Joe Santoro: Finding out more about Camp Grit | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Finding out more about Camp Grit

Joe Santoro

We finally got our first real glimpse into the real Jay Norvell this week. It took a while to get past all of the mindless clichés, such as Nevada grit and the coaches loving the players and the players loving each other, but we finally got some real insight this week. Norvell, who seems to be a guy who doesn't like to reveal much about himself or his football team other than cliches and generic goals, refused to announce his starting quarterback for the season opener at Northwestern on Saturday. That shows us Norvell has some gamesmanship in his bag of tricks along with the mind-numbing clichés. He's competing. He's using any tactic possible to gain an edge. It's just a little thing but it shows Norvell is going to Northwestern to win and not just meet his old friends from the Big Ten.

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We don't for a moment believe Norvell is actually undecided about the identity of his starting quarterback. If that was the case, it would mean the 54-year-old rookie head coach failed to accomplish one of his most important tasks this offseason. It would mean he failed to find the leader of his football team. It would mean he can't make an important decision. It would mean his football team still has no idea who its leader is just days before the season opener. From what we've seen so far, Norvell is the opposite of undecided. This is a man who has a clear and definite plan and knows exactly how to accomplish it. The guy spent the last three decades working with quarterbacks and developing passing attacks. This is his first chance at being a head coach. He's not going to leave the most important position on his football team up in the air just hours before kickoff.

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It's also difficult to believe quarterback David Cornwell left Alabama to come stand on the sidelines at Nevada. Cornwell was Norvell's first recruit last January. He was as important as any assistant coach Norvell hired. Cornwell was the unquestioned Wolf Pack starter last spring and for the bulk of this summer until Norvell started playing mind games with Northwestern last week. Did Cornwell lose the starting job? Has he been a disappointment? How could he lose the starting job without even playing a snap in a game? Why couldn't new offensive coordinator Matt Mumme take a quarterback from Alabama, work with him for eight months and make him a starter at Nevada? If all those things are even remotely true then there are some serious problems already in Camp Grit. We doubt any of them are true.

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The odds makers aren't giving Norvell much chance to become the first head coach to start his Wolf Pack career with a victory since Chris Ault beat Cal State Hayward in 1976. New Pack coaches Jeff Horton (1993), Jeff Tisdel (1996), Chris Tormey (2000) and Brian Polian (2013) all lost their first game and none lasted more than four years. Norvell figures to have a bit more lasting power but the Pack will be a three-touchdown underdog on Saturday. Chalk that up to the oddsmakers being as ignorant and clueless about the Wolf Pack as most everyone has seemed to be this offseason. We're not going to predict a Pack victory on Saturday but we do feel the Pack will cover a 21-24-point spread. Northwestern is also, well, Northwestern. The Wildcats won just seven games last year. The Pack isn't going to Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State or Wisconsin on Saturday. Prediction: Northwestern 30, Wolf Pack 24.

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The key for the Wolf Pack on Saturday will be how quickly they can get their defense off the field. The Wolf Pack were simply awful against the run last year, allowing nearly 300 yards rushing each game. Northwestern features one of the best backs in Big Ten history in Justin Jackson. If the Pack allows it, Northwestern will just run the ball all day down the Pack's throats and chew up the clock. Expect something like Northwestern 42, Wolf Pack 21. But we have to believe new defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has at least made the Pack's run defense competitive. If not, well, what did he do the last eight months?

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Mountain West football predictions: Fresno State (vs. Incarnate Word), UNLV (vs. Howard), San Diego State (vs. UC Davis), Boise State (vs. Troy), Air Force (vs. VMI), Hawaii (vs. Western Carolina), New Mexico (vs. Abilene Christian) and San Jose State (vs. Cal Poly) should all win easily. They better. The Pack, Wyoming (at Iowa) and Utah State (at Wisconsin) will all likely learn a painful lesson from a Big Ten opponent. All eyes in the Mountain West, though, will be on Colorado at Colorado State on Friday. The conference's headquarters are in Colorado Springs so you know there's nothing the conference would like more than for Colorado State to beat Colorado of the Pac-12. It can happen. Colorado won this rivalry game 44-7 last year at Colorado but Colorado State whipped Oregon State (58-27) last week. A Rams win would be huge for the entire conference.

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Starting next week is when we will find out if Mountain West football will earn any real respect around the country this year. Mountain West schools are going to step out of their comfort zone the weekends of Sept. 9, 16 and 23 with a ton of huge challenges. Over those three weekends we will see San Diego State take on Arizona State and Stanford, Hawaii goes to UCLA, Fresno and Colorado State will head to Alabama, San Jose State is at Texas and Utah, Air Force is at Michigan, UNLV is at Ohio State, Oregon is at Wyoming, Fresno is also at Washington and Boise State and the Wolf Pack are at Washington State. Mountain West supporters will have to cover their eyes and keep the women and children away from the television when most of those games are being played. The real reason for these one-sided matchups, after all, is for the Power 5 schools to help pay some of the Mountain West's bills. It's sort of like raising money by sitting in a dunk tank. But it would be nice if the conference wins two or three (Boise and the Pack at Washington State and San Diego State at Arizona State, for example) along the way.

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