Pack’s next 3 games to determine season grade
November 19, 2015
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
The next three games will determine the final grade on this Nevada Wolf Pack football season. The Wolf Pack, now 6-4, will close out the regular season at Utah State on Saturday and at San Diego State on Nov. 28 and will also likely play in a bowl game in December. Losses in all three games will stamp a failing grade on Brian Polian's third season as head coach, especially considering the ugly losses to UNLV and Wyoming. The Fremont Cannon, don't forget, is now wearing red. Polian's Pack, though, only needs to win one of the remaining three games to earn a solid C-plus grade. Two or three wins will give the Pack an impressive B-plus (or A-minus, depending on the bowl opponent) and will prove that Polian has the program headed in the right direction.
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Of course, this could also turn out to be a dream season for the Pack. There is still a slim chance that the Wolf Pack could find itself in the Mountain West title game in early December. That would require, first of all, UNLV beating San Diego State on Saturday night. That's not likely. UNLV, after all, only beats the Pack, Division I-AA teams (Idaho State) and teams without a head coach (Hawaii). Beating San Diego State would be the greatest UNLV victory since they stole Jeff Horton from the Wolf Pack. But a dream ending to this Pack season (10 wins, conference title, bowl victory) is not as far fetched as you might think. San Diego State, after all, is just a Donnel Pumphrey (Aztec running back) sprained ankle away from losing to anybody, even UNLV and the Wolf Pack.
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If all of the above happens, if the Wolf Pack beats Utah State and San Diego State, wins the Mountain West title, wins its bowl game and comes away with 10 victories, the Wolf Pack would be justified in giving Polian a three-year contract extension through the 2019 season. You could argue that such a fairytale ending is the best thing or the worst thing for the long term health of the program. There were, after all, many a Wolf Pack fan that wanted Polian fired after the losses to UNLV and Wyoming a month ago. If the Pack loses its last three games and ends up 6-7 in yet another treading-water season those sentiments will rise to the surface again. That's how important these final three (or four) games are to the Pack.
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The vacant Hawaii football head coaching job keeps getting more and more interesting. Wolf Pack offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, a former Hawaii player and assistant coach, is rumored to be among the top candidates for the job. But the Hawaii media has also reported that 50 coaches have already applied for the position, including former Hawaii head coach June Jones. Jones, who resigned as SMU head coach early in the 2014 season, is considered the front runner. He's loved in Hawaii, after all, more than Chris Ault in Nevada. Former Fresno State head coach Pat Hill, who is also beloved in Fresno, is also among the candidates as is former Hawaii and NFL player Rich Miano. It is amazing how attractive a bad football program can be with perfect weather, sandy beaches, palm trees and grass skirts.
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Nevada doesn't have any of that — perfect weather, sandy beaches, palm trees or grass skirts — but it did attract a program-changing men's basketball head coach this past off-season. Eric Musselman's Wolf Pack is 2-1 right now after three games in Honolulu last weekend. They are, surprise, surprise, winning games by making free throws and wearing teams down physically in the second half. The Pack has outscored its three opponents 141-94 in the second half. Make no mistake, Musselman is not a miracle worker — the Pack still can't shoot threes (just 9-of-40 so far) and has more turnovers (33) than assists (28) — but we've already learned that the Pack will not be out-coached or out-worked this year. That alone will get them 18-plus wins and a postseason spot of some sort this March.
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You could argue that Musselman has already performed two miracles this year. He has transformed Marqueze Coleman and D.J. Fenner into reliable, productive and, at times, difference-making Division I players. Coleman and Fenner were the poster children for the Wolf Pack's 9-22 season a year ago. They looked so confused and demoralized a year ago that you half expected them to start shooting the ball at the wrong basket. They are now leading this team. Coleman is averaging 22.7 points a game (11 points a game from the free throw line alone) and Fenner is at 16.3. Any coach can bring in new talent and change a program and Musselman has done that already with Cameron Oliver, Lindsey Drew and Juwan Anderson. But it takes an exceptional coach to take somebody else's players, players whose careers were drowning, and turn them into something special.
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The time has come for the San Francisco Giants to start spending some money. The Giants need starting pitchers and this just happens to be one of the strongest classes of free agent starting pitchers in baseball history. The best available are David Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto but Ian Kennedy, John Lackey, Scott Kazmir, Jordan Zimmerman and Jeff Samardzija would also look good in a Giants uniform.
The Giants' championship window with Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner won't last forever. Pitchers get hurt and catchers wear down. But the National League West is up for grabs right now. And we all know how the Giants perform in even-numbered (2010, 2012, 2014) years. But at least one of the above mentioned free agent pitchers must head to the Bay area this winter. An outfielder (Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cepedes, Denard Span, Alex Gordon) also wouldn't hurt