Fodder: Nevada, CSU staggering into Oct. 7 showdown

After opening the season with two straight wins, Nevada has dropped three in a row heading into its bye week.

After opening the season with two straight wins, Nevada has dropped three in a row heading into its bye week.
Photo by Steve Ranson.

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Sports Fodder …

The most anticipated game of this Nevada Wolf Pack football season is now an episode of The Walking Dead. The Nevada Wolf Pack and Colorado State Rams, both currently licking their numerous wounds during a bye week, will bring a collective record of 2-7 into their showdown Oct. 7 in Reno at The House That Jay Norvell Abandoned. 


The two teams, made up mainly of players Norvell deserted last December and those he creepily coaxed into his moving van and took to Colorado, are in intensive care right now. They are the proud owners of the two longest losing streaks in the Mountain West and the only two teams in the conference to lose to a Division I-AA (Football Championship Subdivision) team this year. Nevada lost 55-41 at home to Incarnate Word to start its current three-game losing streak and Colorado State fell at home 41-10 this past weekend to Sacramento State for its fourth consecutive loss. Nevada has been outscored, on average, 43-20, during its losing streak while Colorado State has been battered 41-11 during its year-long slide. Mackay Stadium next Friday night won’t stage a football game as much as it will be the site of a gruesome battle of two one-legged, one-eyed, zombie roosters pecking at each other in the dark.
 
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The spin-off to the Nevada-Colorado State Walking Dead zombie series is what is going on in Hawaii this season. Hawaii is coached by Timmy Chang, a former Norvell assistant at both Nevada and Colorado State. Chang was basically hired by the Rainbow Warriors, it seems, simply because he is from Hawaii and used to play for Hawaii. Yes, of course, Ken Wilson was hired at Nevada simply because he coached here for two decades and kept Chris Ault’s phone number on speed dial. You could also argue that the athletic director who hired Wilson at Nevada (Doug Knuth) was on his way out of town and spent about four seconds finding the next football coach. Colorado State, it must be noted, spent about the same amount of time hiring Norvell as did Hawaii with the Chang hire, so all three schools are strangely connected in some weird Hawaii-Nevada-Colorado State triangle. All three are also in a state of confusion right now with a combined record of 3-11. Hawaii, at 1-4, might be the worst FBS football team in the country. Their only win was against mighty Duquesne, an FCS school (making Nevada and Colorado State, no doubt, jealous) and their next win might not come until next year. 


How connected are Hawaii, Nevada and Colorado State right now? Well, all three, thankfully for their loyal fans, have a bye this week. And after Colorado State travels to Nevada on Oct. 7, Nevada will play at Hawaii on Oct. 15 and Hawaii will go to Colorado State on Oct. 22. Call those three games the Chang-Wilson-Norvell Bermuda Triangle. At least one of the three teams will disappear and never be heard from again this year after Oct. 22. The other two might turn their seasons around or aimlessly wander the streets waiting for someone to whack them in the head with a shovel to put them out of their misery.

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The next two games (against Colorado State at home and Hawaii on the road) will likely determine whether this Nevada season is a success or a disaster. The Pack needs to win at least one of the two games to have a legitimate chance at a bowl game this year. Losses to both Colorado State and Hawaii will leave the Pack at 2-5 and needing to win four of its last five games against Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State, UNLV and San Jose State to get a bowl invite. Colorado State and Hawaii are the two weakest opponents remaining on the Pack schedule, as things stand now. We will find out if Ken Wilson and his makeshift staff can make an impact on this season between now and Oct. 15.

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The good news for the Wolf Pack and its fans is that Boise State is also drowning in its own turmoil right now. The once-mighty Broncos lost to UTEP this past weekend, 27-10, arguably the most embarrassing loss for the Broncos in the last two decades. Boise State then fired offensive coordinator Tim Plough after the game and replaced him with former Boise State head coach Dirk Koetter. Broncos starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier then jumped into the transfer portal on Monday. The Broncos are indeed panicking. 

Boise State’s head coach is Andy Avalos, who was likely hired before last season because he is a former Broncos player and assistant coach. Avalos coached defense with the Pack’s Wilson at Oregon in 2020. Misery has a lot of company in the Mountain West.

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Avalos’ firing of Plough is interesting for Nevada because Wilson might be in the same situation a year from now. Avalos hired Plough as his offensive coordinator as one of the centerpieces of his first Boise State staff going into last year. You could argue that Plough was Avalos’ most important hire because Avalos is a defensive coach and needed a coach he could trust to take over the offense. Plough likely was hired by Avalos because he coached for Dan Hawkins at UC Davis. Hawkins was Avalos’ head coach at Boise State roughly two decades ago. That’s how college coaches get hired. They are friends or friends of friends.


It’s the same at Nevada. Wilson’s offensive coordinator is Derek Sage. Wilson, like Avalos, is a career defensive coach and has had to put full trust in Sage to run his offense, like Avalos with Plough. Wilson coached with Sage at Washington State in 2017 and the two likely met in 2003 and 2004 when Sage helped coach the Wolf Pack and Wilson was an administrator at Nevada. Sage’s Pack offense right now is struggling to find an identity, let alone a starting quarterback. If that trend continues throughout this year and into next year, Wilson might find himself with the same decision to make that faced Avalos this week. Avalos hired a former Boise State head coach as his new offensive coordinator this week. Wilson, don’t forget, has a former Pack head coach on his speed dial that would make a pretty good offensive coordinator … you know, should the need arise.

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Firing an assistant coach is always the most difficult thing for a long-time assistant, like Wilson, who is now a head coach for the first time. Hiring a friend is easy. Firing a friend, well, is not so much fun. Firing an assistant coach is not always easy for a guy like Wilson, who built his career on developing friendly relationships with players and coaches. Being able to pull the trigger and fire an assistant, someone who is likely a personal friend, could be Wilson’s biggest test as a head coach and whether or not he gets a second contract. 


But the Pack is not anywhere close to that type of situation just yet. Nobody is suggesting that anybody at Nevada be fired or even be put on the hot seat after just five games. The Pack is not in turmoil. Unlike Avalos and Boise State, Wilson and the Pack have zero expectations this year. The Pack is 2-3 after playing the two toughest teams (Iowa and Air Force) on their schedule this year. A 3-2 record right now was likely a best-case scenario. So nobody is in jeopardy of being fired right now or anytime soon at Nevada. But it might be a good idea to beat Norvell and Colorado State in 10 days or so as well as UNLV at the end of the year, just to be safe.

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