Joe Santoro: With Pack football, Nevada Day could be something to celebrate | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: With Pack football, Nevada Day could be something to celebrate

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

The Nevada Wolf Pack football team this season could be looking at one of its biggest one-year improvements in the program's history. Since 1919, the biggest jump in victories in successive Wolf Pack seasons is six between 1989 (seven wins) and 1990 (13). Just three other Pack teams (2010, 1976, 1965) improved by as many as five wins from the previous season. Last year's Wolf Pack won just three games, making an improvement of five or six victories this year entirely possible. Anything less than a three-win improvement and a bowl berth will be incredibly disappointing. This team, though, could have six wins by Nevada Day.

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There's much to be excited about concerning the Wolf Pack football program this season. The quarterback (Ty Gangi) is now a senior, the head coach (Jay Norvell) is no longer a rookie and everybody now knows the offense and the defense. There's a deep group of talented and experienced seniors led by Gangi, Malik Reed, Asauni Rufus, Dameon Baber, Andrew Celis, Korey Rush and Sean Krepsz. Running back Kelton Moore and wide receiver Brendan O'Leary-Orange had breakout seasons a year ago and are now juniors. And a trio of explosive freshmen a year ago (McLane Mannix, Nephi Sewell and Daiyan Henley) are now experienced sophomores.

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The biggest Wolf Pack improvement, though, will come from the coaching staff. The first season for Norvell and his eclectic staff last year was one giant learning experience. The season was marked early on by questionable play calling and surprising roster decisions. The low point was when Norvell named a wet-behind-the-ears freshman (Kaymen Cureton) to start at quarterback in Week 3 and 4 over Gangi and a former top recruit (David Cornwell) who was at Alabama for three seasons. Once the quarterback situation settled down, so did Norvell and his staff. But it was a rough year for the Pack coaches. It's likely not a coincidence Norvell's only three victories came against three of the more inexperienced head coaches in the Mountain West (Hawaii's Nick Rolovich, San Jose State's Brent Brennan and UNLV's Tony Sanchez). He needs to start beating the more successful coaches starting this year.

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Who's the best football coach in the Mountain West? That conversation has to start with San Diego State's Rocky Long and also include Boise State's Bryan Harsin, Fresno State's Jeff Tedford, Air Force's Troy Calhoun, Colorado State's Mike Bobo, Wyoming's Craig Bohl and Mew Mexico's Bob Davie. But it's difficult to argue against Long as the best in the conference. Long has gone 64-29 in seven seasons with the Aztecs with seven winning records, seven bowl appearances and four first-place division finishes. He's also gone 32-9 over the last three years. Everybody knows what Long's Aztecs are going to do. The Aztecs will run the ball down your throat and play fast, aggressive defense. Beating them, though, is another matter.

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That leaves Norvell, Rolovich, Sanchez, Brennan and Utah State's Matt Wells right now looking up at the other coaches in the Mountain West. Norvell (3-9 record) and Brennan (2-11) have just one year as a head coach and are still on their honeymoon. Sanchez is just 12-24 in three seasons but he's improved from three to four to five victories and seems to have the support of the fan base for some reason. Rolovich is 10-16 in two seasons but won seven games and went to a bowl in his first year. Wells is 34-32 in five seasons but just 15-23 over the last three. He's likely the only Mountain West coach who needs to show improvement to avoid being placed on the hot seat by the end of this season. Norvell, Brennan, Rolovich and Sanchez are still two or three years away from that hot seat.

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You won't find it on any census list of Nevada cities but Musselman, Nevada continues to grow and prosper. The royal family in Northern Nevada grew by one this week when Michael Musselman, the son of king Eric, was named as a graduate assistant coach for the Wolf Pack men's basketball team. A year from now expect a similar announcement Matthew Musselman is joining the program as a 5-foot-9 walk-on guard. Wife Danyelle is, of course, already First Lady and grade school daughter Mariah has usurped Alphie, Wolfie Jr. and Luna as the unofficial team mascot. But don't forget the 14 players still on scholarship, the six walk-ons (somebody has to carry the equipment into the arena on the road), the three other grad assistant coaches, the director of basketball operations, the video coordinator and the director of player development. When Lawlor Events Center is filled it immediately becomes the 11th biggest city in the state and is closing in on Mesquite and Boulder City to jump into the Top 10. Musselman's Pack (players, coaches, staff, loyal servants, etc.) alone is now bigger than some Nevada high schools.

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If you think Johnny Manziel's NFL career is over, well, think again. Manziel is now simply getting a crash course on how to grow up mentally and physically in the Canadian Football League. June Jones, Manziel's current coach with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, says Manziel should be in the NFL and will no doubt be back in the league in two seasons when his CFL contract runs out. If Manziel keeps his nose and his arrest record clean, he will get another NFL chance. Going from the CFL to the NFL is a proven process in professional football. It worked for Doug Flutie, Warren Moon, Joe Kapp, Jeff Garcia, Joe Theismann and others.

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Forget Thursday night's NBA draft. That's just the opening act of this NBA off-season. The real fun starts when free agents start moving from team to team. This year's free agent class includes the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Jabari Parker, Clint Capela, Chris Paul, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Julius Randle and DeAndre Jordan. Put all those guys on the same team — on an expansion team in Las Vegas, for example — and it would win the 2019 NBA title. That's what the NBA has become. The recently completed regular season and playoffs were one of the most boring and predictable in league history. The interesting part of the season is now the draft and the free agent signings.