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Nevada’s final regular season opponents: SJSU and the tiebreaker

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
San Jose State offensive lineman Jaime Navarro (54) holds up wide receiver Isaiah Holiness (1) after Holiness made a touchdown against Hawaii in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

A confusing and baffling Mountain West football season just might end on a frustrating note for the Nevada Wolf Pack.

The Wolf Pack (6-1) could beat the San Jose State Spartans (5-0) this Friday night (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network) in Las Vegas, finishing with the most victories in the conference, and still not qualify for the Dec. 19 Mountain West championship game.

How’s that for baffling?



“If you can figure it out, give me a call,” Pack head coach Jay Norvell said this week. “To be honest, I don’t even care to address it. The system is far from perfect.”

The Wolf Pack, Spartans and Boise State (4-0 in league play) are the only remaining teams in Mountain West title game consideration heading into the final weekend of the regular season.



The season, therefore, comes down to three possible scenarios for the Wolf Pack. The first two need little explanation. The third one is why Norvell refused to address the Mountain West’s so-called system this week.

If the Pack loses to the Spartans, a team it has beaten 20-of-25 times since 1941, it is out of the Mountain West title game picture, no matter what Boise State does at Wyoming on Saturday.

If the Pack beats the Spartans and Boise State wins at Wyoming, Nevada would face Boise State in the championship game. Boise State, at 5-0, would have the best record in league play while Nevada and San Jose State would be considered tied for second place with one loss. Nevada would win the tiebreaker over San Jose State because of its victory on Friday.

The third scenario is where the frustration sets in for the Wolf Pack. If Nevada beats San Jose State and Wyoming beats Boise State, the title game would be Boise State against San Jose State. Nevada would then be the only team among the top three that wins this weekend and still would not get to play in the title game. Boise State, consequently, is in the title game already, win or lose on Saturday.

How’s that for frustrating?

If Nevada beats San Jose State and Wyoming beats Boise State there would be a three-way tie for first among Nevada, Boise State and San Jose State. It would be considered a three-way tie because all three teams would have one loss. Winning percentage would be ignored, according to the Mountain West system, because all three teams would have played a different number of league games.

Also, since all three teams did not play each other and did not play all of the same league teams, the tiebreaker used to determine the two title game participants would be common opponents.

The only common opponent for Nevada, Boise State and San Jose State this year, unfortunately for the Wolf Pack, is Hawaii. The Pack would be eliminated from the title game in this scenario because Boise State and San Jose State beat Hawaii while the Pack lost at Hawaii.

How’s that for confusing?

“Right now our main focus is San Jose State and coming out with a win,” Wolf Pack running back Toa Taua said. “Whatever happens after that is out of our control.”

The 24-21 loss at Hawaii two weeks ago could end up haunting the Pack all offseason. But beating San Jose State is all the Wolf Pack is concerned with right now.

“All I know is that we’re getting the chance to play Friday night and finish this eight-game season out,” Norvell said.

The game at Sam Boyd Stadium on Friday will be the Pack’s eighth in the state of Nevada over its last 10 games, dating back to late last season. The only regular season game the Wolf Pack will play during this eight-game season outside of Nevada was the loss at Hawaii.

Friday’s game was originally scheduled to be played at San Jose State. The Spartans, which also moved their scheduled home game last week against Hawaii to Honolulu, are not allowed to play in Santa Clara County because of local COVID-19 restrictions. The Wolf Pack and Spartans briefly discussed moving this week’s game to Mackay Stadium but settled on Las Vegas because that is where the Spartans were already practicing this week.

“They were supposed to come to us (at San Jose) so this is fair because we were going to practice in Las Vegas anyway,” San Jose State coach Brent Brennan said. “These kids need some stability right now and this was the best way to get that.”

There will be 11 Mountain West games in the state of Nevada this year (four in Reno, seven in Las Vegas). After the Pack and Spartans meet on Friday, Sam Boyd Stadium will also host Fresno State and New Mexico on Saturday. Eight of the 12 Mountain West teams will have played at least one game in Nevada this year. Boise State would have been the ninth but its game at UNLV two weeks ago was canceled.

San Jose State had its games against Boise State and Fresno State canceled earlier this month but returned to the field to win at Hawaii last Saturday, 35-24.

“I didn’t want to go to Hawaii,” said Brennan of the last-minute site switch. “It’s been a real challenging process this year.”

The Wolf Pack and Hawaii are the only Mountain West teams that have yet to cancel a game this season.

“We were really looking forward this season to finishing up our season with two (home games),” said Brennan of the Hawaii and Nevada games. “But we’ve just got to do the best we can. It’s the only way to look at it. What other choice do we have?”

San Jose State is 5-0 for the first time since 1939. The Wolf Pack, which won the Western Athletic Conference in 2010, is hoping for its first Mountain West title since joining the conference in 2012.

“It’s nice we’ve won so many games so far this season,” Brennan said. “But nobody cares what we did (in the past). All that matters is what we do Friday night. All that matters is this game. That’s how it’s been all year.”

The Wolf Pack beat San Jose State 41-38 last year at Mackay Stadium on a 40-yard field goal by Brandon Talton as time expired. The Pack, with starting quarterback Malik Henry throwing for 352 yards and a 75-yard touchdown to Romeo Doubs on the first play of the second half, led 31-10 at one point only to see the Spartans tie the game at 38-38. San Jose State quarterback Josh Love scorched the Pack for 405 yards and three touchdowns.

Both Love and Henry are gone, replaced by Nevada’s Carson Strong and San Jose State’s Nick Starkel. Starkel is 86-of-130 for 1,147 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in a little more than four games. Strong is 194-of-279 for 2,327 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions in seven games.

Strong and Starkel have some of the best receivers in the Mountain West. Nevada’s Romeo Doubs has 44 catches for 885 yards and nine touchdowns, Cole Turner has 40 catches for 496 yards and six touchdowns while five of Tory Horton’s 12 catches have ended up in the end zone. San Jose State’s Bailey Gaither has 29 catches for 471 yards and four touchdowns while Tre Walker has caught 24 for 329 yards and three touchdowns. Both Gaither and Walker scored touchdowns against Nevada last year.

“They have good players at every position,” Brennan said of the Pack. “They have so many weapons and some of the premier playmakers in the conference. Their wide receivers make explosive plays down the field.”

Norvell and Brennan were hired at their current schools before the 2017 season. Norvell is now 24-21 as Pack coach and has won nine of his last 12 games. Brennan is just 13-29 but has won his last six after going 3-22 over his first two seasons. Norvell beat Brennan 59-14 in 2017 in Reno, 21-12 in 2018 at San Jose before winning by three last year at Mackay.

“They’ve gotten better every year,” Norvell said. “Good things happen when you work with the same kids and develop them over time. They get better and improve and San Jose is a great example of that.”