NCAA Football: Nevada-Reno Wolf Pack vs. Cal Golden Bears Preview, Prediction & Odds -- Sept. 4, 2021

by Chuck Sommers

Game time: 10:30 p.m. ET; September 4, 2021
Venue: California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
TV Info: FS1

Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks

DraftKings: Cal -3; O/U 53; ML: Cal -155, Nevada-Reno +135
BetMGM: Cal -3.5; O/U 52.5; ML: Cal -159, Nevada-Reno +130
Caesars: Cal -3; O/U 52.5; ML: Cal -160, Nevada-Reno +140

2020 season record
Nevada-Reno: 7-2 (won Famous Idaho Potato Bowl vs. Tulane)
Cal: 1-3

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UNR - Cal preview and analysis

Look no further than Northern Nevada to find the team that might be the darkhorse to win the Mountain West, and maybe even a New Year’s Six bowl.

Reno may be known for its knockoff Vegas vibes and doesn’t know to call itself UNR instead of Nevada, but it is home to a very talented football. And the Nevada Wolf Pack could be the one team that surprises a lot of people this season.

Such surprises could start Saturday when the Wolf Pack open their season against the California Golden Bears in Berkeley, with UNR being 3-point underdogs against the Golden Bears.

The Wolf Pack enter 2021 after a 7-2 record and a victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (shoutout to this beauty), beating Tulane 38-27 for the second bowl victory under head coach Jay Norvell in four seasons.

No disrespect to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but after consecutive appearances in that game, UNR probably has bigger aspirations. Yes, even bigger than that absurd monstrosity of a potato.

And after the year star quarterback Carson Strong had, there’s no reason to believe the Wolf Pack can’t take that next leap, especially on offense. Strong, the Mountain West Player of the Year, threw for conference-best 2,858 yards and 27 touchdowns, all while throwing only four interceptions and completing 70 percent of his passes.

Along with Strong coming back, he’ll have top target wide receiver Romeo Doubs to throw to, as well. Doubs was the only Mountain West receiver to reach 1,000 yards and caught nine touchdowns. Only 10 other receivers in the country reached 1,000 yards; Doubs is in the same conversation as Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith if we’re putting it that way. Cole Turner also returns after a 605-yard season through the air, as well as nine more TDs.

UNR also brings back the stoutest defense in the conference, with 17 of its top 18 tacklers, including linebacker Lawson Hall (65 tackles) and defensive tackle Dom Peterson (4.5 sacks) to wreak havoc.

While the Wolf Pack look to build off a strong season with their veteran core, the Golden Bears are looking forward to just getting back on the field. Cal played only four games last season, going 1-3; the lone win came against the No. 21 Oregon Ducks on Dec. 5.

Yes, the same Ducks that played in the Fiesta Bowl and lost. It was that kind of weird season for the Pac-12.

Cal has had a nice build under coach Justin Wilcox as he enters his fifth season since replacing Sonny Dykes in 2016. Not counting that shortened season, Cal has made it to two bowl games under Wilcox and have improved the win total in every season.

Redshirt senior quarterback Chase Garbers beat out senior Ryan Glover for the starting quarterback job and he will be under center in Week 1. Garbers completed 62.5 percent of his passes in limited action, throwing for six touchdowns to three interceptions.

Cal has an experienced receiving group with its top three receivers -- Nikko Remigio, Kekoa Crawford and Monroe Young -- all upperclassmen. Sophomore running back Damien Moore is RB1 after beating out senior Christopher Brooks in the backfield.

Defensively, it’ll be a strong group coming back as well for Cal, led by Cameron Goode and Kuony Deng.

Final Score Prediction

Nevada-Reno is an experienced group that won’t be fazed by playing on the road against a Pac-12 team. On the road at Cal and at Kansas State in two weeks is going to be a tough test for UNR, but if the Wolf Pack can get through that stretch undefeated, people better start talking. They get off to a good start this week in an upset. UNR wins 31-24.

Betting trends

Under Wilcox, the Golden Bears are 1-8-1 against the spread as a home favorite.

Nevada-Reno has won five of its last seven against the spread the last three years when a single-digit underdog.

UNR is 11-6 straight up in its last 17 Saturday games. Against the spread, Reno is 8-7 on Saturdays.

Cal is 1-2 the last three seasons when a favorite between 3.5 and 10 points.

Statistical leaders from 2020

Passing: Carson Strong -- 2,858 yards, 27 TD, 4 INT
Rushing: Toa Taua -- 675 yards, 4 TD
Receiving: Romeo Doubs -- 1,002 yards, 9 TD
Defense: Lawson Hall -- 65 tackles, 3 sacks

Passing: Chase Garbers -- 771 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Damien Moore -- 194 yards
Receiving: Kekoa Crawford -- 232 yards, 2 TD
Defense: Cameron Goode -- 3 sacks

Don't miss our champion handicappers' free picks and expert football picks today. And if you enjoyed this Nevada-Reno Wolf Pack - Cal Golden Bears prediction, be sure to drop by every day for our daily NCAA projections and previews.

Chuck Sommers

About the Author:

Chuck Sommers has camped outside of sportsbooks since he can remember, learning the tricks and nuances of the trade. He still has nightmares of betting $5,000 on the Raiders in the Tuck Rule game but has since turned that to 25 years of veteran handicapping greatness. You can find him mostly in the shadows at the Red Rock or Aliante casinos wondering if the over is cashing on any given Sunday.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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