RENO, Nev., -- Growing pains were almost a certainty when Jay Norvell pulled up stakes and moved across the conference to become the head coach at Colorado State before the 2022 campaign.

After five seasons -- and a 33-26 record -- Norvell left Reno. He also plucked 11 former Nevada players out of the transfer portal and convinced another five verbal commits to flip and come to Fort Collins.

Ouch.

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A total rebuild was on, starting with rookie head coach Ken Wilson, who spent the previous two seasons at the University of Oregon as a defensive coach. Wilson was no stranger to the task at hand. He was a longtime assistant at Nevada, spending a total of 19 seasons in Reno over two separate stints.

Is anyone really prepared for this?

The Wolf Pack won just a pair of games last fall, knocking off New Mexico State and Texas State in the first two outings of the season.

Wilson, the miracle worker?

Hardly.

 

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Nevada plummeted back to earth in Week 3, suffering a 55-41 home loss at the hands of Incarnate Word, an FCS program that has only been in existence since 2009. Nine consecutive losses followed, capping Wilson's first year as the head man.

Year 2 has looked much the same.

The 'Pack started this season on a six-game skid before eventually snapping a 16-game losing streak with a 6-0 victory at San Diego State. Nevada hadn't shut out an opponent in a dozen years. Wilson's team followed that one with a convincing 34-24 victory over New Mexico.

Maybe this program finally turned a corner? Maybe it just beat a couple of bad teams?

The latter appears to be most likely.

Nevada has lost three straight, heading into the season finale against Wyoming. To make matters even worse, Wilson's squad again fell to Norvell and Co. last week.

You'll see below that it's no mystery why the Wolf Pack has struggled. It's near the bottom of the standings in nearly every offensive and defensive category. Turnovers have plagued this team. Quarterbacks Brendon Lewis and AJ Bianco have combined to throw 11 interceptions. Nevada has added seven fumbles.

Lewis and Bianco have also been sacked 35 times. That equates to 220 yards in the wrong direction.

Despite all of that above, Wyoming has yet to show it can win a game on the road. Four attempts, four failures. Those teams aren't Nevada, though. The Cowboys have fallen at Texas, Air Force, Boise State and UNLV. Those teams have a combined overall record of 33-11. They are also 19-2 in their home stadiums.

A victory would give the Cowboys their first 8-win regular season since 2016. More importantly, it would snap a six-game skid outside of Laramie.

A must-win?

You bet.

Wyoming and Nevada are scheduled to kickoff from Mackay Stadium at 7 p.m. Mountain Time. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

 

Head coach: Ken Wilson (2nd year) 4-18 overall record, 2-12 in MW play

Offensive coordinator: Derek Sage (2nd season); Defensive coordinator: Kwame Agyeman (2nd season) and Mike Bethea (2nd season)

Record in 2022: 2-10 overall, 0-8 in Mountain West Conference

Offense in 2023: Average 18.4 ppg, 309 ypg (134.5 rush, 174.5 pass)

Defense in 2023: Allow 32.6 ppg, 444.6 ypg (182.6 rush, 262 pass)

Key Returners - Offense: Brendon Lewis (QB - 129-233, 1,305 yds, 2 TD, 6 INT; 118 rush, 504 yds, 4 TD), AJ Bianco (QB - 45-82, 614 yds, 4 TD, 5 INT; 42 rush, 183 yds, TD), Sean Dollars (RB - 143 rush, 496 yds, 6 TD), Dalevon Campbell (WR - 29 catch, 562 yds, 2 TD), Spencer Curtis (WR - 25 catch, 303 yds, TD), Jamaal Bell (WR - 31 catch, 267 yds, TD, 31 rush, 119 yds, TD)

Key Returners - Defense: Emany Johnson (DB - 87 tackles, 2 PBU, 3 INT, FF), Richard Toney (DB - 57 tackles, sacks, PBU, 2 INT, 2 TD), Drue Watts (LB - 54 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 4 FR), Tongiaki Mateialona (LB - 51 tackles, sack, 2 FF), Marcel Walker-Burgess (LB - 45 tackles, 4 sacks, PBU), Jackson LaDuke (LB - 34 tackles, 0.5 sacks)

Overview: It's not a reach to call this a must-win game for Wyoming. Seriously. Nevada statistically features the worst offense and defense in the Mountain West. How bad are things in Reno? Ken Wilson's offense is scoring just 18.4 points per game. That unit has just 202 of those through 11 games. San Diego State, a team the Wolf Pack actually beat this season, is second to last with 213 points. On the other side of the ball, no one in the league has allowed more yards than this team, 4,905. Opponents are averaging 32.6 points per game. The only programs that surrender more are Utah State, New Mexico and now Hawaii. Who will start under center? If it's Brendon Lewis, he is the true dual-threat quarterback, leading Nevada in rushing with 504 yards on the ground. AJ Bianco, who left last Saturday's loss at Colorado State with an injury, also utilizes his legs. Neither has had much success through the air, combining for six touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The offensive line, like the Rainbow Warriors a week ago, enters this one with 35 sacks to its credit. That's not good. Wyoming took advantage, too, taking Brayden Schager down three times and finishing with six QB hurries. That needs to be repeated. That pressure led to two interceptions and eventually a 42-9 blowout. Why is this a must-win situation? The Cowboys, as you are well aware, are 0-4 away from home this season. That stat cost this team a shot at a Mountain West title. A victory in Reno will snap a six-game skid on the road and five Wyoming an 8-win regular season.

Thoughts on Nevada: "We're excited about this ball game, going out to Nevada. Lewis is an excellent quarterback. He's a dynamic player and was heavily recruited. I believe he started out at Colorado, but he's a dual-threat guy. Bianco started the game against CSU and got knocked out of the game. I don't know, I'm assuming he'll be available. But nonetheless, big time players. No. 5, Campbell, is a great receiver. They have a big offensive line on multiple fronts. On defense, they do penetrate and the corners are playing excellent. So, I want to give a shout out to Jalen Ortiz, who's one of our former players and has been coaching their corners. So, we're excited about playing this ball game to see if we can get to 1-0." - Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl

University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players

During the summer of 2021, 7220Sports.com counted down the Top 50 football players in University of Wyoming history, presented by Premier Bone & Joint Centers, Worthy of Wyoming.

The rules are simple: What was the player's impact while in Laramie? That means NFL stats, draft status or any other accolade earned outside of UW is irrelevant when it comes to this list.

This isn't a one-man job. This task called for a panel of experts. Joining 7220's Cody Tucker are Robert GagliardiJared NewlandRyan Thorburn, and Kevin McKinney.

We all compiled our own list of 50 and let computer averages do the work. Think BCS -- only we hope this catalog is fairer.

Don't agree with a selection? Feel free to sound off on our Twitter: @7220sports - #Top50UWFB

Gallery Credit: 7220Sports.com

- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players