Friday Fodder: Schedule favors Wolf Pack football team
August 29, 2014
Sports fodder for a Friday morning…It really won’t be much of an accomplishment for the Nevada Wolf Pack football team to become bowl eligible this season. The Wolf Pack don’t even have to beat anybody good to get to six wins and become eligible for a meaningless bowl. All they have to do is beat a bunch of mediocre to bad football teams (Southern Utah, San Jose State, Colorado State, Hawaii, Air Force and UNLV) and everyone on north Virginia Street will act as if they had won a national title. But if the Pack truly wants to make this season special it must win at least two of its six other games against Washington State, Arizona, Fresno State, Boise State, San Diego State and BYU.
Will this be a special season for the Pack? It could be a program-changing season if things fall into place. This team, if it stays healthy, could win four of those six make-or-break games and finish 10-2. A 10-2 regular season, with a likely spot in the Mountain West championship game, could turn this program around and get it pointed in the right direction for the first time since the end of the 2010 season. A more realistic set of expectations has this team winning seven or eight games. It all starts with the health of quarterback Cody Fajardo. Fajardo must stay upright, keep his old knee brace in the trainer’s closet and play at least 10 of the 12 regular season games for this team to play in a meaningless bowl.
Why did the Wolf Pack go from 13-1 and a No. 11 national ranking in 2010 back to mediocrity faster than you can say Chris Ault? Why couldn’t the program build off the momentum of 2010? The reason is 2010 was a mirage. That dream season only happened because the football Gods lined everything up perfectly. The 2010 team had a core group of great players, a schedule filled with teams that had far more reputation than talent and it also had a bit of blind luck (Boise State) when it needed it most. There was no solid foundation. There really wasn’t anything to build on. Pack coach Brian Polian, to his credit, seems to know down deep his first three years will be spent building that foundation. Polian, like his father Bill, is a program builder more than a coach. Anybody can coach. Few can build programs. And a program builder is what the Pack needs most.
Kendall Brock just can’t get any respect. Coming out of Clovis West High he wasn’t even recruited by his hometown Fresno State Bulldogs. He then spent his first two seasons at Nevada being ignored by head coach Chris Ault. Ault even thought so little of Brock that he burned Brock’s redshirt year by activating him midway through his freshman year. Brock, though, proved last year for Polian that he was a legitimate, durable and dependable Division I running back by rushing for 812 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 11 games. All that earned him, though, was a demotion this summer to a so-called utility running back/ wide receiver/ special teams role. Brock should be the running back starter Saturday against Southern Utah. He earned it. His loyalty, hard work and production the last three years should have been rewarded with a starting job.
It’s about time the schedule makers have gotten it right and put the Wolf Pack-UNLV football game at the end of the regular season schedule on Nov. 29. The last time the Pack ended its regular season with a game against UNLV was 1994. The Fremont Cannon game was meant to end the regular season, just like it happened eight of nine years for the Pack from 1969 through 1977. But it was about 1977 that UNLV started to think it was bigger than the state of Nevada and its little neighbor to the north. And for the next two decades the game was merely tossed into the middle of the schedule like it was just another fall tailgate party. The biggest reason the Pack-Rebel game should be at the end of the season is because it gives both programs something to look forward to all year no matter how badly the season goes. It keeps the fans and the players motivated to the end.
There’s nothing wrong with the Wolf Pack opening its schedule against a Division I-AA team like Southern Utah. Opening a season at the Rose Bowl against UCLA like last year is an awful way to start a year. Why get your brains beat out before any of your players even had an opportunity to skip a class? When you play UCLA on the road to open a year you are sending a message you’re simply desperate for a paycheck. Former Pack coach Chris Ault knew the value of beating a patsy to start the year. He started the bulk of his seasons (when he made the schedule, that is) against the likes of Cal State Hayward, Westminster, Southern Illinois, Texas A&M-Kingsville and North Dakota. It builds confidence in your fans and players. And confidence can carry a college team a long way. See 2010.
The key to this Wolf Pack season, therefore, just might be the games against Washington State and Arizona in Weeks two and three. Losses in both of those games might erode the confidence and energy this team seems to have right now. There’s no reason why the Pack can’t win one of those games. Both Washington State and Arizona are beatable. Like Cal and BYU in 2010, both Arizona and Washington State are programs long on reputation (thanks, mainly, to their membership in the Pac-12) and short on talent and victories. Losses in both those games might leave the Pack wondering if they are indeed better than a year ago. Confidence for a college athlete, after all, is a fragile thing, especially coming off a 4-8 season. But a win in one or both of those games, much like against Cal and BYU in 2010, could boost this program to a special year. The Pack beat Boise State at home in 2010 because it had the confidence from beating Cal at home earlier that year. A win against Washington State or Arizona will give this team the confidence it needs this year to beat Boise State, Fresno State and San Diego State.
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