Friday Fodder: Pack is poised for a run at Mountain West championship | NevadaAppeal.com
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Friday Fodder: Pack is poised for a run at Mountain West championship

By Joe Santoro
Nevada head coach Jay Norvell on the sidelines against UNLV in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Reno, Nev., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.
AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes


Sports Fodder . . . All the pieces are now in place for the Nevada Wolf Pack to find itself in the Mountain West football championship game Dec. 19 at Mackay Stadium. Yes, Mackay Stadium. All the Pack, now 3-0, has to do is win its last five league games (against New Mexico, Fresno State, San Jose State, Hawaii, San Diego State) and the championship game will be at Mackay (if COVID-19 restrictions allow it). It won’t be easy. The Pack has to travel to Hawaii, a trip that will not exactly be a pleasure cruise in the time of a pandemic. The other trip is to San Jose State, where the Spartans are currently 3-0 and the biggest surprise in the league. But New Mexico is, well, New Mexico and the Pack gets to play Fresno State and San Diego State at Mackay. Everything, of course, hinges on the weekly COVID-19 tests the players go through. If quarterback Carson Strong ever tests positive, well, all Pack bets are off. So don’t assume anything. But the Pack is now barreling down  the fast lane on the highway to the title game.
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Pack coach Jay Norvell said this week that the team that wins the Mountain West title would “really be a special champion” because of all the off-the-field COVID-19 distractions. Special is a good word for it. But unique and lucky would be better words. It really is a matter this year of just staying healthy. At any given moment any team can have its starting backfield, receiver group, defensive or offensive lines or secondary wiped out by positive COVID-19 tests. But the champion this year can’t really be labeled as one of the greatest of all-time. This is an artificial, contrived season, after all, designed solely to squeeze a little television revenue out of the networks so schools can pay some bills. It is simply a unique, hopefully one-of-a-kind, let’s-hope-we-never-have-to-do-it-again type of year.   Nobody, after all, is really playing a true road game because hardly any fans are in the stands. And the season is just two months and eight games long. Every team has COVID-19 distractions. That doesn’t make you special. It just makes you the winner of a Mountain West football Survivor reality show. Norvell, though, is obviously already smelling a championship and he just wants to make sure everyone gives his team the credit it is due.
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The Wolf Pack offense is off to a wonderful start, averaging 36 points and 512 yards a game. The Pack should have no trouble exceeding that this Saturday against New Mexico, the worst defense in the conference (the Lobos allow 38.5 points and 541 yards a game). None of this should surprise Wolf Pack fans, who should be accustomed to great offenses wearing silver and blue. The Wolf Pack has always been one of the best, most explosive offensive schools in the nation. The Pack led the nation in total offense in 1948, 1993, 1995 and 1996. The Pack led the nation in rushing in 2009 and in passing in 1946, 1948, 1993, 1995 and 1997. The 1948 Pack led the nation in scoring at 44 points a game in the regular season. Pack quarterbacks Stan Heath (1948), Chris Vargas (1993) and Mike Maxwell (1994 and 1995) led the nation in total offense. Bill Mackrides led in touchdown passes in 1946 (17). Receivers Alex Van Dyke (1994 and 1995), Damond Wilkins (1996), Trevor Insley (1999) and Nate Burleson (2002) all led the nation in catches per game. Chance Kretschmer led the nation in rushing in 2001 and Frank Hawkins led all Division I-AA running backs in rushing three years in a row (1978-80). Carson Strong, Romeo Doubs and friends are just continuing the tradition.
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The Mountain West media has picked the Wolf Pack to finish sixth this year, behind (in order) San Diego State, Boise State, Utah State, UNLV and Colorado State. The Pack, according to the media, was picked closer to eighth place than it was to fifth. Is this why the Wolf Pack is paying coach Steve Alford a million dollars a year, to finish sixth? Alford is too good a coach to finish sixth in the Mountain West. In seven years in the Mountain West (six at New Mexico) he never finished lower than fifth. He was in the top three in six of those seven years. Alford deserves a bit more respect than sixth place.
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The Mountain West media is believing the UNLV hype. The Rebels were picked to finish fourth and two of their players were named the Pre-season Newcomer of the year (David Jenkins) and Pre-season Freshman of the Year (Nick Blake). Jenkins was lured to UNLV by Rebel coach T.J. Otzelberger, who coached Jenkins for two seasons at South Dakota State. Jenkins had five points and eight rebounds for South Dakota State in a 72-68 loss to the Pack at Lawlor Events Center on Dec. 15, 2018. Blake is a freshman in name only, having spent a year after his high school career ended last year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Blake, who played three years at Durango High in Las Vegas, also played a year in Los Angeles at another basketball prep factory (Middlebrooks Academy) so he has already made basketball his profession. 
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The Wolf Pack got absolutely no respect from the Mountain West media as far as the top pre-season awards are concerned. In addition to Blake and Jenkins getting the Freshman and Newcomer awards, Boise’s Derrick Alston was picked as the Pre-season Player of the Year. What about the Pack? Jalen Harris’ jumping into the Nov. 18 NBA draft with both feet left the Pack without a true Pre-season Player of the Year candidate. But Nevada does have numerous choices for the Freshman (Tre Coleman, Daniel Foster, DeAndre Henry, Alem Huseinovic) and Newcomer awards (Grant Sherfield, Khristion Courseault, Desmond Cambridge and Warren Washington). There should be plenty of minutes each game for all of those new faces to make a huge impact for the Pack this year.
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The Rebels also have a familiar name to northern Nevada basketball fans on their roster. Former Galena High star Moses Wood, the son of former Wolf Pack star David Wood, is eligible to play for the Rebels this year after sitting out last year after transferring from Tulane. Wood is 6-8 and played 31 games for Tulane off the bench (two starts), averaging 4.5 points and 3.1 rebounds a game. He is reminiscent of another former Galena star, who was also 6-8, that also played for the Rebels. Matt Siebrandt, the Nevada High School Gatorade Player of the Year in 1998, played two games for the Rebels in the 1998-99 season before playing three solid seasons in the Big 12 for Kansas State.