Our first look is at the projected offensive starters and key contributors for the Wolf Pack Offense.
Skill Position Starters
*Denotes returning starter
- Quarterback – *Colin Kaepernick: The 6'6" 215-pound junior signal-caller threw 22 touchdown passes last season vs. 7 interceptions and completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,849 yards. Kaepernick's greatest asset is his running ability, finishing 2008 with 161 rushing attempts for 1,298 yards and 17 touchdowns. He accounted for 18 points per game, a number which ranked eighth nationally (tied with Florida's Tim Tebow).
Kaepernick ranked 11th in the nation in total offense at just over 306 yards per contest and is one of 55 players nominated to the pre-season Maxwell Trophy Watch List – given annually to the nation's best football player. (Irish WR Golden Tate and QB Jimmy Clausen are also members of the Maxwell Watch List.)
- Running Back – *Vai Taua: The junior bowling ball (Taua is 5'11" 225-pounds of shoulder pads) is the nation's fourth-leading returning rusher (1,521 yards and 117 yards-per-game) despite beginning the season behind teammate and the WAC's 2007 leading rusher, Luke Lippincott.
Taua added 30 receptions for 243 yards 3 touchdowns in 2008 and rushed for a career-best 263 yards on 28 carries in an early-November win over rival Fresno State. Taua, however, was held in check vs. the three best teams on the Wolf Pack's schedule, finishing with an aggregate 185 yards on 40 carries (and one touchdown) vs. Texas Tech, Missouri, and Boise State. The junior ‘back totaled 160 yards on just 16 carries in a loss to Hawaii and added 103 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in Nevada's 42-35 bowl loss to Maryland.
Taua (along with Irish junior Armando Allen) is a pre-season finalist for the 2009 Doak Walker Award, presented annually to the nation's top running back.
- Wide Receiver – *Chris Wellington: As a sophomore, Wellington finished second in receiving yards (632), touchdown catches (6), and third in total receptions (42) for the nation's 47th ranked passing offense (the Irish finished 34th in 2008). Now a junior, the 6'1" 185-pound Wellington is the Wolf Pack's unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver on a team that lost 74 percent of its total receptions from last season.
- Wide Receiver – Tray Session: The 6'3" 175-pound sophomore is the only other returning receiver to tally a reception last season. Technically a redshirt sophomore, Session sat out the 2007 season but appeared in 12 of Nevada's 13 games as a member of the Wolf Pack's special teams.
- Wide Receiver – Brandon Wimberly: A 6'3" 195-pound redshirt freshman, Wimberly was Nevada's Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year last season and steps into the limelight as an opposing starter in South Bend. Wimberly enrolled in the spring of 2008 and thus has two sessions of spring practice and two fall camps to his credt. While dealing with the pressure of game experience is an issue; familiarity with the Wolf Pack's system should not be a factor on Saturday.
- Tight End – *Virgil Green: The 6'5" 240-pound junior makes his living opening holes and sealing the edge for Kaepernick, Taua, and a host of Wolf Pack ‘backs. Green is one of two Nevada linemen (RT Alonzo Durham) to be named as a pre-season finalist for the Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation's top lineman or linebacker. Green kept defenses honest with 14 catches for 164 yards and a 40-yard touchdown reception last year.
Offensive Linemen – "The Union"Nevada's O-Line allowed just 19 sacks in 2008 (10 of which occurred vs. Texas Tech, Hawaii, and Maryland) and paved the way for the nation's third-best rushing offense.
- Strong Tackle – *Mike Gallett: Gallett, a 6'6" 300-pound junior has started 20 consecutive games for Nevada and was named as a second-team All-WAC tackle by both Lindy's and Phil Steele in pre-season 2009, while Athlon projected the junior as a first-team All Conference performer. Gallett started at both tackle spots last season but is penciled in as the team's strongside tackle for the season-opener.
- Strong Guard – *John Bender: Bender, a massive 6'8, 325-pound junior, has started 11 games over the last two years for the Wolf Pack but had both seasons truncated due to injury
- Center – Kenneth Ackerman: 6'4" 280-pound senior started seven games at guard last season (Ackerman does have starting experience at center) and will switch over full-time in 2009, replacing 1st Team All-WAC center Dominic Green.
- Weak Guard – Chris Barker: The 6'4" 305-pound redshirt freshman is expected to fill the role as the Wolf Pack's starting weak side guard. Saturday in South Bend will serve as Barker's baptism to the college game.
- Weak Tackle – *Alonzo Durham: Durham boasts 27 consecutive starts at tackle and was elected a team Co-Captain for 2009. The 6'4" 285-pound senior is a pre-season Lombardi Award finalist (as are Wolf Pack tight end Virgil Green and Irish right tackle Sam Young). Durham was nominated as a first-team All-WAC performer by Athlon's, Lindy's, The Sporting News, and Phil Steele.
Key ReservesExpect the Wolf Pack to attack the Irish defense with a host of runners on Saturday afternoon.
- Running Back – Luke Lippincott: A sixth-year senior, Lippincott was voted a team captain for 2009. He led the WAC in rushing yards (1,876) in 2007 but tore his ACL in the Wolf Pack's first game last season. According to Nevada running backs coach Jim Mastro, Lippincott has cross-trained at wide receiver, slot receiver, H-Back, and running back in fall camp. As a point of reference, Lippincott injured his knee roughly one month after Irish tight end Mike Ragone last season. Both are expected to be at full strength for Saturday's opener.
- Wide Receiver – Maurice Patterson: The 6'3" 200-pound junior-college transfer is considered the team's fastest offensive player and is expected to contribute immediately in Nevada's oft-use three-receiver sets.
- Tight End – Zach Sudfeld: The 6'7" 245-pound sophomore backup was the star of the Wolf Pack's late-August Scrimmage.
- Running Back – Mike Ball: 5'10" 225-pound redshirt freshman.
- Running Back – Courtney Randall: The junior returns as the team's short-yardage specialist (70 percent of Randall's carries resulted in a first-down or touchdown last season according to Nevada's game release). He finished with 337 yards and four touchdowns on 66 carries.
- Running Back – Brandon Fragger: The 5'9" 195-pound senior running back apparently battled injury last season and through fall camp (he looked very good on tape vs. Fresno State last November). A change-of-pace back, Fragger finished with 30 carries for 196 yards and a touchdown last season.
Note: Film analysis of the Wolf Pack and an extensive game preview will be published Friday morning.