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Nevada-Colorado State: Position preview and prediction

McLane Mannix
McLane Mannix and the Wolf Pack host Colorado State on Saturday. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray breaks down Nevada’s game against Colorado State with a position-by-position analysis.

Colorado State (3-6, 2-3 MW) at Nevada (5-4, 3-2)

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Mackay Stadium (capacity 27,000)

Surface: FieldTurf

Weather: High of 58; low of 21

TV/Radio: ESPNU/94.5 FM

Online: ESPN3.com

Betting line: Nevada by 14; total of 65.5

All-time series: Colorado State leads, 12-3

Last game: Colorado State 44, Nevada 42 (Oct. 14, 2017 in Fort Collins, Colo.)

Position-by-position

Quarterback: CSU has toggled between Washington transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels (2,172 yards, 18 TDs) and Collin Hill (621 yards, 2 TDs), with Hill currently standing as the starter despite being less effective (he’s younger and the future). Nevada’s Ty Gangi is looking to add some explosive plays in the mix. Edge: Nevada

Running backs: Izzy Matthews (529 yards, three TDs) gets the bulk of the Rams’ carries. Marvin Kinsey Jr. (238 yards, 2 TDs) also will see some touches. This is an average group. Nevada’s Toa Taua has rushed for more than 26 yards only once in the last four games. Time to get him on track. Edge: Nevada

Wide receivers/tight end: This is the strength of CSU’s offense. Preston Williams (71/951/8), a Tennessee transfer, is one of the MW’s best. Olabisi Johnson (43/601/4) also is a play-maker. Nevada’s Kaleb Fossum (56/596) is having a strong season but still looking for his first touchdown. Edge: CSU

Offensive line: Rams C Colby Meeks leads an older group that still lacks experience (63 career starts, almost all of them coming this season). The group has been better pass blocking than opening running holes (3.2 yards per carry). Nevada’s line has three seniors playing their final game at Mackay. Edge: Nevada

Defensive line: The Wolf Pack is down two important defensive linemen in DE Korey Rush (broken foot) and DT Adam Lopez (cardiac event). Look for Sam Hammond to get more snaps in Rush's absence. Three of CSU’s four starters up front are underclassmen. No CSU player has more than 2.5 sacks. Edge: Nevada

Linebackers: The CSU combo of Josh Watson (99 tackles, 5.5 TFL) and Tre Thomas (67 tackles, two sacks) is a strong one and the best part about the Rams' defense. Nevada could move Malik Reed (52 tackles, 11.5 TFL, six sacks) to his natural defensive end position given the injuries there. Edge: Nevada

Secondary: This is maybe the best test for Nevada’s secondary since the Toledo game as the Rams have excellent receivers if Hill can get the ball to them. CSU has allowed 24 touchdown passes with just six interceptions, so Gangi and crew should have ample opportunity for big plays. Edge: Nevada

Special teams: CSU P Ryan Stonehouse (49.5 yards per attempt) has an NFL leg. K Wyatt Bryan (9-of-15) also has a big leg, although he’s lost some accuracy this season. CSU has allowed four returns touchdowns, so don't be surprised if Nevada's McLane Mannix returns a punt for a touchdown. Edge: Nevada

Coaching: On a wins-per-dollar basis, Nevada’s Jay Norvell (five wins while making $500,000) is killing CSU’s Mike Bobo (three wins while making $1.8 million). Bobo isn’t in trouble given the length of his deal, but he’s underachieved. Norvell, on the other hand, has the Wolf Pack ascending at a bargain price. Edge: Nevada

Prediction

Nevada 42, Colorado State 24: This game should not be particularly close. How bad is Colorado State? ESPN’s advanced metrics rank the Rams’ offense 103rd out of 130 FBS teams, their defense 119th and their special teams 129th. That adds up to an overall rank of 123, which leaves just seven worse teams in the nation. CSU’s defense is especially vulnerable and there’s no reason the Wolf Pack should fall short of 40 points (even Wyoming’s brutal offense posted 34 against this team). CSU’s offense also has taken a major step back from previous seasons. The Rams have the receivers to do some damage, but Hill hasn’t shown the same form this season as he did as a freshman in 2016 (that was before he torn his ACL twice). Nevada hasn’t made it a habit of blowing out FBS foes this season – its four wins over FBS teams have come by two, three, four and 18 points (over Hawaii) – but this one shouldn’t be close if the Wolf Pack plays a good game. Nevada should deliver its seniors a win in their final game at Mackay Stadium. Season record: 9-0

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