Nevada vs. Cal Odds, Football Preview, Pick: Wolf Pack & Carson Strong Are Live Dogs (Saturday, Sept. 4)

Nevada vs. Cal Odds, Football Preview, Pick: Wolf Pack & Carson Strong Are Live Dogs (Saturday, Sept. 4) article feature image

Alan Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Carson Strong.

  • The Cal Bears and Nevada Wolf Pack each begin their 2021 seasons in Berkeley.
  • Nevada is led by potential future-first-round-pick Carson Strong at the QB position, facing a Cal defense under going a roster overhaul.
  • Check out BJ Cunningham's full betting guide with odds, picks, and predictions for the game.

College Football Week 1 Odds

Nevada vs. Cal

Saturday, Sept. 4
10:30 p.m. ET

Nevada Odds

-110o / -110u

Cal Odds

-110o / -110u
Odds via DraftKings. Last updated: Thursday.

One of the best teams in the Mountain West makes the short trip to Berkeley to try and knock off the Cal Bears.

Nevada Wolf Pack

Nevada brings back, not just the best passing offense in the Mountain West, but one of the best in the country behind quarterback Carson Strong. Jay Norvell begins his fifth season as head coach after going 7-2 a year ago.

The Wolfpack will be stacked, as they return 10 starters on both sides of the ball and bring back 88% on offense, according to TARP. Nevada is the second favorite behind Boise State at +450 to win the Mountain West and has a win total of 7.5, so this team is absolutely legit.

Wolf Pack Offense

The Wolf Pack offense starts and ends with Carson Strong. Strong lit up opposing defenses last season, throwing for 8.1 yards per attempt, 27 touchdowns and only four picks.

He only had a 1.7% turnover-worthy play percentage, which was the fifth-best in FBS. He also had four touchdowns that traveled more than 50 yards in the air, when nobody in FBS had more than one, according to PFF.

Strong gets his entire receiving corps from last season back, including his top two pass-catchers Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner, who caught 18 of his 27 touchdown passes a season ago. So, he should be able to light up a Cal secondary that ranked 96th in coverage last season, per PFF.

50-yard bomb from Carson Strong to Romeo Doubs 🎯

Nevada (+103) takes a 23-21 lead over

— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) November 21, 2020

Strong will also have a little added motivation for this weekend's game, since coming out of high school Cal passed on him saying he was "too raw" as a quarterback.

Cal said Carson Strong was "too raw" coming out of High School

Nevada vs Cal is circled on his calendar this season 😤

— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 29, 2021

Nevada is a very pass-heavy offense, throwing the ball 58.4% of the time last season, which was the fifth highest rate in FBS.

Its run game paid the price for that, as it ranked outside the top 80 in Rushing Success and Offensive Line Yards. However, it was really explosive, as their top two rushers averaged over five yards per carry, and the Wolfpack ranked 22nd in rushing explosiveness.

Their top two rushers Toa Taua and Devonte Lee are back this season, along with four starters on the offensive line. However, Cal's defense was top 10 in rush explosiveness allowed last season, so the Wolfpack rushing attack may have a tough time getting going on Saturday night.

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Wolf Pack Defense

The good news for the Wolfpack coming into the season is they have all four starters back on their defensive line. The Wolfpack were inside the top 65 in Sack Rate, Defensive Line Yards and Pass Rush Rating, per PFF.

The Wolf Pack should be able to to put pressure on Chase Barbers, whose offensive line ranked outside the top 90 in Sack Rate and Havoc Allowed. Additionally, Cal's offensive line ranked 87th in Run Blocking, per PFF. So, if Nevada's defensive line is able to dominate the line of scrimmage, it should be able slow down the effectiveness of Cal's offense.

Nevada's secondary returns their top three corners from a secondary that ranked 54th in coverage per PFF and added Wake Forest transfer Isaiah Essissima.

A lot of that success came in the first half of the season, as they allowed over 300 yards passing against Fresno State and San Jose State to close out the season. So, the question in this game is will they be able to shut down an experienced quarterback like Chase Garbers.

California Golden Bears

The Cal Bears begin Year 5 under Justin Wilcox after a 2020 season that almost needs to be thrown out the window given all of the COVID issues and cancellations the Bears had to deal with.

They only return 64% on offense and 40% on defense from a TARP perspective, so it doesn't look like things are going to improve any time soon. Cal is +2500 to win the Pac-12 and has a win total of 6, so it's going to be a very average year in Berkeley in 2021.

Bears Offense

Chase Garbers returns for his fourth season as the starting quarterback after a poor 2020 season, where he only threw for 5.7 yards per attempt. However, with a four-game sample size, that all needs to almost be thrown out the window. If we go back to his 2019 season, he was very effective, throwing for 8.4 yards per attempt and had a 76.6 passer grade, per PFF.  He only loses one of his top four pass-catchers from last season, so Garbers should be able to return closer to his 2019 form.

The rushing attack should be solid in 2021 with all of their top running backs and four of their five offensive linemen back. In 2020 there were two games where the entire Bears offensive line was in quarantine with COVID, which left the running game and Garbers helpless. Damian Moore was listed as the No. 1 running back in the latest depth chart, who ran for 4.9 yards per carry in 2020.

Cal depth chart for season opener vs. Nevada Saturday night at Memorial

— Jim McGill (@BearInsider_com) August 31, 2021

The bottom line is, the Cal offense should improve from 2020, it's just a matter of to what extent.

Bears Defense

Cal's defense took a step back in 2020 after being one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 in 2019, when it allowed only 5.3 yards per play. The defensive line is a question coming into the season with only one starter returning from a defense that ranked outside the top 80 in Rushing Success Rate Allowed, Defensive Line Yards, and Havoc.

Again, the Bears only played four games last season, so take that for what it's worth, but only returning one starter is not going to make life easy for defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon.

The secondary loses All-Pac-12 first-teamer Camryn Bynum, but it returns five guys who have experience. The pass defense regressed from ranking 50th in coverage to 96th in 2020, per PFF. Once again, it's difficult to project Cal's secondary after only playing four games in 2020, but if it doesn't drastically improve, Carson Strong is going to light them up.

Nevada vs. Cal Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Nevada and Cal match up statistically:

Nevada Offense vs. Cal Defense




Rushing Success
Passing Success
Line Yards
Sack Rate
Finishing Drives

Cal Offense vs. Nevada Defense




Rushing Success
Passing Success
Line Yards
Sack Rate
Finishing Drives

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling
Rush Rate
41.6% (123)
51.7% (88)
Seconds per Play

Data via College Football Data (CFBD) and FootballOutsiders.

Carson Strong and the Nevada offense have a significant advantage over a very average Cal defense that is replacing a lot of production from 2020. The Wolfpack passing attack should be able to light up a Cal secondary that allowed 7.5 yards per attempt last season.

Cal head coach Justin Wilcox is also not great as a home favorite in his five years at the helm and has failed to cover his last four at home as a favorite.

Nevada vs.  Cal Betting Pick

Cal opened as a three-point favorite but has been bet up to -3.5, as 57% of the money is on the Bears.

I have the Wolf Pack projected as a -3.83 favorite, so I think there is value on Nevada at +3.5 (DraftKings) and would play it down to +1.

Pick: Nevada +3.5

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