You smell that?
You hear that?
College football is BACK!! And, more importantly, Mountain West football is BACK with five Week 0 showdowns!
I’m biased, but perhaps the most intriguing Week 0 matchup will be between the Nevada Wolf Pack and the New Mexico State Aggies, the start of the Ken Wilson era in Reno and the Jerry Kill era in Las Cruces.
Wilson, entering his first year as a head coach, joins the Wolf Pack after being the co-defensive coordinator at Oregon; he previously spent more than 20 seasons as a defensive coach and an athletic administrator with the Wolf Pack before working as a defensive coach at Washington State and Oregon.
Kill, however, is a far more experienced head man; he’s conjured an 154-101 record throughout his collegiate career, most recently being an assistant at TCU before becoming the interim head coach midway of last year for four games (2-2). He’s also had head coaching stints at Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois and Minnesota.
O.K., enough about the coaches.
Let’s jump into the preview of the Saturday night showdown!
Nevada (0-0) vs. New Mexico State (0-0):
When: Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces, N.M.
Spread: Nevada -9
Last Meeting: Nevada won 55-28 (Oct. 9, 2021)
Matchup History: Nevada leads 14-2
New Mexico State on offense:
The Aggies were a bottom tier offense last season, scoring just 25 points in six games, with three of those games came against New Mexico, South Carolina State and UMass, for perspective.
They lost their starting quarterback Jonah Johnson, its top tailback in Juwaun Price (who transferred to Syracuse) and four of its top five pass-catchers. JUCO transfer Diego Pavia, Weston Eget and Gavin Rakes will all be competing for the top quarterback spot; similarly to Nevada, Kill hasn’t announced an official starter.
The running game could be a strength early in the season with former four-star recruit and TCU transfer Ahmonte Watkins and JUCO transfer Jamoni Jones, who totaled 487 yards and 11 touchdowns at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in 2021.
Two of their top wideouts are expected to be Justice Powers and Kordell David, who are a big targets at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3, respectively. Powers totaled seven catches for 167 yards a year ago. Their lone top-five target (from 2021) back is Terrell Warner, who’s also pretty big at 6-foot2. He recorded 38 catches for 334 yards and one score with the Aggies last season.
New Mexico State will have just two returning starters — tackles Doro Omari and Gabriel Preciado — on the offensive line, which struggled in both run-blocking and pass protection last year.
Conversely, Nevada lost a majority of its dominant pass rush from 2021, though it’ll return former All-Conference honoree Dom Peterson on the interior. He will be joined by Utah State transfer James Hansen and EDGE threats Louie Cresto and Marcel Walker.
Perhaps Nevada’s most experienced group on defense (and roster as a whole?) will be its secondary, who returns Tyson Williams (no active Pack player has more tackles than him since 2018), Bentlee Sanders and Isaiah Essissima. Williams will be transitioning from strong safety to Nickel corner, while Sanders will break in as the team’s new free safety.
New Mexico State on defense:
Where New Mexico State has the edge against Nevada is its experience defensively, returning nine startesrs, including their first-six/seven with their new 4-2-5 scheme.
The Aggies surrendered 40.4 points per game last year, the third-worst mark nationally — including 55 points (and 532 total yards, 463 coming through the air) against Carson Strong and the Wolf Pack in 2021. They are led by defensive ends Lazarius WIlliams and Donovan King and linebackers Chris Ojoh and Trevor Brohard.
Ojoh and Brohard were second and third on the team in tackles with 72 and 71, respectively; Ojoh also posted a team-most 16.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage with six sacks. Borjard had seven tackles-for-loss — third-most — with two sacks.
Sandwiched inbetween Brohard and Ojoh with tackles-for-loss was King, who had 10. That came in addition to 34 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Williams finished with 18 tackles, 4.0 tackles-for-loss and three sacks.
Their secondary is spearheaded by corners Syrus Dumas and DJ McCollough, who combined for 82 tackles a season ago.
Much like New Mexico State, Nevada possesses plenty of unproven commodities on the offensive side of the ball, returning just one starter in running back Toa Taua.
Though he has yet to be named the official starter, Taua is expected to be more involved in the offense this season — as head coach Ken Wilson has been open to running the football more and having the offense being more balanced than it was under Norvell.
Taua rushed for 732 yards last season and north of 3,000 yards (on 4.8 ypc) for his collegiate career — so he’s more than a capable back. The same could be said about his backup, Devonte Lee, who’s tallied 1,253 rushing yards and 21 scores — one fewer than Taua — in four seasons with the Pack.
Nevada will have a new signal caller, five new offensive linemen (Note: RT Aaron Frost, its only other returning offensive starter, is hurt) and multiple new skill position threats outside of Taua. Plenty of unknowns, I know.
Wilson has yet to name an official starting quarterback between incumbent backup Nate Cox and Oklahoma State transfer Shane Illingworth, who started three career games with the Cowboys (and went 3-0!) behind Spencer Sanders.
Nevada’s most experienced offensive lineman will likely be former Akron center Bryce Peterson, who started more than two dozen games with the Zips from 2018-20.
It also boasts a new crop of receivers, led by Jamaal Bell — the only returning Pack receiver who’s caught double-digit passes at the FBS level — Arizona transfer B.J. Casteel, Illinois transfer Dalevon Campbell and Tyrese Mack. Expect new tight ends Cooper Shults and Jacob Munro to be featured in the offense, too.
Long gone are the days of the Wolf Pack’s authoritative and efficient air-raid attack. Both teams enter the season with new (and young) coaching staffs, schemes, quarterbacks and other skill position players. So it’s fair not to know what to expect from either team, if we’re being truthful. Nevada, despite losing the most production this offseason, is still probably the better team, but the gap has closed considerably to what it was a year ago. I think the ground game against New Mexico’s front ultimately decides the game. Nevada 27, New Mexico State 21 (Season prediction: 0-0)