Typically on the day before the start of the Nevada football season, I offer my game-by-game predictions. But I've already kind of done that with a Monday Mailbag question a couple of weeks ago, so instead of me giving you a game-by-game set of predictions, let's ask somebody smarter: the computers. My preferred metric when breaking down college football is ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI), which does the best job of analyzing how good a team's offense, defense, special teams and overall quality are. Here are the quick details on how FPI thinks Nevada will fare this season:
FPI rank: -6.0 (91st in nation)
Projected W-L: 4.2-3.9 (62nd in nation)
Chance of perfect season: 0.2%
Chance of winning MW: 2.6%
Remaining season strength of schedule: 110th (out of 130)
So FPI has Nevada going 4-4 with a slim chance of winning the MW (2.6 percent) while playing one of the nation's easiest schedules (110th out of 130 FBS teams). But FPI goes even further to break down each individual game, and that part is even more interesting. If you go by the game-by-game predictions, FPI has Nevada going 5-3. It also gives the Wolf Pack at least a 38.4 percent chance to win each individual game this season. As I've mentioned before, Nevada will not be a big underdog in any game, which gives the Wolf Pack a chance to navigate the season well enough to get to the MW title game for the first time. On the flip side, FPI doesn't have Nevada as more than a 61.2 percent favorite in any of its contests, so if things go wrong you could see a below-.500 record. Nevada's overall strength and its schedule basically sets up eight games that will be within a five-point spread either way.
Here's a game-by-game breakdown by FPI.
Home against Wyoming, Oct. 24 (Nevada's win percent projection: 39.3%): Nevada starts its season with what is statistically its second-hardest game of the year against a Wyoming team that beat it 31-3 in 2019. The Cowboys' defense lost a lot of talent off last year's roster as well as three defensive coaches, including its coordinator. So Nevada should have a lot more offensive success in this matchup. But Wyoming's run game is probably the strongest the Wolf Pack will face all season. Nevada does host this game, and if it is able to open the season with a win, that'd be a huge step in the right direction in terms of trying to stay in the MW championship game hunt. Projected record by FPI: 0-1
Road at UNLV, Oct. 31 (Nevada's win percent projection: 57.3%): Unlike the last few years, Nevada doesn't have to wait until the end of the season to play UNLV since the game was moved up to week two after the MW revised its truncated season. The Wolf Pack has lost its last two games to the rival Rebels, both as betting-line favorites, and will be favored again in this game despite being on the road in the first college game to be played at Allegiant Stadium. Nevada should win this game, but it's been a coin flip since Chris Ault resigned in 2012 despite UNLV typically having one of the nation's worst teams (the Rebels are 4-3 against Nevada sine 2013). Projected record by FPI: 1-1
Home against Utah State, Nov. 5 (Nevada's win percent projection: 61.2%): This game, which ranks as the contest in which Nevada has the highest win percent projection, got a lot more tricky when it was moved from Saturday to Thursday, which is not ideal coming off a rivalry game. Nevada is going to expend a ton of emotion trying to win back the Fremont Cannon and will then only get four days to prepare for Utah State, which is expected to have a down season after going 7-6 in 2019 (that included a 36-10 rout of the Wolf Pack). This is a potential trap game whether Nevada beats or loses to UNLV given that quick turnaround. Projected record by FPI: 2-1
Road at New Mexico, Nov. 14 (Nevada's win percent projection: 60.8%): Honestly, who knows if this game will actually be played. New Mexico was not allowed to play a road game at Colorado State this weekend due to rising COVID-19 cases in Bernalillo County. Will it be allowed to host a football game 22 days from now? This could end up being a bye week for the Wolf Pack, although it's premature to act like we know where things will be in three weeks. New Mexico is under the direction of a first-year head coach (Danny Gonzales), who hired former SDSU head coach Rocky Long to run his defense, so this could be a tough task for the Nevada offense. Projected record by FPI: 3-1
Home against San Diego State, Nov. 21 (Nevada's win percent projection: 38.4%): San Diego State was picked to win the West Division in the MW preseason poll, although the conference is playing as one league rather than two divisions this season. The Aztecs got a really favorable MW schedule (the easiest in the league), so it has the inside track to a conference title appearance. If Nevada is going to make the title game, this is almost a must win. The Wolf Pack upset then-No. 24-ranked SDSU on the road last season and has been good against the Aztecs (3-3 in the last six games). This is Nevada's biggest game of the year (non-UNLV division). Projected record by FPI: 3-2
Road at Hawaii, Nov. 28 (Nevada's win percent projection: 49.7%): This is the closest projected game for Nevada, just 0.3 percent away from being a 50-50 probability. Nevada is projected as the better team, but this game is being played at Hawaii where the Wolf Pack did not have a lot of success (losing seven straight games there) before winning three of its last four on the islands. Generally, I think the travel to Hawaii is an overrated factor. The flight distance is about 5 hours, 30 minutes, which is basically the same amount of time Nevada would have spent in the air going to Arkansas for its non-league game. And Nevada leaves two days early. If a team loses there, it's not because of the flight. Projected record by FPI: 3-3
Home against Fresno State, Dec. 5 (Nevada's win percent projection: 57.2%): Nevada got a bad break getting Fresno State late in the season. The Bulldogs didn't have its athletes on campus from March to late September. It was the only MW school to go that long without contact with its players. Also, Fresno State didn't get any spring practice, and this is with a first-year head coach. All of that is not ideal. But this game being late in the season should allow the Bulldogs to be much further advanced than if Nevada played them early in the year. Outside expectations don't have Fresno State as one of the MW's top teams in 2020, but it could be a pretty good team at this stage in the year. Projected record by FPI: 4-3
Road at San Jose State, Dec. 11 (Nevada's win percent projection: 51.8%): This is Nevada's second weekday game of the year and will be played on a Friday. San Jose State was much improved last season (Nevada needed a 40-yard field goal as time expired to beat them at home). But the Spartans lost their star quarterback Josh Love, who was the conference's offensive player of the year. SJSU's offense should remain good, especially if Arkansas transfer Nick Starkel plays to his potential. The defense is another story, so this should be another high-scoring game after the Wolf Pack downed the Spartans, 41-38, at Mackay Stadium last year. Projected record by FPI: 5-3
Overall, Nevada should play a lot of close games since there aren't any Power 5 opponents or FCS foes on the schedule. The Wolf Pack's high end seems like a 7-1 season if everything goes right while its low end could be 2-6 if everything goes wrong. Nevada seems poised for a potentially memorable season with its greatest chance of making the MW title game since 2014. But that's on paper. Nevada now has to go do it on the field.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMurray.