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!
Sam Hammond, DE
Devonte Lee, RB
Austin Arnold, S
Berdale Robins, CB
10. Carson Strong, QB
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
UNREAL FINISH!— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 31, 2019
Nevada true freshman Brandon Talton nails a 56-yard FG to stun Purdue on the final play of the game pic.twitter.com/ECnq7kPKR6
1. Dom Peterson, DL
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.