Could Nevada football go winless in 2024?

Nevada v USC
Nevada v USC / Katelyn Mulcahy/GettyImages

Throughout every college football offseason, a common practice is seeking out teams that have a plausible-yet-still-unfamiliar shot at a push to the top, and with the CFP format expanding, it’s become especially fun to do so with the game’s smaller programs.

Whether it be due to the depth it’s established over time or the pair of Pac-12 programs it recently adopted, there is perhaps no better league to turn to for those kinds of stories than the Mountain West Conference. With names like Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, UNLV, Wyoming, and now Oregon State in the mix, there’s a lot of competitiveness that a particularly optimistic mind can run with.

But sadly, no conference is all good, and there isn’t a squad in the MWC that captures that fact quite like Nevada football.

Despite having six winning seasons from 2014 to 2021, the Pack have experienced a collapse as harsh as they come, entering 2024 on consecutive 2-10 displays. The steep downfall swiftly guided head coach Ken Wilson out the door in exchange for Jeff Choate, and Nevada football is now staring down a full-on rebuild as a result—a rebuild that, while necessary, is very dangerous for the immediate future of a program in its shape.

Simply put, whenever a team takes on a head coaching change, the risk of visibly worsening in the short-term is quite severe, as it involves a sizable alteration being made to the team’s identity. When applying that to one as sorry as the Wolf Pack, the dreaded question has to be asked: Could 2024 see things get so bad that they go winless?

I think yes, and I’m sure many others would too, but don’t be fooled—that’s never an easy conclusion to draw, even for a school in Nevada’s position. In all actuality, there is a rare, yet potent, combination of misfortunes needed to birth a winless run. While a change in HC is part of it, that’s just the top of the iceberg.

What else plays into hitting such a frightening low?

Other deciding factors in an 0-12 season (or 0-13, as it is this time around) include the limits of the new guy and the schedule he and his players have ahead of them. When it comes to the aforementioned Jeff Choate, his prior experience in the head-coaching realm doesn’t do much to lessen my concerns.

Sure, he saw success in his four seasons at Montana State (2016-2019), but that’s the only HC gig he’s ever had at the collegiate level, and though he did build the Bobcats back up from a slump, they’d hardly been removed from being a winning program at the time of his takeover.

Throwing a coach with a résumé that limited into a grotesque first-year scenario isn’t exactly a move known for calming nerves, but that would be the case regardless of whom all the team involved was fixing to encounter. When it comes to the opponents on Nevada’s slate in particular, that’s where the bleakness scale hits its peak.

The Wolf Pack have just as rough of a ride as you’d expect

Of the six names I listed earlier when illustrating the Mountain West’s current depth, five of them (all but Wyoming) will meet Nevada on the gridiron this fall.

Then there’s the rest of its league foes which, while not nearly as menacing, have rock-solid arguments for their favoring. Said foes include San Jose State (a 7-win squad at home), Hawaii (beat the Pack by two scores last year and is now at home), and Colorado State (the Rams go to Reno, but they also won last year’s matchup by two scores).

So, quick checkpoint: We’ve covered all eight of Nevada’s conference games for 2024, and each of them hold strong chances of ending in defeat. That just leaves its five non-conference games—but don’t let out that sigh of relief just yet, because if you thought Wolf Pack fans were going to have something to cheer for in those, you couldn’t be more wrong.

To give the Pack credit where it’s due, they don’t care too much for running from the smoke, and that message is especially clear this year. The following are the matchups they must swallow before they duel a single league adversary: SMU (won 11 games), at Troy (won 11 games), Georgia Southern (a bowl team), at Minnesota (a bowl team that's also the largest of this bunch), and Eastern Washington (an FCS power down on its luck).

If you possess common sense, you can probably see that just one of those battles leans Nevada’s way, but even it is far dicier than face value implies.

What makes EWU such a pain?

There are three parts of the Eastern Washington Eagles that make them out to be considerably more problematic for Nevada than initially thought.

The first one is where they’re placed on the schedule; with them being the last non-conference foes on it, they have the luxury of taking on the Pack in their most war-torn state up to that point. Though that can have some positives (such as leaving Nevada all the more prepared for a test, EWU also showing fatigue, or a mixture of both), it nonetheless makes for some uncertainty, and that’s the last thing you’d want at times like these.

Secondly, we have how well the Eagles have done against MWC competition in recent memory (won in double-overtime at UNLV in 2021 and, more importantly, lost in two overtimes at Fresno State last year). It doesn’t take too large of a leap to get from that standard to one high enough for beating the 2024 Wolf Pack.

Last but definitely not least, we find ourselves back at Nevada’s new head coach, Jeff Choate. As I said before, his only experience being a collegiate HC was at Montana State for four seasons. The Bobcats play in the Big Sky Conference, the same one as Eastern Washington. See where I’m going with this?

Choate faced the Eagles on three occasions during his short tenure at Montana State, and each time saw them coached by Aaron Best (once as their offensive coordinator, twice as their head coach). This may sound like good news, as it confirms a familiarity that could prove beneficial to the Pack. However, the familiarity is relevant for the worst-possible reason.

In each of those meetings, Choate’s Cats were on the losing end by a double-digit margin as the Eagles broke 30 points. Therefore, their history doesn’t help the Pack by proving that Choate knows how to handle Best, it hurts the Pack by proving that he doesn't.

dark. Next. Way-too-early Top 25 projections for 2024. Way-too-early Top 25 projections for 2024

If you’re a Nevada football fan, this is the easiest way I can summarize your 2024 Wolf Pack: They have just one game that favors them on paper, but even it’s against a team that has both the proven ability to compete with tougher opposition, and a head coach that’s repeatedly owned theirs in the past. With that said, could we soon watch Nevada go winless? Absolutely.