Wolf Pack needs to become defensive | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack needs to become defensive

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . . The Nevada Wolf Pack football team is right back where it was a year ago. And it’s the same place it found itself in two years ago. It is wondering how it will ever fix the defense and questioning whether it will ever win a big game. The promise and improvement we saw in 2005 and 2006 (17-8 combined) has leveled off the last three seasons (21-18 combined) into a seemingly never-ending stream of mediocrity. The only FBS non-league team the Pack has beaten the last three years is UNLV. Has the program become stagnant? Well, let’s just say that next year (Colin Kaepernick’s senior year) is going to be a very important year for the Biggest Little Football Program in the World.

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Maybe we just expect too much out of the Wolf Pack. Take the Idaho Vandals, for example. Vandal fans feel like their team has just won a BCS championship after winning a meaningless bowl (Humanitarian) against an insignificant team (Bowling Green). The Vandals finished 8-5 this year, just like the Pack. So why is optimism at an all-time high in Moscow, Idaho while Pack fans continue to be trapped in a state of indifference? The reason is because Vandal fans now think anything is possible. That’s what happens when a mid-major wins a throwaway bowl in thrilling fashion against a disposable team. Remember the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl against Ball State, Pack fans? Idaho will find out soon enough how truly difficult it is to make that next step into Boise State territory.

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The Idaho football team goes 7-5 in the regular season and gets to play a postseason game in its own state against a mediocre team from a mediocre conference. If the Idaho basketball team went to the postseason with a mediocre record, it would get to play halfway across the country against someone like Kansas and risk embarrassment on national TV. A mediocre record in college baseball wouldn’t even get you to the postseason. It’s no wonder why college football coaches and athletic directors don’t want a playoff system.

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All of the fuss over the Indianapolis Colts resting their starters last week in the second half was silly. So they lost their perfect season. So what? It’s the NFL and it’s all about the dollars. And the dollars come when you win a Super Bowl, not go 19-0. The Colts couldn’t beat Bowling Green without Peyton Manning so keeping Manning healthy for the playoffs is their only concern right now. If the Colts had their way, they would have forfeited their last two games. The only reason that will never happen is because the league would have to forfeit the TV money for those games.

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You won’t see the San Francisco 49ers resting their starters on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. The 49ers need to win for their first .500 or better season since 2002. That’s a big step for an organization that only used to make news when its coach pulled down his pants in the halftime locker room. The 49ers were closer to becoming a playoff team this year than most people realize. They lost six games by seven points or less. Turn just half of those losses around and the 49ers would be 10-5 right now and making plans for the playoffs. Next year, Niner fans. Next year.

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We’d like to say the same thing about the Oakland Raiders. But this is still an organization that only makes news when one of its players drops his drawers on the field during a game (still the funniest moment in the history of sports, by the way). Actually, that’s not really true. The Raiders also make news when their coaching meetings turn into a Hulk Hogan-Randy “Macho Man” Savage tag-team match and when they draft a guy in the first round that should be playing in the UFL. The next bit of news Raider fans need to hear, though, is about new ownership, a new starting quarterback, a new head coach and, yes, a new, tighter belt for Tommy Kelly.

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When, exactly, did the San Francisco Giants turn into the Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers? Is Mark DeRosa really the best they can do to improve a non-existent offense? But it’s still not too late. If the Giants somehow add a Jermaine Dye or Vladimir Guerrero or even a Johnny Damon, Rick Ankiel, Adrian Beltre or a Hank Blalock to the mix, this offseason won’t be a total disaster. It sure would be a shame to continue to waste all of that amazing pitching.

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We all know how the Oakland Raiders like to scout the Humanitarian Bowl for wide receivers. They liked the four catches by Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey in last year’s Humanitarian Bowl against the Wolf Pack so much they made him their top pick last spring. Well, that might not be a bad method for finding talent after all. The Raiders could do a lot worse than picking Bowling Green wide receiver Freddie Barnes this spring. Barnes had 17 catches in the Humanitarian Bowl against Idaho to set a NCAA record with 155 this year. Those 17 catches, by the way, are almost double Heyward-Bey’s output (nine) for the Raiders this entire season.