Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack best in the West (Division) | NevadaAppeal.com
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Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack best in the West (Division)

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada offensive lineman Moses Landis celebrates a long drive against Fresno State during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Fresno, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019.
AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian

The Nevada Wolf Pack football team has been picked to finish second in the West Division of the Mountain West by the league’s media. San Diego State received 19 of the 21 first-place votes (the Pack got the other two) and was picked to win the division. The Wolf Pack should have been picked to win the division. The Wolf Pack beat San Diego State 17-13 last year in San Diego. The Pack beat San Diego State in 2018 at Mackay Stadium. The Wolf Pack returns practically its entire offense this season. San Diego State hasn’t had an offense since Rashaad Penny’s last year in 2017. The Aztecs have a new coach (Brady Hoke) this year after Rocky Long retired. The Aztecs have to come to Mackay Stadium this fall. This is the Wolf Pack’s year. The Pack is the team to beat in the West.

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UNLV, by the way, was picked to finish last in the West Division. See, there is good news even during a pandemic. The Rebels have not had many problems beating the Wolf Pack in recent years, winning four of the last seven Fremont Cannon games. But winning a symbolic cannon doesn’t keep you from getting fired. The Rebels this year will have their third head coach (Marcus Arroyo) in the last seven seasons. UNLV is where the careers of head coaches go to die. The last Rebel head coach to leave the school with a winning record was Tony Knap, who was 47-20-2 from 1976-81.

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Is the Pack’s Jay Norvell now the best coach in the West Division? Now that Jeff Tedford (Fresno State), Nick Rolovich (Hawaii) and Rocky Long (San Diego State) are gone, it is quite possible that Norvell is the best in the West. At worst, he is the second best right now behind Hoke, who has won 78 games over 12 seasons, including a 31-20 record at Michigan. The rest of the division filled with new faces (Fresno’s Kalen DeBoer, Hawaii’s Todd Graham, UNLV’s Arroyo) and a face that might be gone soon (San Jose State’s Brent Brennan has a career record of 8-29).

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The Wolf Pack didn’t get a whole lot of respect on the Mountain West’s Pre-Season All-League team. Just defensive lineman Dom Peterson and placekicker Brandon Talton were picked off the Pack roster. Peterson is an obvious choice because he just might be the best football player in the conference. But Talton’s selection was noteworthy because there are a ton of quality Mountain West kickers returning in 2020, namely San Jose State’s Matt Mercurio, San Diego State’s Matt Araiza, Fresno State’s Cesar Silva, UNLV’s Dan Gutierrez and New Mexico’s Andrew Shelley.

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Talton had a wonderful freshman season, scoring 90 points on 21 field goals and 27 extra points. He was just 27-of-29 on extra points so he would have been a lock for 100 or more points had the Pack offense not curled up in the fetal position when it got close to the end zone for much of the season. Talton’s 21 field goals last year are tied for the third most in a Pack season with Kevin McKelvie (1990) and Tony Zendejas (1981). Projecting Talton’s freshman season over four years the 5-foot-9 kicker from Vacaville, Calif., will leave Nevada after the 2022 season with the most career field goals. Marty Zendejas currently owns the Pack record with 72 field goals from 1984-87. Talton also has a good chance at Zendejas’ career scoring record of 385 points. Expect Talton’s field goals to go down a bit and his extra points to drastically rise as the Pack offense becomes more efficient this year.

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Three other Pack players who are certainly worthy of All-Mountain West consideration are quarterback Carson Strong and wide receivers Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs. Boise State’s Hank Bachmeier was named the Pre-season All Mountain West quarterback because, well, he is the Boise State quarterback. Strong was 237-of-374 in 10 games last season as a freshman with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Bachmeier, also a freshman last year, was 137-of-219 for 1,879 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions in eight games. He missed more than half of the season because of an injury. Strong missed three games because his head coach lost touch with reality for a month at mid-season. Cooks and Doubs, who just might be the best wide receiver duo on the west coast, were not one of the three wide receivers named to the Mountain West team. That honor went to San Jose State’s Tre Walker, Boise’s Khalil Shakir and Colorado State’s Warren Jackson. Doubs missed too much time because of nagging injuries last year and is ready for his breakout season in 2020. But Cooks had 76 catches last year for 926 yards and eight touchdowns. Shakir, for example, was just 63-872-6. Walker caught just two touchdowns on a team that basically had to throw on every down.

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Why, exactly, did the Los Angeles Dodgers find it necessary to give Mookie Betts $365 million through the 2032 season right now? Major League Baseball teams are going to lose a ton of money this season. It’s hard to sell $10 beers, after all, when the stands are filled with cardboard cutouts of fake fans. The only other franchise who would have likely had $365 million to throw around this coming off-season is the New York Yankees. But the Yankees just gave Gerrit Cole $324 million. Boston might have made a run at Betts but Betts already turned down over $300 million from the Red Sox. Why commit to any player for more than $300 million through the 2032 season now? Who’s to say there will even be a 162-game season next year? Or the year after? And will fans be allowed in the stadiums again?

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Betts is a wonderfully talented player. But he’s just 5-foot-9 and teams already don’t want him to play center field. He also hit just 29 homers, drove in 80 runs and hit .295 last year in a year when the league used a super ball. Also, is he another Matt Kemp? Probably not. But Kemp, through his age 28 season, had 3,265 at bats, 151 homers, 528 RBI, 153 steals and hit .295. He hasn’t been the same since. Betts, who will be 28 when this season ends, has 3,203 at-bats, 139 homers, 470 RBI and 126 steals on a .301 average. It seems like Betts is just the Dodgers’ answer to Mike Trout, who is just down the freeway playing for the Angels.