijah Cooks (4) runs for gain during the first half of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against the Ohio Bobcats.
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

I have Cooks ranked high on my list because, despite failing to crack any All-Conference teams last year, Cooks is Nevada’s best receiver and one of the best in the conference. He registered career-highs in receptions (76), receiving yards (926) and touchdowns (8) — finishing Top-10 in the conference in each category. The 6-foot-4 wideout is a vertical deep threat with sensational hands and next-level leaping ability. Look for him to be Strong’s top target once again heading into 2020.

2. Brandon Talton, K

NCAA Football: Purdue at Nevada
Nevada Wolf Pack kicker Brandon Talton is celebrates his game-winning field goal against the Purdue Boilermakers.
David Calvert-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on how you feel about kickers, Talton could fit anywhere between 2-5 on this list. He returns as arguably the best kicker in the Mountain West heading into 2020. Talton emerged out of nowhere with the Wolf Pack as a true freshman, earning All-Mountain West second team honors and booting 21-of-25 field goals through the uprights. Oh, and let’s not forget his game-winning 56-yard field goal in the season-opener versus Purdue that earned him a scholarship after the game — just a month after walking on.

1. Dom Peterson, DL

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 Nevada at San Diego State
Nevada Wolf Pack defensive end Dom Peterson (99) celebrates a tackle versus San Diego State.
Photo by Justin Fine/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This spot is a lock for me. Peterson is the conference’s returning leader in sacks (9.0) and tackles-for-loss (15.0) from a year ago. He might be undersized — listed at 6-foot and 295 pounds — but his strength combined with his speed showcases why he plays much bigger than size. Newly-hired defensive coordinator Brian Ward immediately has a luxury to utilize the reigning first-team All-Conference honoree in multiple facets to terrorize opposing offenses. Peterson is a sneaky frontrunner to win Mountain West Defense Player of the Year.