Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 12, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 34 of 55 SEPT. 12, 2016 35 BY MATT JONES F or many Nevada Wolf Pack fans, 2016 is a make-or-break year for head coach Brian Polian. A program that had great success under former head coach Chris Ault has largely underachieved under Po- lian, and this season will likely deter- mine his fate at the Reno, Nev., school. Polian is 18-20 in his first three sea- sons at Nevada and is coming off back-to-back 7-6 campaigns. A former Notre Dame assistant un- der Charlie Weis — the Bronx, N.Y., native was the special teams coach from 2005-09 in South Bend — Polian has received plenty of support from the Nevada administration. But since taking over for Ault, the winningest coach in school history, in 2013 the Wolf Pack haven't found consistent success. "He's said, '7-6, I'm done with those [seasons]. That's not going to be good enough anymore,' " said Chris Murray, who covers Nevada for The Reno Gazette-Journal. "That's kind of the rallying cry entering this season." In 2013, Polian — whose father, Bill, was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015 after serving as general manager of the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts — signed a five-year contract worth about $600,000 per season. Murray said Nevada athletics direc- tor Doug Knuth will have a decision on his hands should the Wolf Pack have another mediocre year in 2016: re-sign Polian or let him go, avoiding a potential lame-duck year. Murray called 2016 a "swing sea- son" for the 41-year-old Polian. "I would probably say there's a one-third chance that Polian is not the coach at Nevada next year, but I don't which way it's going to go," Murray said. "If it goes poorly he doesn't get retained, or it goes well and he wins nine or 10 games — and then a lower-level Power Five school makes him an offer." Inconsistency has plagued the Wolf Pack during recent seasons. Nevada had wins over Pac-12 opponent Washington State, BYU, and bowl teams New Mexico and San Diego State under Polian in 2014. But those wins were largely negated by losses to 2-10 teams UNLV and Wyoming last season. "They're coming off back-to-back seven-win seasons which is not bad, but you look at the schedule they've been lined up against the last cou- ple years and they should've won seven games," Murray said. "They should've won eight or nine games, and it's the same this year." The Wolf Pack was picked to fin- ish second in the Mountain West Conference's West division, trailing first-place San Diego State. Nevada placed just one player on the pre- season Mountain West team: sopho- more defensive back Dameon Baber, who was a second-team All-MWC selection as a freshman in 2015. Nevada will look to Simi Valley, Calif., native, Tyler Stewart to lead the offense this season. The 6-4, 220-pound quarterback has com- pleted 57.0 percent of his 363 career passes while throwing for 2,390 yards and 18 touchdowns. In 2015 as a junior, Stewart tallied 2,139 yards and 15 touchdowns, but it wasn't the type of quarterback play the school is used to. The Wolf Pack have received espe- cially strong performances at the po- sition in recent years. Colin Kaeper- nick led Nevada from 2007-10 before giving way to Cody Fajardo, who to- taled 101 touchdowns from 2011-14. Fajardo is one of only two players in NCAA history with 9,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards, with the other being Kaepernick. According to Murray, in the last 32 seasons of Nevada football, all but four of those teams had a quarter- back that won all-conference honors at some point during his career. "It's always been a huge position of strength, and last year it was a po- sition of being average," Murray said of the quarterback spot. "The hope is after 13 starts last season that Tyler is ready to take the next step forward." Nevada has appeared in a bowl game in 10 of the last 11 years, the exception being Polian's first year in 2013. "He does look like he has a lot more confidence, but he's not really that charismatic guy who's going to rally the troops," Murray said of Stewart. "He's pretty athletic, can do the read- option game. He was average last year and they need better than aver- age this year if they're going to com- pete for a conference championship and compete for nine or 10 wins." The Wolf Pack returns nine starters on offense, including all five linemen and junior running back James But- ler, who rushed for 1,342 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015. Butler's fin- est game of 2015 came in an Arizona Bowl victory over Colorado State in which he ran for 189 yards. Butler is GAME PREVIEW: NEVADA Fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Stewart has played in 21 career games at Nevada, completing 57.0 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,390 yards and 18 touchdowns. PHOTO BY JOHN BYRNE/COURTESY NEVADA Reno 411 Head coach Brian Polian enters key season at Nevada Facts & Figures NEVADA VS. NOTRE DAME Game Info Date: Sept. 10, 2016. Site: Notre Dame Stadium (80,795). Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Television: NBC. Radio: This broadcast can be heard live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio (channel 129). Series Facts: This is the second meeting be‑ tween Notre Dame and Nevada. Notre Dame won the 2009 opener between the two, 35‑0. Coaches: Nevada — Brian Polian (19‑20, fourth year); Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (55‑24, seventh season). Noting Nevada: Polian has guided Nevada to back‑to‑back bowl games … Nevada is one of 18 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and one of just four teams from outside the Power Five, to play in 10 bowl games the past 11 seasons … Polian is 6‑12 in road games at Nevada … The Wolf Pack avoid Mountain West Conference powers Boise State and Air Force this season … According to Phil Steele, Nevada has the 30th‑most experienced team in the country.

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