Nevada-Boise: Ault: This is the game of the year, not century | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada-Boise: Ault: This is the game of the year, not century

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

Chris Ault tried to downplay the meaning of Friday night’s Western Athletic Conference Game of the Century ESPN Instant Classic Showdown Extravaganza with the Boise State Broncos at Mackay Stadium.

“There’s a lot on the line but there was a lot on the line last year in this game,” the Nevada Wolf Pack head coach told northern Nevada’s media earlier this week.

Game of the Century? It’s only the game of the season, Ault said.

“There’s been a lot on the line the last three years when we’ve played them,” Ault said.

Of course, nobody believed him. Ault, it turns out, didn’t really believe himself.

“No question, it would be the biggest win in school history without question,” Ault told a national television audience on ESPN on Wednesday.

So there you have it. It’s official. A victory over Boise State would be big for the Biggest Little Football Team in the World.

“Boise is the team to beat,” said quarterback Colin Kaepernick, referring to the actual Biggest Little Football Team in the World. “They are the powerhouse in the conference. Now it’s our turn to try to knock them off.”

Make no mistake, the Wolf Pack has had a lot of meaningful “biggest win in school history” moments. And many of them have come in the last two decades: Boise State in 1990, Ball State in 1996, BYU in 2002, Washington in 2003, Fresno State in 1994, 1998 and 2005, California just two months ago.

All great. All worthy of savoring and using as bed-time story fodder for your grandchildren.

But none of them changed Wolf Pack football forever. Instant classics? More like instant coffee. The buzz the Pack received from those victories only lasted until lunchtime.

Friday night, though, the good feeling could last a little longer.

“It’s definitely the biggest game of my career,” Kaepernick said. “It’s the last home game. It’s Senior Night. A WAC championship on the line. It’s everything in one game.”

Everything, indeed. This, Pack fans, is your Bowl Championship Series bowl game.

“It’s the game we’ve been waiting for,” senior running back Vai Taua said. “Boise is definitely one of the best teams in the country. They have great players at every position. This is something we’ve been striving for.”

A total of 10 Pack teams in a row over a dozen years have entered Boise Week with wide eyes, huge expectations, champagne wishes and caviar dreams and gone home with their wolf tails between their legs. Friday night is about ending that pain.

It’s also about what it means and what it doesn’t mean.

A win on Friday means the Pack can still win a share of the WAC title. Conference titles are nice. In this day and age of non-qualifiers and automatic qualifiers, a conference title is really the only meaningful title most teams can win.

A win over Boise State, though, doesn’t mean that the Pack has earned the right to replace Boise State as the BCS darlings. This isn’t a heavyweight championship fight where the winner gets to take home the belt. If Boise loses, they’ll give their BCS belt to TCU and not Nevada, even though it will be the Pack who delivers the knockout punch.

So, no, if the Pack wins Friday the heavens won’t open up, a magical rainbow won’t shoot across the night sky over Mackay, angels won’t start singing and representatives from the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl won’t secretly huddle with Pack athletic director Cary Groth.

That’s not how college football works.

How it works is you have to pay your dues. Boise State has already paid its dues. They’ve had unbeaten seasons. They’ve been to BCS bowl games and won. And they keep doing it.

The Pack loses to New Mexico State one year and Hawaii the next. The Pack loses at Notre Dame, Nebraska, Arizona State, Texas Tech and Missouri. The Pack loses its bowl game. The Pack loses to Boise every year.

So, sorry, the Pack will not be Boise by Saturday morning.

And that’s fine. That’s reality. Beating Boise is simply just another due the Pack has yet to pay. The bowl game this year will be another. You can’t pay all of your dues with one simple knockout punch on a magical Friday night. The government is not going to give the Pack a giant bailout package on Friday to pay all of its debts. The Pack must pay its dues one at a time out of their own bank account.

And Friday is the biggest check they must write.

The challenge facing the Pack is that the difference between the Wolf Pack and Boise State, in the eyes of the nation, is vast. That thinking is not right and it isn’t fair. But it exists. And it even exists in Nevada where Boise State is a two-touchdown favorite this Friday in the sports books just a couple blocks away from Mackay Stadium.

Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee even came out as recently as Wednesday and said Boise State doesn’t deserve a shot at a national title because it only plays the Little Sisters of the Poor. It wasn’t so much a criticism of Boise as it was a slap at the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“That’s just someone who doesn’t really understand college football,” Ault, a coach of one of those Little Sisters of the Poor teams, told ESPN.

We know Ault is right. Pack fans know he’s right. And Boise knows he’s right. The problem is that nobody else knows that Ault is right. College football, after all, is made up of a bunch of people (university presidents, athletic directors, TV executives, bowl game presidents) that don’t know a thing about college football. And they make all of the important decisions.

That’s why we have the BCS and that’s what schools like the Wolf Pack have to overcome. And the only way to overcome it is to go out and pay your dues by beating the teams that all those decision-making fools respect.

Boise State is one of those teams.

The Broncos are in the exclusive BCS Big Boys Fight Club. They might not be a member two or three years from now. Kellen Moore can’t play college football forever, right? But Boise is in that club now. And that’s all that matters on Friday night as far as the Wolf Pack is concerned.

But it won’t be easy. Boise State, make no mistake, is a truly great team. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the prize for beating Boise State will never be greater than it will be on Friday night.

The Pack can educate a lot of fools (listening, Mr. Gee?) on Friday night by beating Boise.

That’s what Friday night means most of all to the Pack. They can start to legitimately begin the process of replacing (or joining) Boise as the darlings of the BCS.

Right now all they can do is talk about it.

But, right now, is also the time to stop talking about it.

The first rule of the Big Boys BCS Fight Club, after all, is that you don’t talk about Big Boys BCS Fight Club. You simply go out and beat up one of the current members.

The Pack has been talking about beating Boise for a dozen years. What has that gotten them? Well, 10 losses in a row to Boise, invites to the New Mexico Bowl and, as we saw last Saturday, 20,000 or so empty seats at Mackay Stadium.

It’s time to shut up and go out and win a game with the entire nation watching.

It’s time for the Pack to go out and change the course of their entire football program.

And, you know what? The heavens just might open up after all.