New starting RB Mike Ball played sparingly for the Wolf Pack last season. However, when he played, he could be electric, scoring six TDs on only 49 carries. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
THE MATCHUP: The Oregon Ducks return to Autzen for the first time since last November licking their wounds after a second consecutive loss to an elite SEC opponent. Oregon has questions to answer regarding the youth of their team at offensive line and wide receiver, as well as concerns of a letdown after putting so much emotionally after the LSU game. Nevada has questions to answer as well in their season opener. The Wolf Pack come off a 13-1 season in which they finished #11 in the final AP poll, but lose ten starters including their 3000/1000 quarterback Colin Kaepernick and 1600 yard rusher Vai Taua. Nevada is looking for an upset at Autzen to prove they are ready to defend their WAC Championship. Nevada is a team Oregon should beat comfortably, but a team talented enough to come out of Autzen with the win if Oregon is feeling sorry for themselves.
THE INJURIES: Oregon's pride is the clear injury here, and it will take more than a win over Nevada to get that back. As far as actual players go, LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner should be okay after suffering fairly severe cramps during the LSU game. It will also be interesting to see whether Cliff Harris or Kiko Alonso return from their suspensions. Nevada will have two players suspended, including a starter, but we have no idea who they are.
THE VENUE: Autzen. Thank God.
THE COACHES: Chris Ault has been the head coach at Nevada off and on since 1976, and he has genrally done a really good job with a program that hasn't had a lot of resources. Nevada has made six straight bowl games, in no small part due to the pistol offense that Ault developed. The pistol is an attempt to marry the spread offense to the power run game, with the QB lining up four yards behind center instead of seven, and the running back three yards behind that. It has been successful as Nevada has averaged more than 30 points a game every year they have used the formation.
KEY PLAYERS FOR NEVADA:
QB Tyler Lantrip: Lantrip will taking over for Kaepernick, and making his first career start at Autzen. Though he is a senior, he has almost no playing experience, and Autzen isn't a forgiving place to try and get that. Whether or not Lantrip can handle the environment will tell us a lot about whether Nevada has a chance to make this a game.
RB Mike Ball: Ball is a talent, and was 4th team all WAC despite only having 49 touches last season (six TDs). Ball is a big back at 5-10, 215, who will be able to handle the grind of all te carries that he'll get in Ault's offense. He has explosive potential, and many in Reno think he'll be one of the college game's breakout stars this season.
MLB James-Michael Johnson: Johnson is the Wolf Pack's best defensive playmaker and has been on the all-WAC team two years running. Can he hold Nevada's defense together against an Oregon offense looking to redeem itself?
KEY PLAYERS FOR OREGON:
RB LaMichael James: James had a poor game against LSU, rushing for a mere 54 yards and being accused of dancing instead of trying to hit the hole. LaMichael needs to get back on track, and assert himself with a big game against what should be an outmatched defense.
WR Lavasier Tuinei: The wide receivers were terrible against LSU, with only Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas in the slot able to create any kind of offense. One of the veterans is going to have to step up and figure out how to be a playmaker before the Pac-10 season and as the most veteran presence, the responsibility falls on Tuinei.
RG Ramsen Golpashin: The offensive line was all kinds of bad against LSU, but Golpashin stood out for particularly poor play. Playing LSU is not a an easy way to make your first start, but Golpashin is not exactly inexperienced. He needs to regain his confidence and have a couple of good games heading into conference play.