Is not being embarrassed really good enough these days? | NevadaAppeal.com
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Is not being embarrassed really good enough these days?

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning…The more things change around the Nevada Wolf Pack football program, well, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Back in 1996, in the Pack’s fifth year of Division I-A football (now referred to as the Football Bowl Subdivision) the Wolf Pack was full of confidence and high hopes after it played reasonably well (and lost by 14 and 19 points) against Oregon and California. It was the school’s first genuine venture into the wonderful world of big-time college football and, well, the Pack didn’t embarrass itself. That was more than good enough back in 1996 and everyone in silver and blue was feeling pretty good about itself. Fast forward two decades to the last two weeks. The Pack played relatively well (and lost by 24 and 17 points) against Arizona and Texas A&M and everyone in silver and blue is feeling pretty good about itself right now. It seems like not embarrassing yourself is more than good enough once again in 2015. Two-plus decades of Division I-A football and the Pack is basically in the same place in which it started. The only thing that has changed is the athletic director and the coaches have fatter paychecks. Maybe that was the point of jumping into the wonderful world of big-time college football after all. Ya think?

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That 1996 Pack team recovered to win eight of its last nine games. It won the Big West Conference and it even won its bowl game. So the respectable losses to Oregon and Cal were indeed a sign of things to come. This year’s Pack team could do the same. The level of competition will fall drastically over the next nine games. The Pack might not lose another game. The Mountain West is a truly awful conference this year. The dozen teams are a combined 13-23 this year with most of those 13 victories coming against Division I-AA (Football Championship Subdivision) schools. The Mountain West is one of just three FBS conferences without an unbeaten team along with the Sun Belt and Conference USA. Get ready to party like it’s 1996, Pack fans.

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Why is there so much confidence around the Pack football team right now? The Wolf Pack has not even won a half of football since it outscored mighty UC Davis in the first half 21-3 on Sept. 3. The Pack has lost five consecutive halves of football, including the second half against mighty UC Davis. That hasn’t happened since it lost six consecutive halves of football in 2009 against Notre Dame, Colorado State and Missouri. The good news is the 2009 Wolf Pack rebounded to win eight games in a row after losing its first three games. The 2009 team didn’t lose until Boise State burst its bubble in the final regular season game. There’s no team as good as the 2009 Boise State Broncos on the Pack schedule from here on out.

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Wolf Pack wide receiver Hasaan Henderson is, without question, one of the best wide receivers in the nation. There might not be another wide receiver in the nation that could have made the catch Henderson made in the end zone at Texas A&M. Hasaan “Hands” Henderson catches everything. He’s big (6-foot-5) and strong (220 pounds) with arms and legs that stretch from goal post to goal post and there isn’t a defensive back in the nation who can cover him. He will be playing in the NFL someday. Heck, he could play in the NFL right now. It’s amazing to think Henderson was brought to the Wolf Pack by former coach Chris Ault as a quarterback. He was supposed to be the next Colin Kaepernick. He’s now the next Nate Burleson. The best move Pack coach Brian Polian has made so far is switching Henderson to wide receiver. Would Ault, whose vision of the perfect roster included about a half dozen quarterbacks, have done the same? Doubtful.

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Polian seems to be able to judge talent and put that talent in places where it can succeed. Henderson is the best example of that (moving Bryan Lane from safety to linebacker is another) but it also happened once again this year with quarterback Tyler Stewart. Stewart’s performance has been the best thing to come out of the first three games. It would have been easy for Polian to give the starting quarterback job to freshman Hunter Fralick. Fralick, after all, is a Polian recruit (Stewart was brought to Nevada by Ault). Fralick is a local kid and would have sold tickets. Fralick could have stepped in and run the team for the next four years. But Polian recognized Stewart is that rare college athlete whose intangibles (intelligence, coolness under fire, confidence and leadership) far outweigh what he puts on a stopwatch or a practice tape.

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It’s time for the Wolf Pack’s defensive linemen and linebackers to live up to their hype. The linemen and linebackers were supposed to be the best thing about this Pack team. So far they have been the worst. The Pack is allowing 208 rushing yards a game. It’s allowing 35 points, 477 total yards, 25 first downs and 270 passing yards a game. The Pack wasn’t embarrassed by Arizona and Texas A&M but that wasn’t because of the defense. The defense hasn’t stopped anyone since the first half against mighty UC Davis. That will all change this Saturday at Buffalo. We’ll finally see what the hype was about starting on Saturday.

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Polian seemingly has been given as much input into the schedule as any Wolf Pack coach since Ault was both coach and athletic director two and three decades ago. The Pack is playing at both Texas A&M and Buffalo this year, two of Polian’s former coaching homes. Notre Dame, another one of Polian’s former places of employment, is also on the future schedule. Is it only a matter of time before past Polian homes Stanford, Central Florida, John Carroll and St. Francis High make an appearance on the schedule? It’s all well and good the Pack athletic department is allowing Polian to make the non-conference schedule. A school should support its coach in that manner. Former athletic director Cary Groth never seemed to give Ault that respect (see the 2011 schedule).