Nevada running back Toa Taua rushes during the Quick Lane Bowl against Western Michigan on Dec. 27, 2021, in Detroit.
The Mountain West and the entire nation is sleeping on Nevada Wolf Pack running back Toa Taua.
Taua was not named to the preseason All-Mountain West team and he was not named to the Doak Walker Watch List, an award given to the nation’s top running back. So, yes, the fifth-year senior is basically being ignored this summer heading into his final college season.
Taua, one of the best running backs in Wolf Pack history despite playing for a pass-happy head coach (Jay Norvell), deserves more respect than what he is getting.
Air Force’s Brad Roberts and Fresno State’s Jordan Mims were named to the preseason All-Mountain West team by the media. Roberts was second in the conference in rushing last year with 1,352 yards but he needed a school-record 298 carries. The most carries Taua has ever gotten in a season is 196 in 2019. Mims had basically the same stats as Taua last year, gaining 710 yards on 127 carries (Taua had 732 on 150). But Mims wasn’t even the best back on his own team (Ronnie Rivers had 788 yards on 162 carries) and he’s been a backup his entire career at Fresno State.
Taua made the Doak Walker Watch list in both 2019 and 2020. This year the Doak Walker committee doesn’t even think he’s one of the four best backs in the Mountain West. Mims, Boise State’s George Holani, Wyoming’s Titus Swen and Utah State’s Calvin Tyler, after all, are all on the watch list. Holani, for example, has been injury prone the last two years and has just 1,691 career yards over three seasons. Tyler had a breakout year last year with 884 yards but barely played from 2017-20 at Oregon State. Swen, too, had a breakout year last year (785 yards) but he has just 1,132 career yards. Taua has had a more productive career than all of them and deserved to be on that watch list (and on the All-Mountain West preseason team) on his body of work alone.
Taua has 3,086 career yards and will become just the sixth Pack back in history with 4,000 or more yards, joining brother Vai, who is second all-time at Nevada with 4,588 yards (Frank Hawkins had 5,333). We expect the Pack, a team who will start an inexperienced quarterback this season, to emphasize the ground game. But you never know with all of these young offensive coordinators who like to flash fancy passing stats on their resume.
But if the Pack gives Toa a Brad Roberts-like 250-plus carries this year, we could be looking at the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Brandon Talton, who also didn’t make the Mountain West preseason team, is on the verge of becoming the most productive kicker in Wolf Pack history. Talton, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, is already fourth in scoring for kickers at 281 points, is third in field goals with 58 and fifth in extra points with 107. He set a Pack single-season record with 118 points last season.
Marty Zendejas, who played from 1984-87, owns the Pack career record with 72 field goals and 385 points. Talton might break the field goal record by mid-season this year and the points record by the bowl game. Brett Jaekle (2005-08) is the Pack career leader with 211 extra points, a record that will be difficult for Talton to break, even over five seasons.
Talton, though, is currently on the watch list for the Lou Groza Award, for which he has been a semifinalist in each of the last three years.
Talton is one of the most heartwarming stories in Wolf Pack history. He’s been overlooked his entire career, so not making the preseason All Mountain West team is nothing new. The Biggest Little Kicker in the World (he’s generously listed as 5-foot-9, 180 pounds) wasn’t even given a Division I scholarship offer out of Vacaville High. The most unique thing about him heading into his freshman year at Nevada in 2019 was that he played the ukulele in his spare time.
That all changed after his first college game when he kicked a 56-yard field goal as time expired to beat Purdue 34-31 at Mackay Stadium. That kick also earned him a scholarship. The Pack carried him off the field after that game and Talton has helped carry them ever since.
Don’t be surprised if the Wolf Pack football team this season plays before more fans at Iowa in Week 4 than it does in the first three weeks combined at home against Texas State and Incarnate World and New Mexico State on the road. Iowa averaged 66,776 fans at home last year. They even attracted a crowd of 65,456 to watch an awful Colorado State team last year.
The Wolf Pack, in case you are wondering, has won three games on the road in front of crowds of 60,000 or more in its history, beating Washington (70,149) in 2003, Cal (63,186) in 2012 and BYU (61,471) in 2010.
So the Iowa crowd won’t beat them. The Hawkeyes, though, are a different story.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters at the recent Big Ten media days that college football “is in a precarious place” because of the transfer portal and Name Image Likeness deals for players.
“We don’t really have a firm structure,” Ferentz said. “I know you can’t entice recruits but it sure seems like maybe that’s going on a little bit.”
Make that a lot. But fans, it seems, could not care less how much money college players can earn. Fans, after all, just treat college football like it’s an extension of the NFL. But those fans don’t have to worry about coaching a 19-year-old who is earning six or seven figures a year or losing that player to another school that can offer him more money. Boosters are now openly recruiting players at the big-money schools and that it never a good thing for college sports.
“The game on the field has never been better,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “But once you get off the field, it’s never been more chaotic.”
Chaos is also never a good thing.
Some things in sports just make sense. The San Francisco 49ers doing everything they can to trade for Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers is one of those things. But, for some reason, it just hasn’t happened.
McCaffrey, one of the most explosive and productive running backs in the NFL when healthy, has clear Bay Area ties, having played at Stanford from 2014-16. His father, former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, played for the 49ers in 1994. Ed McCaffrey also played the bulk of his career in Denver for coach Mike Shanahan, who just happens to be the father of current 49er coach Kyle Shanahan.
Christian would be perfect for the 49ers, a team that knows how to use running backs in unique, interesting and productive ways. The 49ers could have dangled quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (and a draft pick or two) in front of the Panthers in an effort to pry McCaffrey away. But that, apparently, also never happened and the Panthers then went out and got Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.
McCaffrey has been battling injuries the last two years and the 49ers certainly don’t need another injury-prone running back. But McCaffrey could be what the 49ers need to get back to the Super Bowl.
The San Francisco Giants might be putting out the white flag and surrendering between now and the trading deadline on Tuesday. All of the hope and promise of winning seven of nine games heading into the All Star break has seemingly vanished with six consecutive losses after the break.
The Giants are now 48-49 heading into Wednesday’s game, a full 16.5 games out of first place. It appears the Giants would be better served for the long run by being sellers instead of buyers between now and trading deadline. What do the Giants have that other teams want? Well, pitching is always priority No. 1 at the trading deadline and the Giants have a number of arms to offer. The most attractive could be Reed High graduate Jake McGee, a lefthander who could certainly help a playoff contender over the next two months.