For Nevada Wolf Pack Saturday’s game at UNLV is a must-win says Joe Santoro | NevadaAppeal.com

For Nevada Wolf Pack Saturday’s game at UNLV is a must-win says Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder . . .The Nevada Wolf Pack football team simply cannot afford to lose to the UNLV Rebels on Saturday in Las Vegas. The Pack has won four games in a row, is 7-4 and has already clinched second place in the West Division of the Mountain West. An eighth victory would be the most for the program since the Colin Kaepernick-led 2010 team finished 13-1. The Pack has already won a program-record five games in conference this season. A sixth league win has only been accomplished four times (1995 in the Big West and 2005, 2009, 2010 in the Western Athletic Conference) since the Pack moved to Division I-A in 1992. A loss in Las Vegas Saturday night would destroy all of those good things.

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Losing to UNLV is a stain no Wolf Pack coach can wash away. Just ask Brian Polian, who lost twice to the Rebels at Mackay Stadium. Losing four times to UNLV in four years is a big reason Chris Tormey was fired after the 2003 season despite improving his record each year. The only coach that survived a bad stretch against UNLV was Chris Ault, who lost five of his first seven to the Rebels. Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell can join Jeff Tisdel on Saturday night as the only Nevada coaches to start their careers 2-0 against UNLV. Tisdel was 4-0 against the Rebels from 1996-99. Ault (1976), Tormey (2000) and Polian (2013) each lost their first game against the Rebels. Jerry Scattini (1970) lost his second. Jeff Horton won his first but was only Pack head coach for one (1993) season.

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Losing to UNLV is also a concern for a Wolf Pack quarterback, especially in his senior year. The last Wolf Pack senior starting quarterback that lost to UNLV is Zack Threadgill in 2002. Ty Gangi does not want to add his name to that list on Saturday night. Gangi is 1-0 against UNLV as the Pack's starting quarterback and can become the first Pack quarterback since Kaepernick (3-0) to finish his career with at least two victories and a perfect record against the Rebels.

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A year ago, before the Wolf Pack met the Rebels at Mackay Stadium, Norvell had a 2-9 record as Pack head coach. He was 2-5 in Mountain West games. The Pack beat the Rebels a year ago and now Norvell has the Pack, and his head coaching career, pointed in the right direction. He has an 8-7 record now in Mountain West games (10-13 overall) and is one of just 19 coaches in Mountain West history to have a winning career record in conference games.

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It sure would have been a treat to see the Wolf Pack men's basketball team play Gonzaga this season. A matchup between the No. 3 Zags and the No. 6 Wolf Pack would have been great for both programs. It would have been great for Reno and Spokane. It would have been great for west coast basketball. It would have been great for both the West Coast Conference and Mountain West. A Zags-Pack game this year would have given both schools and both conferences a ton of national exposure. Gonzaga, which beat No. 1 Duke 89-87 on Wednesday, lost to the Pack in the 2004 NCAA tournament in Seattle and again three seasons later, also in Seattle, in the two schools' only meetings since December 1994. Maybe they are afraid of the Pack.

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Gonzaga coach Mark Few, now in his 20th season as head coach at the school, is what Wolf Pack fans hope Eric Musselman aspires to. This will be the 20th consecutive season that Few has taken Gonzaga to the NCAA tournament. He wins the WCC almost every year. He has the Zags in the Top 25 or close to it almost every year. But he has never left Gonzaga. Musselman can do the same at Nevada.

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The Mountain West is billing Saturday's football showdown between Boise State and Utah State as the Blue Saturday Showdown, obviously stealing Chris Ault's declaration of "Blue Friday" when the Pack beat Boise State on Friday, Nov. 26, 2010. The winner this Saturday will capture the Mountain Division title and then host Fresno State the following weekend in the conference championship game. This hasn't been the best season of Mountain West football by a long shot. But you might want to bounce back and forth on your television, computer or phone Saturday night between the Rebels-Pack on CBS Sports Network and Boise State-Utah State on ESPN. It is always fun to watch the Wolf Pack shred the Rebs by four or five touchdowns, of course, and Boise State-Utah State could make the Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Rams slugfest on Monday night look like a soccer game.

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The Mountain West needs some new blood in its football championship game. The conference has only had a conference title game since 2013 and it is already becoming repetitive. Boise State, San Diego State and Fresno State are the only schools to have won a Mountain West title game and that might not change this year. If Boise State beats Utah State on Saturday, we would have the third Boise State-Fresno State title game in six years. This will be Fresno State's fourth trip to the title game. Even Utah State has been there before, losing to Fresno State in the first title game in 2013. A Nevada-Colorado State championship game next year would be a nice change.

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UNLV's hiring of Tony Sanchez as head football coach was stunning back in 2015. Sanchez, after all, was coming from Bishop Gorman High where he was a career high school coach. He was 85-5 in six seasons at Gorman with six state titles but if that was the criteria for hiring a college coach in this state Joe Sellers or Ken Dalton would have replaced Ault at Nevada sometime in the mid 1990s. The decision to hire Sanchez now looks like more of a laughable joke than it did in 2015. Who knew? Well, everyone but UNLV apparently, The 44-year-old Sanchez has a record of 15-32 overall and 10-21 in Mountain West games. That sort of dismal record is extremely difficult to do playing in the Mountain West, where half the league is a dumpster fire every single year. Sanchez has never had a winning overall record or league record in any of his four seasons. The UNLV athletic department has already said that a decision on Sanchez's future will be announced after the season. That should have announced it weeks ago.

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It will be difficult for UNLV to justify not firing Sanchez even if he beats the Wolf Pack on Saturday. Brian Polian was 23-27 as Pack coach after four seasons. He was also 14-18 in Mountain West games. Sanchez might be mayor of Las Vegas now if he had career records like those. Polian also beat UNLV in the last game of 2016 and was promptly fired the very next day as the Fremont Cannon was being painted blue. But, then again, the Wolf Pack cares about football.