BEHIND THE PLATE: What to expect from Wolf Pack football in 2013
This week unofficially marked the start of college football season.
Media days began across the country this week with the SEC headlining on Wednesday and everyone talking about Johnny Manziel’s actions off the field. Time is moving closer before we can finally focus on this sport on the field instead of worrying about which sporting magazine is picking for the national champ or how many players Brian Polian has kicked off the Wolf Pack since taking the job in January.
In 43 days, a new era of Nevada football will be put to the test as the Wolf Pack travels to UCLA for their season opener. We’ll find out how much the program has changed since Chris Ault stepped down last year and hopefully, it’s not another national televised massacre (see Nebraska, Missouri, Notre Dame).
Will this former Texas A&M coach be able to finally connect the dots at Nevada and put together both a good offensive and defensive team? The UCLA game will be a good measure of how good Nevada can hang with the bigger programs and whether we’re in for another long and painful season in the Mountain West.
Here are five things that I am most curious about before the season opener next month.
Will the defense show up?
Nevada football has been a consistent offensive machine since Ault took over after starring at quarterback for the Wolf Pack.
Defense has always been a problem, even when Nevada had its best season in 2010 and won a bowl game. The offense was just too powerful and enough to outscore the opposition in shootouts.
Last year’s bowl game loss to Arizona is still painful to recall because it was one of the best offensive performances by any team during the bowl season, but the defense should have stayed on the bus. It has cost Nevada many victories, including at least three last year, and is the reason why Nevada trails Boise State.
If Nevada goes undefeated, will Polian leave?
This is extreme but you can’t help wonder what will happen if Polian is an overnight success and can cure all of the programs at Nevada.
The Pack almost went undefeated in 2010, losing to Hawaii, and could have gone to a BCS bowl instead of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. But if Polian can guide Nevada to even a first-place finish in the MWC and a conference championship, it won’t be long before some BCS school fires its struggling coach and dials the 775 area code.
Polian said he plans on being at Nevada for several seasons, but face it, Nevada is not Alabama or Oregon. Nevada’s just a stepping stone to greener pastures.
Is Cody Fajardo the next Colin Kaepernick?
Fajardo has the skills to challenge one of Nevada’s best quarterbacks and he’s due for a breakout season in 2013. The junior signal caller displays faster speed than Kaepernick but his work ethic was questioned last season and he sometimes has problems turning the ball over. His predecessor had similar problems before he lit up the field in his final season but if Fajardo comes into the season fully improved, he might be a step ahead.
Will Mackay Stadium sell out?
An inconsistent football team and a coach that the community seemed to grow tired over contributed to the poor attendance during home games over the last few seasons.
Nevada didn’t sell out any games the last two seasons after posting two sellouts in 2010 against Cal and Boise State. If Nevada can challenge UCLA on Aug. 31, or even shock the Bruins, the home opener against UC Davis could be a sellout.
It will be Polian’s first home game as the new coach, Chris Ault will be honored with the naming of the field and Nevada could have an impressive win already. In a perfect world, every game should sell out because seating 30,000 six times in the fall is not asking a lot from Northern Nevada.
UC Davis, UNLV and BYU should come close to selling out this season.
Can Nevada draw a better bowl game?
Except for 2010, Nevada’s quality of bowl games isn’t great.
The Wolf Pack have played in Hawaii several times, New Mexico and Boise twice and San Francisco three years ago. If Nevada can have a better and attractive season, it should be invited to a more prestigious bowl game, like the Vegas Bowl, for starters. We’re tired of watching Nevada play lousy teams, let alone get embarrassed on national TV.
It’s time for the team to step up this year and kick off the Polian era in grand style and ignite the community into finally supporting its football program on a full-time basis.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.