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With uncertain future, Nevada football opens fall camp today

Sam Hammond
Sam Hammond and the Wolf Pack hit the field Friday for its first fall camp practice. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

Whether the Nevada football team plays its season opener against UC Davis in 28 remains unknown, but the Wolf Pack will open its fall camp in preparation for the season Friday morning.

Nevada is getting a headstart on the majority of the nation because it is playing a so-called Week 0 game against the FCS Aggies. That has allowed the Wolf Pack to open official full-team practices a week early, although much is still to be determined about the 2020 season.

The Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and ACC have all decided to play 10-game conference seasons, with the ACC allowing for one home non-conference game. The Big 12 is the only power conference that has not canceled most or all of its non-league season. None of the five Group of 5 conferences have canceled their non-conference seasons, including the Mountain West, of which Nevada is a member. Most Group of 5 schools are dependent upon large non-conference game checks, and that includes the Wolf Pack.

Nevada was scheduled to get $1.5 million to play at Arkansas, from the SEC, this season, but that game has been shelved due to the SEC canceling non-conference games. The Wolf Pack also is scheduled to play at USF and host UTEP and UC Davis in non-conference, each team from leagues that have not made a ruling on the status of non-conference games.

With that COVID-19-related drama lingering over the team off the field, the Wolf Pack will hit Wolf Pack Park looking to build off back-to-back bowl seasons. Nevada went 7-6 last season, including a 4-4 mark in conference play, before losing to Ohio, 30-21, in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. It was an up-and-down season for the Wolf Pack, which was blown out by Oregon (by 71 points), Hawaii (51 points), Wyoming (28 points) and Utah State (26 points) but secured big wins over Purdue, marking its second straight season with a win over a Power 5 opponent. Nevada also beat No. 24 San Diego State, the Wolf Pack's first on the road against a Top 25 team.

The season ended on a sour note as Nevada lost at home to rival UNLV, 33-30 in overtime, before a post-game brawl was sparked when Nevada safety Austin Arnold sucker punched UNLV quarterback Kenyon Oblad. The Wolf Pack then fell behind early in its bowl game before losing to Ohio to cap its topsy-turvy 2019. In the offseason, coach Jay Norvell was given a new five-year contract that runs through 2024.

The Wolf Pack returns eight starters on offense and five on defense (full projected depth chart here) and has one of the best returning sets of skill-position players in the MW with quarterback Carson Strong, receivers Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs and running back Toa Taua and Devonte Lee all back. The defense has more question marks after fourth-year coach Jay Norvell revamped his defensive staff in the offseason, firing three coaches, including defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. The team's new coordinator is Brian Ward, formerly of Syracuse.

Nevada had one of the nation's most favorable schedules entering this season, but just how many games it will be played this season, and whether those games will be held in the fall, are unknown.

Several non-football conferences have canceled fall sports, including the Ivy League, Northeast Conference, SWAC, MEAC and Patriot League. The Big West has postponed all fall sports until 2021, at the earliest. Football-playing conferences are incentivized to play sports in the fall to keep football afloat. Football creates 85 percent of revenue in college athletic, and conferences are doing whatever it can to ensure football is played this season, in part because they want to cash in the lucrative media-rights money associated with playing games.

Scott Jedlicka, an assistant professor at Washington State, has been tracking data and policy related to COVID-19's impact on FBS football by giving daily grades to each FBS team that assess the safety of playing football in their communities. The grades are based on positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the community as well as related deaths, testing capacity and hospitalizations.

Nevada has received an "F" for 31 consecutive days, one of the longest streaks among the 130 FBS schools. MW schools UNLV, Fresno State, San Jose State and Boise State also received "Fs" in the latest daily release. San Diego State and Wyoming have "Ds," Air Force, Colorado State and Hawaii "Cs" and New Mexico and Utah State "Bs."

The Wolf Pack will go through a five-day acclimatization period to open fall camp before it can be fully padded. The team will be allowed up to 25 on-field practices before its season opener. After Friday's first workouts, Norvell is scheduled to talk to the local media via a Zoom teleconference.

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