Nevada's first trip to South Bend came back in the 2009 opener when the Wolf Pack were entering the late Chris Ault era and blossoming under quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Nevada would lose to Notre Dame 35-0 but would go 13-1 in 2010.
This fall, the Wolf Pack are entering Brian Polian's fourth season in command and looking to break through a ceiling of 7-6 seasons they've put together in each of the last two years.
2015 Record: 7-6
F/+ Rank: 97
S&P Rank: 99
FEI Rank: 95
Wins: UC Davis, Buffalo, New Mexico, Hawaii, Fresno State, San Jose State, Colorado State
Losses: Arizona, Texas A&M, UNLV, Wyoming, Utah State, San Diego State
Brian Polian is an interesting character in the Notre Dame world. Some assistants stay in South Bend for as little as 2 years and they are constantly brought up as potential head coach material for some point in the future. Some coaches get that treatment for even suggesting they'd want to coach at Notre Dame but never actually have done so.
Polian coached at Notre Dame for 5 seasons throughout the entirety of the Charlie Weis era and as far as I'm aware he couldn't be further off the Irish radar for a potential return to South Bend in any important capacity. Too much Weis stink on him, perhaps?
Or is it because he was a special teams coach? For Notre Dame fans, he's most well-known for being the son of Bill Polian and the guy who recruited Manti Te'o. In terms of how he's viewed by Irish fans I like to compare him to Scott Booker. If Booker left ND and took a lower-level head coach job in 2020 would anyone think he had a future back at Notre Dame?
After leaving Notre Dame after the 2009 season Polian joined Stanford as the special teams coach for 2 years before a brief stop in 2012 at Texas A&M in the same capacity. Since 2013 he's been the head coach at Nevada and actually done pretty well for himself.
The Wolf Pack took a step up from the WAC to Mountain West in 2012 and even though programs like BYU, Utah, and TCU have moved on there's still some stiff competition with additions like Boise State, Fresno State, and Utah State.
Polian's 14 wins over the last two years is a good job as is taking the team to two straight bowl games.
Nevada really had two low moments. One came in early October at home against UNLV. The Wolf Pack were 11.5-points favorites and lost 23-17. Later in the season they lost as 7-point favorites to Wyoming, although this game was on the road.
I'm not sure which is worse. UNLV finished 3-9 and No. 105 in the F/+ rankings although Wyoming finished 2-10 and No. 115 in the F/+ rankings. To further complicate a choice Wyoming's second win came against UNLV late in 2015.
There was a lot of controversy during the post-season when it was announced that Nevada would play Colorado State in the Arizona Bowl. The big issue? They are both in the same conference.
Somehow the sport survived and at least it helped that the teams didn't play each other in the regular season. The Rams came in as 5-point favorites, out-gained Nevada by 187 yards, nearly doubled them up in first downs, and yet fell to the Wolf Pack 28-23.
Colorado State nailed a field goal with under 4 minutes left to take the lead but Nevada's James Butler scored the game-winning TD with 1:06 left to seal the Wolf Pack's first bowl win since 2010. It was also their 5th bowl win in program history.
Home: Cal-Poly, Buffalo, Fresno State, Wyoming, San Diego State, Utah State
Away: Notre Dame, Purdue, Hawaii, San Jose State, New Mexico, UNLV
This really isn't a bad schedule for Nevada. They will have a difficult time catching up with San Diego State, who ran away with the West division last year, but I'm not going to sit here and say they can't beat Purdue on the road or defeat UB for the second straight year.
They also get about as friendly of a draw as you can get within the conference. They get to miss Air Force, Boise State, and Colorado State who went a combined 24-16 last year and are all top half teams within the league.
Going to a third straight bowl game is very doable.
S&P Projection: 91
This feels about right. That's movement of 8 spots from where they finished in 2015 and although they have so much work to do on defense the Mountain West is such an anemic offensive league that the Wolf Pack can win most of their games by out-scoring opponents with a veteran-laden unit on that side of the ball.
There's a very real possibility they sweep their conference road games which could potentially set them up for Polian's best season to date.
Predicted Kickoff Spread: Notre Dame (-24.5)
Unless the Irish lose at Texas to open the season this should be a healthy line from Vegas. The Wolf Pack won't have the chance to prove much against Cal-Poly and their defense is looking like it'll have nightmares lining up against Notre Dame.
The Sunday night kickoff in Austin does offer some more intrigue for this game, though. The program isn't likely to get back to South Bend until the wee hours of Monday morning which sets the team behind schedule by almost a day and a half.
There's also some let down sandwich factor as this game falls in between Texas and Michigan State. I really think Notre Dame is going to have one of the best offensive performances of the Kelly era but I wouldn't argue with anyone if they took the points in this game--especially if the spread creeps up toward 30 points.