Joe Santoro: Nevada’s goals still within reach | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Nevada’s goals still within reach

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

Before you give up on this Nevada Wolf Pack football season, it's important to take a step back and figure out exactly what the 0-4 start has cost the team. The Wolf Pack has lost its chance at participating in the four-team playoff that determines the national champion. That's it. Now move on. Everything else the Wolf Pack wanted to accomplish this year — namely Mountain West division and conference titles, beating UNLV and keeping the Fremont Cannon blue and going to a bowl game — is still out there for the taking. Never forget college football, especially the Football Bowl Subdivision variety, is the most forgiving sport in the NCAA. Yes, the Pack is 0-4. But nobody expected Nevada to be any better than 1-3 right now anyway. The victories are about to begin.

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The Mountain West has become one of the worst FBS conferences in the nation. Just one team (San Diego State at 4-0) is unbeaten, has more than two victories and is over .500. Once BYU, Utah and TCU left (all were gone by the start of the 2012 season) the league basically turned into the old Western Athletic Conference and Big West. The league has just one significant victory (San Diego State over Stanford) and one mildly impressive one (New Mexico over Tulsa) so far this year. No team in the Mountain West's Mountain Division is over .500 and that's the stronger of the two divisions in the conference. We point all of this out to remind you what the Wolf Pack will be up against the next two months. It's nothing Nevada can't handle.

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Two of the biggest reasons for the Mountain West's mediocrity will be on display at Fresno State on Saturday when the Wolf Pack takes on the Bulldogs. When the Bulldogs and Pack came over from the Western Athletic Conference, they were supposed to be two of the top football programs in the new Mountain West, softening the blow of losing BYU, TCU and Utah. Fresno had some success in the Derek Carr years, but both former WAC rivals have been big disappointments in recent seasons. The losers on Saturday night will be left wondering when they will see their next victory.

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The quarterback position is the key to any success the Pack might have the rest of the season. If Ty Gangi settles the position down and puts 30 points or more on the scoreboard the rest of the way, the Pack can win six of its last eight games and go to a bowl. From what we've seen over the first four games, Gangi is the best quarterback on the roster. Freshman Kaymen Cureton, understandably, played like a freshman. David Cornwell, also understandably, looked like a guy who hadn't played in three years when he was thrown into the fire at Washington State. Gangi is a fighter, a competitor and isn't afraid to be a leader.

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This is the first Wolf Pack defense to allow 30 or more points in each of its first four games of the season. The Pack defense has just seven sacks, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and four quarterback hurries over its first four games. This is a defense that bases everything on making big plays and, so far, it hasn't happened nearly often enough. But we should start to see improvement on that side of the ball also. Three of the best quarterbacks the Pack will face this year — Northwestern's Clayton Thorson, Toledo's Logan Woodside and Washington State's Luke Falk — are now off the schedule. There's still danger ahead — Boise State, San Diego State and Hawaii can score on anyone and Air Force tests your courage — but all this defense needs is a confidence builder. That should come Saturday at Fresno State.

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The Wolf Pack men's basketball team opens practice today with a ton of optimism but also with as many questions and new faces. There are some familiar faces on the roster, namely Jordan Caroline, Lindsey Drew, Elijah Foster and Josh Hall, but a new Pack era is about to begin. Cam Oliver, D.J. Fenner and Marcus Marshall are gone. Bench players Devearl Ramsey and Leland King are also gone. Oliver gave the Pack its swagger while Marshall and Fenner supplied toughness and leadership. It might take a while before this new group figures out what it can be.

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Most media outlets are writing the obituary for Rick Pitino's coaching career this week. But don't be so quick to sweep Pitino under the rug. He's survived scandals before. And there's always the NBA. Pitino can coach. He's won just about everywhere, even leading the New York Knicks to a division title. He can build a program. He knows how to recruit and sell tickets, the two biggest skills any coach can offer a program. We likely haven't seen the last of Rick Pitino on a basketball bench. College basketball and the NBA is about results and there are plenty of athletic directors and NBA owners who don't care how you get those results.

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