Joe Santoro: Pack football wins on field, not in stands | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Pack football wins on field, not in stands

Joe Santoro

Head coach Jay Norvell, it seems, is fixing the Nevada Wolf Pack's football team on the field. Now it's time for the Wolf Pack athletic department to fix the program in the Mackay Stadium stands. The Wolf Pack averaged just 17,181 fans for each of its six home games this year. It's the third consecutive season under 20,000. And this year it can't blame the schedule, which the university itself billed as the best and most attractive in school history. The home opening crowd of 17,525 for Portland State was the Pack's smallest for a home opener since 2010. The 20,462 for Oregon State was the lowest for a Pac-12 opponent since 2005. The 15,367 for Fresno State was the lowest for a Bulldogs' game in Reno since 2011. Boise State drew just 21,431, its worst showing at Mackay since 2002. The 14,545 who saw San Diego State was the fewest for an Aztecs game since 1945 in Reno and the 13,755 for Colorado State is the lowest ever for a Rams game in Reno.

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If the team is fun to watch (it is) and the team is winning (it is) and the opponents are attractive (they were) then what's the problem? Well, that's a long list. Beating Boise State or Fresno State this year likely would have helped dramatically. After those two losses Northern Nevada simply stopped coming to the games (28,300 combined for San Diego State and Colorado State). But four consecutive 7:30 starts also didn't help, coupled with the fact you can stay home and watch the game on TV or the internet. Ticket prices also aren't conducive to entire families going to the game. Men's basketball is dominating the university and the community right now. It's almost as if Northern Nevada forgot there was a football season this year.

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The Wolf Pack missed a great opportunity to sell about 30,000 tickets to one basketball game this month. The Pack should have played one of the men's basketball exhibitions outdoors (in the warmth of the daytime, of course) at Mackay Stadium. It would have made Wolf Pack history (and a lot of dollars) and given the program even more national publicity. You know Eric Musselman, the P.T. Barnum of college basketball, would have been all for it. North Carolina played Michigan State on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in San Diego in 2011. This is not as crazy as it may seem. It's been done before. Syracuse and San Diego State did it on a boat in 2012 and the University of San Diego (Muss' alma mater) met San Diego State at Petco Park in 2015. The NBA played four outdoor games (one in Puerto Rico in 1972 and three in California from 2008-11).

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There are just five college basketball teams in the entire nation that are better than the Nevada Wolf Pack according to the Associated Press voters. The Wolf Pack, at No. 6, is closer to a No. 1 ranking than it has ever been in school history. But it's a slippery slope for the Pack. The five teams ahead of them (Duke, Kansas, Gonzaga, Virginia and Tennessee) in the rankings and a couple right below them (North Carolina, Villanova) all can lose a game or two now and then and maintain a Top 10 ranking. The Pack, though, has to be perfect to stay in the land of college basketball's giants. The good news is the Wolf Pack's schedule, while mildly challenging, is manageable. Musselman, in addition to being a brilliant recruiter and coach, is also a master schedule maker. The Pack could very well be 13-0 going into the Mountain West season. If that happens (it would mean victories over USC and Arizona State in Los Angeles and wins at Loyola-Chicago and Utah) the Pack could be at No. 1 by New Year's Day.

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Norvell said this week that Mountain West football "is comparable to a lot of Power Five leagues as far as coaching and talent." OK, we get it. The Pack is winning and Norvell just wants to put an even brighter shine on his team's and his own accomplishments this year. But he needs to stop it. This just might be the worst season of Mountain West football in the 20-year history of the mediocre conference. This is the worst Boise State team since the late 1990s. San Diego State is dreadful. The Aztecs just lost to a pitiful UNLV team. Fresno State is playing well but all it's really done is beat up on mediocre-to-bad teams. It lost to a mediocre Minnesota team earlier this year. Utah State might be the best team in the conference but the Aggies' schedule is so weak, we can't really know for sure. They've only played one respectable team so far (Michigan State, a mediocre Big Ten team) and lost. The Pack is getting better but that's what playing a dreadful San Diego State team and an awful Hawaii and Colorado State team will do for you. The rest of the Mountain West (San Jose State, Colorado State, UNLV, Hawaii, Wyoming, New Mexico and Air Force) wouldn't win five league games combined in a Power Five league.

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Ty Gangi just might be the best first-half quarterback in the country. The second half, well, not so much. Gangi has thrown 16 touchdowns and has been intercepted just three times while passing for 1,448 yards in the first half this season. In the second half he has passed for 1,074 yards with just four touchdowns and four interceptions. Gangi has yet to throw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter this year. During his Wolf Pack career he has passed for 3,584 yards and 35 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in the first half and in the second half he has passed for 2,985 yards and 18 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. All of these numbers will likely follow this same pattern the next two weeks as the Pack likely jumps out to huge early leads against San Jose State and UNLV.

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Caleb Martin of the Pack men's basketball team has yet to score a single point in the first half this season (two games). Don't worry. Martin leads the team in scoring with 43 total points (21.5 a game) so he hasn't forgotten how to put the ball in the hole. Musselman explains it by just saying Martin wants to get his teammates involved and was being unselfish. Well, OK. Nobody, though, mentions Martin has been extremely selfish in the second half of both games. In two games he has taken just nine shots (and missed them all) in the first half and hasn't been aggressive enough to get to the free throw line even once. In the second half he has taken a team-high 19 shots (making 10) and has bulled his way to the free throw line for 17 attempts (making 15). Musselman also doesn't dare take Martin out of the game in the second half, playing him 40-of-40 minutes in the two games after using him for just 21 total minutes in the two games in the first half. When your best player wants his points, after all, you let him go get them. Don't expect Martin to do this once the schedule toughens up. But that isn't a concern now. The next two games, against Little Rock on Friday and Cal Baptist on Monday at Lawlor Events Center, Martin can sit out the first 30 minutes and then go get his 20-plus points in the final 10.