Joe Santoro: Take the Nevada Wolf Pack and bet the over | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Take the Nevada Wolf Pack and bet the over

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

The last time the Nevada Wolf Pack football team ventured into Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., it brought the entire program crashing back to reality. The Pack, coming off a 13-1 season when it finished ranked No. 11 (Associated Press) in the nation in 2010, lost to the Oregon Ducks 69-20 on Sept. 10, 2011. It looked like the Ducks had 11 Colin Kaepernicks on the field at once on offense. Well, Wolf Pack fans, forget that ugly afternoon in beautiful tree-lined Eugene. That is not going to happen again this Saturday at Autzen. Oregon won’t have the bolt of lightnings named LaMichael James, De’Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner and Darron Thomas on offense. The Ducks won’t have Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso on defense. Chip Kelly isn’t coaching the Ducks anymore. The Wolf Pack had the unfortunate luck to catch one of college football’s greatest dynasties (80-14 from 2008-14 with two national championship game appearances) in its prime back in 2011. Kelly was 46-7 from 2009-12 at Oregon. Those days are over at Eugene. Nike University has lost at least four games in each of the last four years and is now 0-1. Nobody is scoring 69 points on Saturday in Eugene.

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That 2011 game, though, was also not as one-sided as it might look at first glance. The Wolf Pack had more first downs (26-25) and controlled the ball for over 38 minutes. Oregon only out-gained the Pack 603-516 overall. The Wolf Pack, which was gutted by the loss of 17 seniors (a half dozen or so that will be in the Nevada Hall of Fame eventually) off the 2010 team, also gained more yards on the ground (283-272). The Pistol, don’t forget, was arguably one of the best running offenses in the history of college football. The Pack also started a career backup quarterback (senior Tyler Lantrip) that day in 2011. And Lantrip was running an offense (the Pistol) that he had no business running at the D-1A level. The Pack will have freshman sensation Carson Strong at quarterback this weekend and he will be running an offense (the Air Raid) that he appears born to run, if his 30 completions, 295 yards and three touchdowns against Purdue last Friday are any indication. Autzen is also not as scary as the national media wants you to believe. The first time the Pack went to Autzen (which was built in 1967), it played well before losing 44-30 and lost just 31-23 in Eugene in 2003. The point of all this history? Take the Pack and the 24 points on Saturday and bet the over (61).

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Eugene is also the site of one of the Pack’s greatest wins in school history. The first time the Wolf Pack and Ducks met was in 1947 at Eugene’s Hayward Field. The Wolf Pack, which traveled to Eugene in three small planes in 1947, beat the Ducks and quarterback Norm Van Brocklin 13-6 in the Pacific Northwest rain. Duke Lindeman returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown in front of a disappointed Duck crowd of 10,000. The Pack used two quarterbacks, Stan Heath and Mike Mirabelli, in the victory. Oregon turned the ball over 10 times (six fumbles, four interceptions). Oregon’s coach that day was former Wolf Pack coach Jim Aiken (1939-46). The next day the Eugene Register Guard newspaper had a headline of “Them Gridders From Reno Get Revenge.” The story started, “A rough and tough group of gridders from Reno, divorced at the end of last season by Jim Aiken, trekked into Eugene Saturday and collected their alimony.” By the way, the Ducks will feature two former Wolf Pack assistant coaches (Jim Mastro and Ken Wilson) on Saturday. It might be time to collect some alimony once again.

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There is an eerie (and frightening, for Pack fans) set of coincidences between the Pack’s 2011 meeting with Oregon and this Saturday’s rematch. Oregon lost to an SEC team (LSU) in 2011 at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium in Arlington, Texas to open the year. The Ducks lost to an SEC team (Auburn) last week at the Cowboys’ new stadium in Arlington. The Pack game was the Ducks’ second game of the season in 2011 and its home opener. The same situation exists on Saturday. The Ducks will be 0-1 at the start of Saturday’s game. The last time Oregon started a year 0-1? Yes, of course, 2011.

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The Pac-12 also doesn’t dominate the Mountain West in football as much as you might expect. Yes, the Pac-12 has a decided edge over the Mountain West since the Mountain West was created in 1999, winning 111 of 165 games. But the Mountain West has won five of its last eight games against the Pac-12, including a 45-38 win by Hawaii over Arizona on Aug. 24. That Hawaii victory gave the Mountain West a string of five wins in six games against the Pac-12 (since broken by USC’s win over Fresno State and Colorado’s win over Colorado State last weekend). The Wolf Pack is a respectable 3-5 against the Pac-12 since it joined the Mountain West in 2012 (beating Cal, Washington State, Oregon State) and 5-8 since it beat Washington in 2003.

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The Mountain West took a huge step toward national respectability last week with three victories over Power Five teams. Nevada beat Purdue, Boise State beat Florida State and Wyoming beat Missouri. The Mountain West is 4-3 against Power Five teams this year. That solid start, though, might be forgotten by this time next month. This weekend Nevada goes to Oregon, San Diego State goes to UCLA, Minnesota goes to Fresno State and Oregon State goes to Hawaii. Next weekend is even more frightening for the Mountain West with Hawaii at Washington, Air Force at Colorado, New Mexico at Notre Dame, Colorado State at Arkansas and UNLV at Northwestern. Utah State is also at LSU on Oct. 5. If the Mountain West wins four of the above 10 games, it should hold a parade.

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No matter what happens Saturday in Eugene, the Wolf Pack is quite possibly looking at its best start to a season since it began 6-1 in 2012. After facing Oregon, the Pack meets Weber State, Hawaii and San Jose State at home and UTEP on the road. The Pack, which beat Purdue last week despite being a 10-point underdog, could very well be favored in all four of those games and could be 5-1 heading into a tough game at Utah State in Week 7. The Pack, though, then meets Wyoming, New Mexico and San Diego State, three teams it can certainly beat. How does an 8-2 start sound?