Joe Santoro: It’s up to Leaders of the Pack | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: It’s up to Leaders of the Pack

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder …

Quarterback Ty Gangi, defensive backs Asauni Rufus and Dameon Baber, linebacker Malik Reed and center Sean Krepsz just might be the key to this upcoming Nevada Wolf Pack football season. Those five are the most experienced and decorated players on the Wolf Pack roster. All have been good throughout their Wolf Pack careers. All have, at times, been great. If those five are consistently good to great this fall we could be looking at a breakout season for the Wolf Pack. Gangi is finally the unquestioned starter going into a season. Krepsz is the anchor of an offensive line that has sent Joel Bitonio and Austin Corbett to the NFL (both Cleveland Browns) in the last five seasons. Rufus and Baber have played a ton of snaps in the secondary the last three seasons. And Reed, a standout defensive end, is making the transition to linebacker. They're the Pack leaders, the Pack heartbeat this year.

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Why, exactly, do college football teams have to start a season in the month of August? College football teams play too many games. They have bye weeks. The season starts two or three weeks sooner than it should. There is too much time between the final regular season game and a bowl game. There's no reason to make teams play in August, when the temperature is flirting with triple digits, students can barely find their classes let alone the football stadium and nobody in the community wants to sit in a steaming stadium on a hot summer afternoon or muggy summer night. The Pack opens Aug. 31 at home against Portland State of the Big Sky Conference. It will be just the eighth Pack season (third in last six) that starts in the month of August. The good news? The Pack is 3-0 against Football Championship Subdivision teams (like Portland State) in the month of August.

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Northern Nevada can now lay claim to one of the greatest hitting streaks in the long history of professional minor league baseball. Ildemaro Vargas of the Reno Aces saw his 35-game hitting streak come to an end this past Sunday. It's the longest hitting streak in Aces history, the fifth-longest in Pacific Coast League history and the 31st longest in the history of minor league baseball. The likeable Venezuelan middle infielder, who has brightened Greater Nevada Field with his friendly smile, amazing glove work at second and short (picture a young Omar Vizquel) and boundless hustle and energy the last three seasons, has hit safely in 58 of his last 64 games. Now 27 and in his 11th minor league season, he deserves to be in the major leagues.

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The best story in baseball nobody has paid any attention to is the Oakland Athletics. The A's, which finished last in the American League West in each of the last three seasons, are an eye-opening 72-49 this season and just two games behind the defending World Series champion Houston Astros in the A.L. West. Bob Melvin, the best manager in baseball nobody ever talks about, has put the A's in position to make the playoffs despite a roster of wet-behind-the-ears youngsters and veterans nobody else seemingly wanted. Melvin, by the way, is now third on the A's all-time list for managerial victories with 609, just ahead of Art Howe (600) and behind just Connie Mack (3,582) and Tony LaRussa (798). Who knew?

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Is it time to get rid of baseball's three-division format in each league and just put all the teams into two leagues? As things stand now, the A's and New York Yankees, which own the American League's second (Yankees at 75-45) and fourth (A's at 72-49) best records, would meet in the silly one-game A.L. wild card game. Both the Yankees and A's would currently be in first place in the American League Central over the Cleveland Indians (69-51). The Yankees would even be leading the West ahead of the Houston Astros (74-47). But both the A's and Yankees would now have to be subject to a random (and unfair) one-game wild card playoff game. Stick all the teams in two leagues. Give the top three teams in each league a bye and make the fourth and fifth place teams play in a one-game wild card matchup. That way you're rewarding the teams with the best records fairly and equally.

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The secret to the New England Patriots' continued success down through the last two decades or so hasn't been Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Oh, yes, Belichick and Brady are certain Hall of Famers and as good as any coach and quarterback in the history of the NFL. But the reason why the Patriots are always in the Super Bowl picture is because they play in the worst division in football against the bumbling Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. The Patriots are the NFL's version of Gonzaga in college basketball's West Coast Conference. The regular season for the Patriots and Gonzaga (and, it seems, now the Wolf Pack in Mountain West basketball) is simply a relaxing and stress-free exhibition season before the postseason. The Patriots are now putting a roster together with glue, tape and string. Brady is 41. Belichick and Brady are at odds. Rob Gronkowski plays five games a year before ripping some ligament or muscle in half. The Pats are ripe for the picking. But the Bills, Jets and Dolphins continue to be a dumpster fire.

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The Washington Nationals continue to be the most underachieving team in major league baseball over the last five or six years. The Nationals, who have had as much talent as any team, are currently an embarrassing 60-61 in Dave Martinez's first year as manager. But it might not be Martinez's fault. It might be time to make a change in the front office, namely general manager Mike Rizzo. The three Nationals managers before Martinez (Davey Johnson, Carson High's Matt Williams and Dusty Baker) all had winning overall records at Washington. Yet none of them lasted more than three years under Rizzo. Baker won division titles in his only two seasons (2016 and 2017). Williams was the National League Manager of the Year in 2014 and Johnson won the East in 2012. And all were run out of town by Rizzo. And now, it seems, Rizzo is letting Bryce Harper leave town after this year.

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There could be a lot of pressure on Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr this season. Carr, the former Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year at Fresno State, simply has to play well this season for head coach Jon Gruden. Gruden is the offensive genius. He's the one with the $100 million contract. If the offense sputters and stagnates this year, it won't be Gruden's fault. It will be Carr's fault. Expect Carr, though, to flourish under Gruden. The former second round pick (2014) might turn out to be a NFL Most Valuable Player candidate under Gruden. He's thrown 103 touchdowns and passed for 14,690 yards in just four seasons with three Pro Bowls under his belt already. He's entering the prime of his career at age 27. And now he has Gruden as a teacher. Nevada's future NFL team might be heading into a Super Bowl era of its own.