Joe Santoro: Finish more important than 3-0 start for Nevada Wolf Pack | NevadaAppeal.com
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Joe Santoro: Finish more important than 3-0 start for Nevada Wolf Pack

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
Utah State's Justn McGriff (10) catches a touchdown pass from Jason Shelley in front of Nevada's AJ King (25) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Reno, Nev.
AP Photo/Lance Iversen

The Nevada Wolf Pack football team has existed now for 113 seasons. Just 14 of those seasons have started out 3-0. This is one of those seasons, thanks to the 34-9 victory over Utah State on Thursday at Mackay Stadium. This season is also just the second (along with 2010) in the Wolf Pack’s 29-year history in Division I-A that has started 3-0. But don’t go comparing this year’s team to 2010, at least not yet. This year’s 3-0 start should not be a surprise to anyone. The biggest reason that 27 of the first 29 seasons in Division I-A have started with at least one loss in the first three games is because there were Power Five opponents on the schedule. In 1993 it was Wisconsin. Oregon spoiled the Pack’s first three weeks in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2011 and last year. Notre Dame did it in 2009 and 2016. UCLA and Florida State slapped the Pack around in 2013. Nebraska and Northwestern did it in 2007. Texas Tech and Missouri did the honors in 2008. We could go on and on. But you get the idea. So don’t dwell on this year’s 3-0 start. It’s nice but anything less than 3-0 would have been a reason for concern. This year is about the finish. Not the start.

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Power Five opponents tend to ruin the first month of the season but they are a necessary evil. Teams like Oregon, Notre Dame, Missouri, UCLA and Florida State have been Pack bullies but they helped the Wolf Pack pay the bills. The Pack, by the way, will play at Cal and Kansas State next year, at Iowa in the Jay Norvell Homecoming Game in 2022 and USC in 2023. Given the lack of fans in the stands this year, athletic director Doug Knuth would likely want to leave the Mountain West this spring and schedule a dozen Power Five teams for next year. But don’t worry. This Wolf Pack team is good enough to replicate another 3-0 or 4-0 start next year, even with Cal and Kansas State on the other sideline.

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The Wolf Pack’s 3-0 start has been built against two awful teams (UNLV, Utah State) and one (Wyoming) that will likely throw a parade and a rodeo in downtown Laramie if it finishes .500 this year. The good news is that the schedule, minus a Nov. 21 game against San Diego State at Mackay, never really gets all that much tougher this year. Even one of the original road games (at New Mexico on Nov. 14) has already been moved to the state of Nevada (Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium). That means that six of the Pack’s eight games this year will be played in Nevada. It could be seven of nine if the Pack hosts the Mountain West championship game.

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Coach Jay Norvell hasn’t had much luck enticing Northern Nevada to come to Mackay Stadium since he came to the area in 2017. His Pack teams have attracted 20,000 or more fans to just two of 18 home games his first three years. Norvell now has his best team (yes, we’ll say it, the best Pack team since 2010) and Northern Nevada, for the most part, can’t come to the games. “I’m disappointed because this is a fun team to watch,” Norvell said after beating Utah State. “I think our fans would love to be at these games in person and watch.” Don’t worry, Jay. We’re watching. You can’t see us but we’re watching. We’re always watching.

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The Wolf Pack will likely trample New Mexico in Las Vegas at the end of next week to go to 4-0 on the year. The Lobos have had to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak around Albuquerque in recent weeks and have been practicing in Las Vegas this week. They will head to Hawaii this weekend and return back to Las Vegas next week to play the Pack. Talk about challenges. The final four games of the Pack’s schedule are when the real challenges begin. San Diego State will come to Mackay Stadium Nov. 21 ready for revenge after losing to the Pack the last two years. The Aztecs even have an offense this year. That game will likely determine Boise State’s opponent in the conference title game. The Pack’s last three opponents (at Hawaii and San Jose State and home against Fresno State) all seem better than any of the Pack’s first three opponents. The Pack’s success this year will depend on their health and, well, defense. It always comes down to defense at Nevada.

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Is the NBA crazy for starting its 2020-21 season on Dec. 22? That is just six weeks away. The league hasn’t even conducted its draft yet, made any postseason trades or signed any free agents. That is all going to happen in six weeks? The Los Angeles Lakers are only going to get 72 days to celebrate their championship before they have to start the season. It used to take Dennis Rodman 90 days minimum to find his car keys, wallet and shoes after the Chicago Bulls won titles in the 1990s. But we’re all for it. The quicker we can get that 2019-20 season out of our minds, the better.

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There is a chance, according to various internet mock drafts, that former Nevada Wolf Pack guard Jalen Harris will be selected late in the second round on Nov. 18. Yes, internet mock drafts are as accurate and reliable as presidential election results, but Harris is definitely NBA worthy. He has a NBA body, a NBA shot and a NBA competitiveness. He is a smart player, always under control, plays within himself and he’s not afraid of the big moments. He will definitely be worth a draft pick anytime in the second round.