Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack must beat Portland State | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack must beat Portland State

Joe Santoro

The Portland State Vikings will come to Mackay Stadium on Aug. 31 to open the Nevada Wolf Pack's football season in what will be nothing more than a glorified pep rally. The Vikings of the Big Sky Conference were 0-11 last year, have gone 3-19 over the last two seasons and have lost 13 games in a row. Inviting the Vikings to your stadium to open your season is sort of like inviting your cousin's pig to your neighborhood luau. The Wolf Pack is playing the game because the coaching staff and team needs a confidence boost after a 3-9 season and the NCAA, for some reason, won't allow a victory in yet another Silver and Blue scrimmage to count toward bowl eligibility. Portland State is playing the game because, we presume, the coaches' wives refused to make 200 dozen muffins and cookies for a bake sale to help support the athletic department. Wolf Pack 49, Portland State 14.

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A loss to the Vikings would qualify as the ugliest loss in Wolf Pack football history. Yes, it would be even uglier than the still unbelievable 30-28 loss to Idaho State last season at Mackay Stadium. Idaho State, don't forget, was 4-18 in 2015 and 2016 combined. But we're assuming the Wolf Pack coaching staff and roster have matured greatly since that eye-opening loss to Idaho State. We will assume head coach Jay Norvell won't go out and find a wet-behind-the-ears freshman quarterback to start against Portland State like he did against Idaho State. And we will assume that, well, Wolf Pack football hasn't turned into San Jose State football. Idaho State, by the way, crushed Portland State 59-30 last year.

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The Wolf Pack football schedule this season is sprinkled with games that, seemingly, it can't lose. Portland State is just the first. But a quick glance at the Wolf Pack 2018 Revival Tour also shows Oregon State (1-11 last year, with their only victory coming against, you guessed it, Portland State), San Jose State (2-11) and Hawaii (3-9). That's four wins right there, a one-victory improvement over 2017 that just might get Norvell a six-year contract extension. But the Pack also plays UNLV (5-7), Air Force (5-7) and Vanderbilt (5-7). No sleepless nights the week heading into those games for the Pack. The Pack plays just one team on the road (Toledo) that had a winning record last year. This is the type of season that can turn a program around.

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Athlon Sports predicts the Wolf Pack will finish 5-7 overall and 4-4 in the Mountain West. That is a safe, understandable, predictable prediction for a team that went 3-9 a year ago. And, to be sure, national magazines almost always go the safe, understandable, predictable route when it comes to preseason prognostications. So we'll go the other way. This Pack team should finish no worse than 7-5 overall. We might be looking at an 8-4 or 9-3 record if the offense is as good as it appears it might be. The Wolf Pack might even win its division in the Mountain West and go 6-2 or 7-1 in league games. The offense is going to be that good. And, don't forget, this overly optimistic prediction is coming before the thrilling 35-point victory over Portland State.

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Boise State, as usual, is being predicted by all of the college football experts in the media to be the unquestioned top team in the Mountain West. Athlon is saying the Broncos could be the best Group of Five team in the nation. Boise is currently ranked No. 22 in both the Associated Press and Coaches' rankings. Is Boise State really that good or are the Broncos being overhyped once again? It's probably a little of both. The Broncos offense, led by quarterback Brett Rypien, is frighteningly good. But the Broncos' defense isn't anywhere near as good as it was a decade or so ago. The Broncos' claim as the best Group of Five team in the nation might come down to its game at Oklahoma State on Sept 15. A Boise win that day — followed up by wins over San Diego State and Nevada on Oct. 6 and 13 — could put the Broncos on a path to a major bowl game.

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Boise State's game at Oklahoma State is one opportunity for Mountain West football to generate some exposure and buzz this season. But there are other opportunities for some other schools in the conference to get noticed this season. The Wolf Pack heads to Vanderbilt, UNLV goes to USC, Fresno State plays at UCLA and Minnesota, San Jose State plays at Oregon, Wyoming plays at Missouri, Colorado State goes to Florida, New Mexico heads to Wisconsin and San Diego State plays at Stanford and Arizona State. The Mountain West will never get any national respect until it starts to win these sort of games on a consistent basis. And this could be the year. The conference has a legitimate chance to win about half of these games (including Nevada at Vanderbilt). It's not that Mountain West football is getting better. It's that college football across the nation is getting more watered down year after year. Group of Five teams just have to know which teams from Power Five conferences are safe to play. Boise State has always known how to do that. And it looks like other Mountain West teams are finally figuring it out, too.

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The recent Ohio State football scandal has taught us once again coaches will lie until they get caught and then they will lie about the lie. It should not surprise anyone. It happens all the time. College athletic departments have sold to those coaches that help them pay their bills. Ohio State should be ashamed for giving Urban Meyer just a slap-on-the-wrist three-game suspension. Meyer, at the very least, should have been suspended for the entire season. Domestic violence against women is that serious. This wasn't simply players selling memorabilia so they can afford to buy video games and cell phones. Ohio State had an opportunity to teach its players and coaches, as well as every student in the university, a serious and important lesson. It chose instead to protect its precious football program by handing out a meaningless penalty on a pampered coach.