Not much buzz around Wolf Pack football program

Sports fodder for a Friday morning... What has happened to all the excitement surrounding Wolf Pack football? We’re just in Year Three of the Brian “Boy Wonder” Polian era and, well, the buzz around Pack football is simmering at a low hum at best. A 4-8 season in 2013 and a Chris Ault-like 7-6 season with yet another disappointing bowl loss in 2014 has left Pack fans wondering if this program is ever going to take the next step. It’s not Polian’s fault. He’s doing everything he can to build this program. And it’s not the Wolf Pack’s fault. There’s only so much you can do in the Mountain West Conference. The Wolf Pack left Division I-AA after the 1991 season for financial reasons. Nothing more. Nothing less. It was about getting the games on TV. Mission accomplished. Exciting, huh?

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Polian, despite the less-than-thrilling results so far, is doing a solid job. He’s found recruiting at Nevada — surprise, surprise — isn’t the same as recruiting for Stanford, Notre Dame and Texas A&M. But there’s no question the quality of athlete on the roster has risen dramatically from top to bottom since he came aboard in January 2013. Don’t forget Polian took over a mediocre mid-major program. It was a program that kept its head above water solely because it had a highly productive offense run by a wonderfully talented quarterback. That can only last so long. Eventually that quarterback graduates and the offense comes back to earth. That’s where we are now. But while the Pack remains a mediocre mid-major program, the foundation is much more solid than it has been after the 2012 season. The team now has a defense. It has a ton of quality athletes. And the offense, well, can still be productive. Be patient with Boy Wonder.

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Would Wolf Pack football fans be more energized every year if the program was still in the Football Championship Sub-division with a chance to win a national title every year? Of course not. The former Division I-AA was fine for the 1970s and 80s. But once television took over in the early 1990s, with its big fat paydays that you get for merely showing up, the only question facing athletic directors was how fast to jump to Division I-A. Do you really want to see game after game against the likes of UC Davis, Northern Arizona, Weber State, Montana, Sacramento State, Montana State and Idaho State? The Pack’s one game this year at Mackay Stadium against Arizona will generate more excitement than an entire Big Sky Conference schedule for a decade combined. Reno is an event town. And playing an Arizona is an event to remember, even if the Pack loses. Who needs championships? Athletic departments need paydays, not championships.

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Coach Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies are going to do something few BCS schools would dare to do when Petersen was the head coach at Boise State. They’re going to Boise for a game on Sept. 4. Nobody wants to go to Boise. Just ask the Nevada Wolf Pack, which hasn’t beaten Boise on the blue turf in this century. “It’s going to be awkward,” Petersen said earlier this month. You bet it will. And it might be painful since Boise is a 10-point favorite. Petersen, though, deserves a ton of credit for taking his rebuilding Huskies to Boise and giving Broncos’ fans a game they’ll never forget. Going back to the place that made you as a head coach is something former Wolf Pack men’s basketball coaches Mark Fox and Trent Johnson have never done since they abandoned Nevada.

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Petersen probably made a mistake by leaving Boise State after the 2013 season. Yes, Boise’s run as everyone’s favorite underdog and Cinderella story is over. The Broncos are now just another good team stuck in the mediocrity of a non-BCS conference. And Petersen did double his salary (from around $2 million to $4 million) when he went from Boise to Washington. So the move was understandable. But Petersen could have been the Bear Bryant of Boise. He was, after all, 92-13 as Boise’s coach. He was 8-6 last year in his first season in Washington and might surpass 13 losses this year. Chasing the dollar and the glitz and glitter of a BCS conference is not always the right move.

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Matt Williams is being unfairly criticized for the Washington Nationals’ struggles. A year ago the Carson High graduate was the National League Manager of the Year after leading the Nats to 96 victories. This year, if you believe his critics, he can’t handle his bullpen and has lost the respect of his players. The Nationals, thanks mainly to Bryce Harper and pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez, were an overwhelming favorite to win the National League East this year. But heading into Thursday’s games they were just a game over .500 and Williams’ job was clearly in jeopardy. Williams didn’t suddenly forget how to manage. Injuries and underachieving stars are the reason the Nats are inconsistent. It’s not Williams’ fault.

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There are about 10 or so managers who deserve to be fired right now before Williams. How about Lloyd McClendon (Mariners), John Farrell (Red Sox), Robin Ventura (White Sox) and Brad Ausmus (Tigers)? And nobody would miss Bryan Price (Reds), Dan Jennings (Marlins), Walt Weiss (Rockies), Pete Mackanin (Phillies), Bob Melvin (A’s) and Pat Murphy (Padres) if they were canned after the season ended. Here’s the deal with baseball managers. Few of them make a real difference. The list of difference makers includes Bruce Bochy, Mike Scioscia, Joe Maddon, Joe Girardi, Mike Matheny and Clint Hurdle and, well, that’s about it. The rest are just guys hired to talk to the media because, well, somebody has to do it. They are replaceable. Meaningless. Major League baseball right now is all about the general managers and star players. The managers are as influential as a utility infielder.



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