Opening games will be tough on Nevada Wolf Pack football, says Joe Santoro | NevadaAppeal.com

Opening games will be tough on Nevada Wolf Pack football, says Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada coach Jay Norvell celebrates with his team after beating San Diego State, 28-24, in Reno on Oct. 27, 2018. The game against San Diego State will be one of the keys to determining the Pack's success in 2019.
Tom R. Smedes/AP | FR171463 AP

The Nevada Wolf Pack football team isn’t exactly going to ease into its 2019 schedule. For just the second time in program history, the Pack will open the season against two Power Five teams. The season begins against Purdue at home on Aug. 30 and continues against Oregon on the road on Sept. 7. The only other time the Pack opened with two Power Fives was 2007 when it lost to Nebraska (52-10) and Northwestern (36-31) on the road. This is a great way to open a Wolf Pack football season. Interest will be high for both games, the team will play in front of big crowds, coach Jay Norvell will be able to fully evaluate his team right away against quality opponents and, yes, the Pack really has nothing to lose. An 0-2 start will do nothing to harm the Pack’s true goals this year of winning the Mountain West and going to another bowl game. But just think of what a 1-1 (Purdue is very beatable, especially in Reno) or 2-0 start will do. This is how all Wolf Pack football seasons should begin.

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After playing Purdue and Oregon to open the year the Wolf Pack schedule softens up dramatically over the next seven weeks. There’s no excuse for the Pack to be anything less than 4-2 after six games and we could be looking at a 7-2 or 6-3 start heading into the final three games. The Pack’s seven games after Purdue and Oregon are, in order, Weber State, UTEP, Hawaii, San Jose State, Utah State, Wyoming and New Mexico. Weber State (a Division I-AA school), Hawaii (8-6 last year), San Jose State (1-11 in 2018) and New Mexico (3-9 a year ago) are all at Mackay Stadium and should produce four Pack wins. The road games during that stretch are UTEP (1-11 a year ago), Wyoming (6-6 last year) and Utah State (11-2). The Pack’s season, therefore, will be made or broken in the final three games, at San Diego State and Fresno State and against UNLV at home.

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Chalk up another important milestone for the Reno Aces franchise. Ketel Marte of the Arizona Diamondbacks will become the first former Reno Aces player next week in Cleveland to start in the Major League All Star game. The Aces, which played their first season in Reno in 2009, have sent numerous players to the All Star game in the past, starting with pitchers Ryan Cook and Wade Miley in 2012. Marte, though, is the first former Aces player to win the fan voting and start the game. Marte spent the first three months of the 2017 season in Reno, hitting .338 with six homers and 41 RBI in 70 games. In two short seasons he has transformed himself into the best second baseman in the National League.

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The sudden death of former Aces pitcher Tyler Skaggs this week shocked all of major league and minor league baseball. The 27-year-old Skaggs was 10-12 for the Aces over 28 appearances in the 2012 and 2013 seasons combined. He is the second former Aces player to die tragically during his active playing career. Former Aces third baseman Andy Marte, who hit 19 homers with 80 RBI for Reno in 2014, died in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic in January 2017. Both Marte and Skaggs gave Aces fans plenty of memorable performances. Marte hit a pair of homers against El Paso on June 8, 2014 and was 4-for-6 with two homers and eight RBI in back-to-back games against Tacoma on May 8-9, 2014. Skaggs beat Matt Shoemaker and Salt Lake City with seven shutout innings on July 13, 2012, struck out 10 and allowed just one run against Sacramento on July 29, 2012 and he fanned nine and allowed just two hits and no runs in seven innings while beating Jake Odorizzi and Omaha on Aug. 3, 2012. Skaggs also fanned 13 and didn’t allow a run on just four hits over eight innings against Sacramento on June 29, 2013. Skaggs was part of the best Aces team in history, the 2012 Triple-A champions. That Aces starting rotation in 2012 featured such future major leaguer stars as Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin and Skaggs as well as future major league outfielders A.J. Pollock and Adam Eaton. Bauer, Corbin and Pollock all went on to become major league All Stars. Skaggs was also on his path to an eventual All Star team.

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The addition of D’Angelo Russell to the Golden State Warriors is a bit confusing. Can Russell, a former high school teammate of former Wolf Pack forward Jordan Caroline, eventually co-exist on the floor with guards Steph Curry and Klay Thompson? Will he buy into the Warriors’ philosophy of sharing the ball? Whether it works or not, you have to admire the Warriors for the way they attacked this week’s free agency flurry. Instead of just sitting back and being content with five NBA Finals appearances in a row and allowing Kevin Durant to leave town without so much as a good-bye, the Warriors went out and added Russell and center Willie Cauley-Stein and just might be in the Finals again next June.

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Does anybody north of Bakersfield or east of Palm Springs want to see Kawhi Leonard team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles with the Lakers? You can bet the NBA wants to see it. The NBA needs the Lakers to be in the title mix. It needs the Lakers to be relevant. It needs NBA fans to either love or hate the Lakers instead of simply laughing at them. The Warriors’ dominance in recent years has been great for Northern California and Northern Nevada Warriors fans as well as basketball purists who love great ball movement. But it has all but bored the NBA and its national media to tears everywhere else.

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The Lakers with LeBron, A.D. and a bunch of leftovers isn’t going to win any NBA titles. They can go out and add Andre Iguodala and Kyle Korver and any other one-dimensional, aging player they want. But it’s not going to work unless they also add Kawhi Leonard. The former San Diego State star would be the perfect complement to LeBron and A.D., two guys who need someone with a varied skill set to do all of the dirty work necessary to win a title. Kawhi, though, also needs the Lakers if he wants to continue to win titles. Last year in Toronto was a fluke. The Warriors with a healthy Klay would have dominated the Raptors. Toss in a healthy Durant and, well, it would have been a sweep. Leonard also wouldn’t get past the second round of the playoffs if he decides to go to the Los Angeles Clippers. He’s good. But he’s not that good.

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Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, two of the goofiest and most unstable and sensitive superstars the NBA has ever produced, are in for a rude awakening in Brooklyn. That marriage is not going to end well. The Durant-Irving Nets are going to be the NBA’s daily reality show that will make Keeping Up With the Kardashians look like a PBS documentary. Irving lives in his own private little fantasy world where the earth is flat, he is a better player than LeBron James and Uncle Drew is a better movie than the Godfather. Durant has spent the bulk of his NBA career fighting feeling underappreciated and attacked by player-friendly media in places like Oklahoma City and Oakland. Just wait until New York sinks its tabloid newspaper and talk radio teeth into him.