Joe Santoro: Crazy Nevada football season made simple: Just win | NevadaAppeal.com
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Joe Santoro: Crazy Nevada football season made simple: Just win

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
Boise State quarterback Jaylon Henderson after the Mountain West Championship game against Hawaii on Dec. 7 in Boise, Idaho. This year’s championship game is scheduled Dec. 19, possibly in Reno.
Steve Conner/AP, file

If you think you know what is going to happen during this goofy Mountain West football season, well, think again. First of all, not every school is playing the same amount of conference games. For some reason San Diego State and Boise State are going to be allowed to play BYU as part of their eight-game schedule. Air Force will play Navy and Army because, well, nobody is allowed to tell the service academies what they can and can’t do. And we’ve already had one league game (New Mexico at Colorado State this weekend) canceled because of COVID-19. The daily threat of positive COVID-19 tests among the dozen Mountain West teams this season puts the schedule in constant jeopardy. Almost anything can happen this year. Think of a Kentucky Derby where the horses start at different spots on the track and where the finish line is moved every week. That is Mountain West football, 2020 style.

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The Nevada Wolf Pack’s task, however, is simple. Just win, baby. If the Pack wins all eight of its games it will be in the conference title game on Dec. 19, likely at Mackay Stadium. The Pack is one of just seven Mountain West schools (right now) to have eight conference games on their schedule. And the Pack gets to play the other six (plus New Mexico and San Diego State, which will both play seven league games). That means that the Wolf Pack will be the only team in the league that goes 8-0 in league play this year if it actually plays and wins all eight of its games. Even Boise State can only finish as high as 7-0.

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Whether you are a Los Angeles Dodgers fan or not, if you live in Northern Nevada and went to high school here you should have felt at least a twinge of pride while watching Jake McGee pitch in the World Series Wednesday night. The Reed High graduate pitched a scoreless inning in the Dodgers’ 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 2. McGee has had a wonderful major league career, pitching 11 seasons for Tampa, Colorado and the Dodgers. The 34-year-old has pitched in 546 games in his big league career with 45 saves and 28 victories on a 3.59 earned run average.

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McGee was drafted in the fifth round by Tampa in 2004 ($225,000 signing bonus) as a 6-foot-3, 190-pound lefthander. And while he is still 6-3 and lefthanded he is now 237 pounds, just like scouts projected him to become when he was just 17 as a Reed senior in 2004. McGee, who was also one of the best high school hitters in the state, signed a letter of intent to play at UNLV and was named the High Desert League Most Valuable Player in 2004. “I don’t know if all of this would be happening if I was right-handed,” McGee told me back in March 2004.

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Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr should be in your discussion for NFL Most Valuable Player. Carr tossed three touchdown passes last weekend in a 40-32 upset victory over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs as has the Raiders right in the thick of the playoff race at 3-2. The former Fresno State quarterback (along with former Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen) is making the Mountain West proud this season. Wolf Pack fans, though, should not be surprised to see Carr’s success this season. Carr, after all, used to torch the Pack on a yearly basis. He threw for 1,022 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception over three games (2011-13) against the silver and blue. Carr’s Bulldogs scored 131 points in three games against Nevada. Carr was Fresno State’s revenge for the Pack stealing Colin Kaepernick out of nearby Turlock, Calif., in 2006.

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Wolf Pack offensive coordinator Matt Mumme gave us all a hint of what to expect from the offense this season this past week. “Last year we tried to do a lot of stuff in the running game just to win football games,” Mumme said. “This year we will be more true to what we want to be. The biggest thing is people will see our identity show a little more. Last year we were just patching things together. We didn’t know who our quarterback was going to be week in and week out (the first half of the season). We really feel we can go out and stay true to a lot of the Air Raid concepts this year.” Translation: Expect the emphasis to be on the “Air” in Air Raid.

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Mumme expects a huge season out of sophomore quarterback Carson Strong. “Last year I called him Bambi because he was like a baby deer,” Mumme said. “This year he’s really grown. He’s owning the offense. He’s taking ownership of it. I can’t wait to watch him play.” If the Wolf Pack offensive line keeps Strong in one piece this year the Vacaville, Calif., native will be the Mountain West Player of the Year.

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The offensive line just might the key to this Pack season. Overall, it is an inexperienced group coming off a disappointing season. And it got even more inexperienced this month when senior tackle Miles Beach announced he would no longer play football. That leaves junior Moses Landis, who has never started a college game, as the starter at left tackle. Jermaine Ledbetter, a senior with two career starts, will start at left guard. Tyler Orsini (four starts) is expected to start on Saturday against Wyoming at center. The right side is experienced with guard Nate Brown (26 starts) and tackle Aaron Frost (15 starts). Expect talented (and large) freshmen Zac Welsh (6-3, 300), Jacob Garner (6-4, 300) and Cole Watts (6-6, 310) to also see ample playing time. Nathan Edwards (10 starts) and Gray Davis will also likely see plenty of time somewhere along the line. The good news is that the line doesn’t have to be great. The Pack, after all, doesn’t run the ball a lot and it will throw quick, short passes and let the wide receivers do all of the work.