Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Listen Up!

Here at PWtW, we've prided ourselves on offering some of the best in snarky observations, semi-regular updates and occasionally stirring content related to Nevada Wolf Pack football the last few years. Though I haven't been able to devote the time I would like to running This Space, I've nonetheless immensely enjoyed blogging about the football program since I became a contributor here in late 2009.

I come before you today with an important announcement -- no, not like my Mountain West announcement. I'd like to be serious for a moment, if you can believe it.

I was recently contacted by the good folks at Silver and Blue Sports about joining their publishing staff to create content for the site. I am excited to report that I've accepted their offer -- so long, and hello independent message board!

Silver and Blue Sports is the largest gathering place for Wolf Pack fans in cyberspace and was founded by Mark Glodowski and Brad Platt, two University of Nevada alumni whom I have tremendous respect for, both personally and professionally. You'll be hearing from me throughout the coming football season, as well as for basketball and possibly other sports. I'll be part of a one-of-a-kind staff which will include podcast specialist and video editor Neil Henderson, "Cannon Fodder" writer Scott Daniel making his triumphant return, the combined photographic talents of Mark Rauh and Brandon Russell, and two new additions in longtime area freelance writer Joe Santoro and current Reynolds School of Journalism student Lukas Eggen. It will be a diverse and exciting creative team, and I'm tremendously honored to have been asked to join.

Ever since Silver and Blue Sports was first founded, I've been in awe of the strides Mark and Brad have made in using the site to galvanize Nevada's fan base and help it grow. The content created for the site has been and will continue to be unlike anything else available to Wolf Pack fans, and I strongly urge you to consider becoming a premium member to take advantage of it all, if you haven't already. It truly is more than "just a message board," and I'm looking forward to being a part of its efforts for Nevada's official WAC Farewell Tour this year.

For my last words on this site, I'd like to thank Packfan7 for giving me the opportunity to break into the blogging world. I'll miss working with him, but I have a feeling he'll still be around somewhere...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Look Around Week 1

I used to put up a thread like this every week during the season on Silver and Blue Sports, but decided to bring it over here this year. In the past, I've tried to avoid making outright predictions for games in order to save myself the embarrassment of having to potentially look back on something stupid I said (you'll know what I'm talking about if you saw some of the predictions from Boise State fans before last year's game). I've decided to give it a shot this year, albeit just a proverbial dipping of the toe into the water -- I won't be entering any pick 'em contests and I take it as a challenge to myself the same way a good game of golf is designed to test you. Besides, it's kinda nice to sit back and take in a weekend of college football when you know you don't have a vested interest in what's happening yet...provided you don't think about why the Pack isn't playing this week.

The rankings for Top 25 teams will be the AP Poll followed by the USA Today poll, and I'll be using for the betting lines you'll see at the end of every match-up.

Thursday, September 1st

UNLV @ #11/#10 Wisconsin
7:00 PM CT, ESPN
UW -35.5 (opened at -30)

The upside? ESPN hates UNLV enough to make this game their first 3D telecast of the season. The downside? Chris Fowler and numerous other ESPN personalities will still refer to the state we share as "NeVAHda."

Cheeseheads 42, Poopyheads 14

Bowling Green @ Idaho
6:00 PM PT, Altitude
UI -7 (opened at -8.5)

Behold, the Humanitarian Bowl rematch no one was clamoring to see!

Fightin' Akeys 28, Fightin' Clawsons 14

Saturday, September 3rd

Utah State @ #23/#19 Auburn
11:00 AM CT, ESPN2
AU -21 (opened at -32)

There's been a lot of movement on this spread, and it's probably justified. SEC team or not, Auburn is a very different group than the one we saw last year. We have reason to suspect Utah State might just make this game interesting...but not interesting enough to pull out a win.

War Eagles 41, Steer Milkers 21

San Jose State @ #7/#6 Stanford
2:00 PM PT, Comcast Sports Net Bay Area
SU -30 (opened at -28)

Another case of an improved WAC team against a Top 25 team with questions to answer. The Spartans could steal a win or two against favored teams...but it ain't happening here.

Bill Walsh Red Team 42, Bill Walsh Blue Team 10

Colorado State @ New Mexico
4:00 PM MT, The Mtn.
CSU -6 (opened at -3.5)

The inaugural recipient of our Pillow Fight of the Week distinction.

Steve "Morgan" Fairchild 31, Mike "Bagels and" Locksley 21

Texas State @ Texas Tech
6:00 PM CT
TTU -38.5 (same as opening)

There used to be a series of Youtube videos from a poster known as Psycho Ag that made fun of former Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione. Although the one I have in mind doesn't seem to be up anymore, with Coach Fran returning to old rival Texas Tech this week as the Bobcats coach, it's as good a time as any to whip out the one I actually did manage to find.

Tubs 56, Fran 7

California vs. Fresno State (Candlestick Park in San Francisco)
4:00 PM PT, Comcast Sports Net California
UCB -9.5 (opened at -4.5)

Call me uninformed, but I really don't get all the money going Cal's way. Sure, the Bulldogs are breaking in a new quarterback, but they always seem to get fired up for these sorts of games.

Red Wave 30, Hippie Wave 27

Ohio @ New Mexico State
6:00 PM MT
OU -7 (opened at -13)

Ohio is picked by some to win the MAC. I wouldn't know this, and will gladly defer to these anonymous (and possibly made up) individuals.

O-H-I-O 28, You-are-no-good 20

#5/#7 Boise State vs. #19/#22 Georgia (Georgia Dome in Atlanta)
8:00 PM ET, ESPN
BSU -3.5 (opened at UGA -3)

Boise State feels pressure to silence the SEC hype machine, and Georgia feels pressure from said hype machine to keep it chugging along without incident. I'm not sure Georgia deserves to be ranked this high, but if there were ever a situation to level the playing field for them against Boise, it would be a "neutral" field down the road from Athens coupled with Mark Richt's desperation. Even so, it's still really hard for me to pick against the Broncos in these types of games.

Cliched Potato Jokes 28, Cliched Redneck Jokes 27

#4/#4 LSU vs. #3/#3 Oregon (Cowboys Stadium in Arlington)
7:00 PM CT, ABC
UO -3 (opened at LSU -3)

From the creator of "Game of Thrones" comes "Game of Distractions"! Whoever performs the best damage control for their embarrassing off-field side stories will prevail.

Nike Modelers 30, Bayou Brawlers 24

Louisiana Tech @ Southern Miss
9:00 PM CT, Fox Sports Net
USM -13 (opened at -11)

"Yeah, we want you to move the kick-off to nine...No, at night...Of course it's a good idea...What do I care if your kids can't go? Look, you wanna be on TV or not? Yeah, I thought so. *Click* I love being an executive."

Free Birds 35, Muddogs 24

Colorado @ Hawai'i
4:15 PM HT, ESPN2
UH -7 (opened at -11)

Larry Scott: "Congratulations, Buffaloes! You get to start your first year in the Pac-12 in Hawai'i with a new head coach, new coaching staff and no bye weeks! What's that? You're not happy? You're actually mad as hell? Here, have some more TV money. Yeah, that makes everything better, doesn't it? I use $100 bills as toilet paper now."

McMackin 31, What's-his-face 17

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Morning Links

No rants or raves here -- just a collection of morning links.

~ Freshman QB Marcus Mariota is contending for the Ducks' backup duties as Oregon's fall camp concluded. Cliff "Batman" Harris' status for the Nevada game remains unknown.

~ Those weird sideline signal pictures used by the Ducks also got the ESPN treatment, which begs the question of what the sign for "Pretend you don't know Willie Lyles" would look like.

~ JuCo transfer Matt Faulkner will start for San Jose State. I have nothing humorous to add to this.

~ Texas Tech kicker Donnie Carona is struggling to find some consistency. Nothing here, either.

~ The newest members of Boise State's defensive backfield talk about what they can expect this year, but since the words "Rishard Matthews" and "pain" never came up together, I call BS.

~ The Las Vegas Sun's Ryan Greene offers up five signs the Rebels are headed in the right direction. No word on whether he was able to compile his list with a straight face.

~ A New Mexico student compares Lobo football to "Jersey Shore." Somewhere in this story there's a Snooki joke I'm just not seeing right now.

~ Fresno State's ticket office reports selling more than 12,000 tickets for the Bulldogs' season opener against Cal at Candlestick Park, guaranteeing the stadium will host at least one highly attended game this year.

~ DeWayne Walker sat down for a Q&A session with the Las Cruces Sun-News and showed enormous restraint in not begging the columnist to get him out of NMSU.

~ The UH athletics site offers up a preview of the Warrior secondary, as the Honolulu Star Advertiser recently switched to a subscriber-only format for their stories. Fail.

~ Sonny Dykes named Nick Isham the Bulldogs' starting QB. You know it's a ringing endorsement when an article's first sentence says he "didn't blow the...coaching staff away."

~ A writer for the Logan Herald Journal thinks Utah State has the tools to be successful in 2011. I'll let sleeping dogs lie rather than reach for a joke with the word "tool" here.

~ In response to an Idaho player who wishes to lead the WAC in sacks, Brett Roy was reported to have laughed and said "That's cute."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Day in the Shade

From David Parker of the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Before arriving at today's scrimmage, I was told to sit in the west side stands. Given how much shade the other fans and I were able to enjoy, we certainly didn't have to be told twice. We often wonder why the fans on the west side of the stadium don't make more noise during games -- maybe that nice shade just renders them all docile? Like giving a belly rub to a dog on its back, I tell ya.

Unfortunately I don't yet excel at multitasking during my coverage of scrimmages. I do my best to observe the other happenings on the field, but only if I'm not already furiously scribbling notes or looking up a player's name on my copy of the roster. For this entry, I'm going to try describing each drive individually as opposed to trying to draw an actual theme from the day's action.

~ Like most scrimmages, the kickers were the last players to warm up before the action began. Anthony Martinez missed a couple of short ones to his left and right. Colin Ditsworth, who is listed as a punter on the official roster, took some snaps as well.

1st Drive ~ Lantrip started off at QB. James-Michael Johnson stuffed Mike Ball for a loss on the first play. Ball gained it back on the next play. Corbin Louks dropped an easy pass over the middle, but this might have been due to Duke Williams screaming around the left on a blitz and almost getting a sack.

2nd Drive ~ Louks took a hand-off on a fly sweep to the right and was stopped for no gain. Lantrip then tried an option pitch to his left to Louks, which was also stopped for no gain. I really liked the efforts the offense went to in order to get the ball in Louks' hands, which you'll see the dividends for later. The drive ended when Lantrip threw deep into double coverage and Charles Garrett should've picked it off.

3rd Drive ~ Nick Hale ran for no gain. Shane Anderson caught a quick pass to the sideline for a short gain. Rishard Matthews stretched out for a BIG catch right before getting drilled by the defender, which prompted a penalty flag. Hale ran for a couple up the middle, but a small fight erupted after the play and the offense had to back up again. Matthews went to the corner of the end zone for a fade, but was covered tight and got a questionable PI call. Hale then took three straight hand-offs before eventually finding the end zone.

4th Drive ~ Cody Fajardo took over for the next two drives. After a short gain up the middle for Ball, Fajardo evaded a couple of tackles and rain down the left sideline for a big gain. He then threw a long completion to Aaron Bradley on the right sideline, who stepped out before he could bolt for the end zone. Garrett wrapped up Stefphon Jefferson in the backfield for a loss, who took his next carry for a short gain to his right. The drive stalled when Fajardo threw a play action pass through Kolby Arendse's hands, and Martinez made the short field goal afterwards.

5th Drive ~ The next drive should've ended right away when Fajardo threw a pass right into the hands of Jordan Dobrich, a freshman linebacker, who dropped it. After a no-gain from Jefferson, Fajardo executed a great zone read for another big gain. Jefferson fumbled his next carry, but it was picked up by Bradley for some extra yards. A penalty pushed the offense back a few yards, then Anderson caught another pass for a short gain. Bradley then took an option pitch inside the 10 (I liked seeing the receivers getting involved on these plays). The offense was stopped on three straight goal line carries before Lampford Mark eventually ran it in.

6th Drive ~ Lantrip came back in for this one-play beauty: a pass to Anderson who did a little shake and bake to evade two defenders and took it to the house for a touchdown.

7th Drive ~ Louks was tackled hard after a 5-yard gain. After a short gain from Mark, Isaiah Frey stepped in front of a pass for the first actual interception of the day.

8th Drive ~ Lantrip took a zone read for a short gain before getting rushed by two defenders and being forced to throw it away. Anderson hauled in a long catch over the middle right before getting drilled by a defender. After Ball was stopped for no gain, Anderson caught a pass and had it jarred loose by Williams, who took it back for what could be assumed would've been a touchdown.

9th Drive ~ Lantrip threw a couple of nice completions to a new receiver, sophomore Joseph Huber from Las Vegas. After two short gains from Ball, he took his third carry virtually untouched for a touchdown run.

10th Drive ~ Devin Combs came in for the first time, and he's every bit as big as Coach Ault described at his last presser. Kendall Brock then got a couple of carries, with which he lost yards and subsequently made them up. After an incomplete pass to L.J. Washington on the sideline, Brock broke a tackle and took it to his right for a big gain. Anthony Knight then came in for a couple of short gains, the second of which could've been a loss had Knight not nimbly regained his footing after being tripped up. Bubba Boudreaux came up to upend Combs short of the first down and end this drive.

11th Drive ~ Tanner Roderick saw his first action on this drive, but not before Knight got three straight carries, the second of which went for a first down. The offense was whistled for a false start, then Roderick completed a pass to tight end Erik Stewart. Aaron Brown should've picked off the next pass and the drive ended.

12th Drive ~ Lantrip came back in, and Frey nearly came up with his second pick (the secondary's recurring theme today was "close, but no cigar"). Louks caught a pass for about fifteen yards before Lantrip threw ahead of him on the next play for an incomplete. Matthews hauled in a long reception on the right sideline which was book-ended by short gains from Hale. After Ball was tackled for a loss, Lantrip threw a quick touchdown pass to Zach Sudfeld...which was called back by a penalty. Bradley couldn't bring in a pass that was too high on the next play, and Martinez made a short field goal.

13th Drive ~ Fajardo handed it off to Mark next, who carried it a long way for a first down. After another incomplete pass to Arendse, Bradley caught a pass, then spun off a defender for another big gain. Fajardo kept a zone read for no gain, then Ball picked up a couple of yards, then Fajardo took off up the middle after a few seconds of looking for his receivers and was tackled at the six. Jefferson took it inside the one, then Fajardo kept it himself for the score.

14th Drive ~ For his last drive, Fajardo lofted a long pass down the right to Matthews, who was briefly de-pantsed (his defender came back down from leaping for the pass and tried to tackle him as he hit the turf, but his hand found the top of Matthews' pants instead). Matthews caught it in spite of all of this and ran for the score, and I must now wash my eyes after seeing much more of him than I ever wanted to. The consolation in all of this is that his hands never left their grasp of the football. What a trooper.

15th Drive ~ Combs led the day's last drive, which started with a trip-up/sack in the backfield. Washington caught a pass over the middle before Knight ran for the first down. Thaddeus Brown tackled Combs hard after another good gain on the ground. Knight busted out another solid first down run before Roderick came in and threw an incomplete to Dominic Coulter in tight coverage. Roderick ran for a first down on a zone read before throwing to Knight over the middle for a short gain. Roderick evaded three tackles en route to another first before Knight ran it in for the last touchdown of the day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Happy Invitation Day!

Exactly one year ago today, Nevada accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West Conference. Although it wasn't under the circumstances most of us would've preferred -- particularly with the debt we owe to BYU's departure and the cloud of chaos that surrounded it -- and the country once again finds itself on the brink of more seismic realignments as of this week, we're still pretty darn lucky to be where we are all the same. If nothing else, we can thank the college sports gods we'll never have to fly to Ruston, Louisiana again.

Be sure to read these next paragraphs out loud to your friends in your best Moses voice:

Let me declare that every August 18th should henceforth be known as Invitation Day, and ask that many libations be consumed on those occasions. And when the official move happens on July 1st of next year, we will celebrate Mountain West Day, where many more libations shall be consumed, songs of triumph will be sung and cruel jokes will be cracked at the WAC's expense. If Repeal Day can have its own holiday movement, there is no excuse. So says Pack Backer, the wise and devastatingly handsome blogger.

Now we shall sit back and watch these year-in-review Youtube clips, which are not at all an attempt to relieve Pack Backer of his usual blogging responsibilities.

The day when the invitation came down, and the ensuing reaction from Nevada fans.

Our advice to the remaining WAC members at the time.

The general preseason prognosis on the football team's potential.

The team's Top 25 appearance after the Cal, BYU and UNLV wins.

Immediately following the Hawai'i loss.

After the basketball team's 1-7 start.

A settlement is reached for the WAC's exit fee.

The feeling among fans after the first half of the Boise State game.

The speech that was probably given to the Wolf Pack players at halftime.

Coach Ault watching from the sidelines as his players began their comeback.

My reaction to Titus Young's 4th quarter catch.

The missed field goals, overtime and celebration immediately following the game.

The magnificent times we all had at the bowl game.

Utah State's rumored "done deal" invitation to the Mountain West.

A summary of the entire basketball season.

The baseball team continues to struggle.

The public's reaction immediately following the introduction of the new Mountain West logo.

The entire realignment situation across the country summed up in one sentence.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ault Addresses the Local Media and I Openly Weep

There were moments when I thought this day would never come. You've all seen the lengths to which I've gone to keep us occupied these last few months: a drinking game, the entire Summer Filler and Better Know the Units series, fake news stories, a farewell to Boise State, a history lesson and even an attempt to make "gimmick" a dirty word. Now, after all of that foolishness, the time has come to invoke the holiest of names to signify the end of summer and the beginning of fall practices: in the name of Saint Motley, the Holy Kaepernick and the sacred day of football season is BACK!!!

I don't care if it's pretty much the same as spring practice -- it's something substantive to report on. Let's have a look at the Cliff Notes version of Coach Ault's recent address to the local media from the other day.

~ As you've likely heard from elsewhere by now (breaking news still isn't our strong suit here), the program was able to procure external funding to hire for two new-to-them positions: Jon Haskins for Director of Player Personnel and Dave Brown for Director of Football Operations. No word yet on whether the football staff will be asked to continue working by candlelight to save on electricity.

~ In all seriousness, both of these hires are fantastic -- if LONG overdue -- developments. They will both take a significant work load off of Coach Ault and the other members of his staff, particularly with the coordination of recruiting efforts that Coach Mastro was formerly tasked with, which will now fall to Haskins. Ault is always palpably excited at these events, but it was particularly evident just how grateful he was to have filled these two positions.

~ He went into some detail about Haskins' playing and coaching background and the role he played in building a recruiting network for Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford (interesting that they went to Stanford again after Coach Buh's first year here). On what the DPP position will mean: "Our recruiting will take a different complexion now. We will be much broader, much much more efficient, and now all of my coaches can get on the road and recruit."

~ For further evidence of the impact Haskins has already had in the five weeks he's been here, Ault mentioned that their recent senior day event -- a camp traditionally held for high school seniors and their parents to take a trip up to Reno and be evaluated by Nevada coaches -- had 111 players in attendance. Their previous high was 61 players. The two hires were called "one of the biggest moves we've made in football."

~ Also as you may have heard elsewhere, Brandon Wimberly is re-enrolled in summer school and on track to graduate in December. He will be on the sidelines assisting with coaching duties in various ways, but also giving the other players a reality check simply by being there. In Ault's words "I expect him to be as inspirational about this football program as I am."

~ DeAndre Boughton will miss the season with a broken leg, and Lampford Mark is still recovering from mononucleosis and will not be pushed too hard in practices just yet.

~ At one point, Ault went on another small tangent in which he could barely contain himself from gushing even more over the two new hires, particularly Haskins, adding (paraphrasing him slightly) "We used to turn over rocks, but now we're turning over boulders." He used the word "rejuvenated" to describe what the hires have done to him personally, and if this presser was any indication I would agree.

~ Continuing on one of his themes from the WAC media day, competition at running back will be intense. For this unit, at least, they had a great summer of conditioning and weight lifting. There will be more two back action similar in certain ways to what we saw last year.

~ Another theme reappearing was the depth and speed in the defensive backfield, with Ault now saying that this is the deepest the secondary has been in five years.

~ He feels very confident in the first-string offensive line, but says it's time for the younger players to start stepping up. The line as a whole is every bit as athletic as last year's line and possibly a little bit quicker than they were.

~ Zach Sudfeld was referred to as "the Luke Lippincott of this football team," citing his upper class status and the amount of work he's put into finally making an impact on the field. Interestingly, Kolby Arendse was called the best all-around tight end of the group. They lack a player with Virgil Green's speed, but are just as strong on the block as they were last year.

~ He reemphasized Tyler Lantrip's strong performances in spring practices and said he has "paid his dues" and earned his role as the starter. Devin Combs could apparently be easily mistaken for a linebacker, but is very raw and would be redshirted if possible so he could have three years of eligibility starting in 2012. He left open the possibility of pursuing another freshman quarterback in the near future, citing the quality of the quarterback camp they recently had on campus. He doesn't have plans to move any current quarterbacks, but said this recruiting class is similar to the one that produced Kaep in that the players are so talented you could find a spot for them somewhere on the team even if it isn't at quarterback.

~ The replacement to fill Wimberly's starting spot is still unknown, but Shane Anderson is penciled in at the position right now. He mentioned two players he'd like to bring in at camp -- both remaining unknown at this time -- who could possibly contribute to the two-deep there.

~ Regarding Zack Madonick's recovery, he says he looks and feels fine, but they're not counting on him at this time and would prefer to see him in contact drills first. Between Roy, Faataualofa and the younger players behind them, there is a good upgrade in inside strength from last year to this year.

~ Defensive end is a lot like the tight end spot in that it's a conglomeration of different kinds of athletes that they're nonetheless optimistic about. Albert Rosette was mentioned first, then Kaelin Burnett, but not in a way that convinced me either of them are starting just yet.

~ JMJ and Brandon Marshall are exceptional starters at linebacker, but the depth behind them is unproven at this time. Burton DeKoning was brought up as being a really intriguing new player, but one who has to actually get out there first before any anointing happens. Along with the younger offensive linemen, this was highlighted as an area needing an infusion of depth and playing experience as soon as possible.

~ Anthony Martinez is kicking, but others have been brought in to compete with him, while Chase Tenpenny is more or less the best of the punters right now and just completed his share of summer school to become eligible.

For the sake of having a preview picture for those of you who came here from Facebook, here's a party hat to reflect my mood.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Most Unwatchable WAC Teams of the Last Decade

Today I'm drawing my inspiration from a well-written and very funny article from Spencer Hall of SB Nation. And by "inspiration," I mean "That oughta bide me some time for a few days."

In the article, Hall looks back on some of the worst college football teams of the last few years -- not just teams who ended up being terrible in the record books, but were so utterly wretched as to be deemed nearly unwatchable. While I think he compiled a solid list, I take issue with one very glaring omission: there are no WAC teams on it. And as I said all the way back in my Summer Filler entry for San Jose State, "when WAC football is bad, it's really bad. Horrifically, stupendously, hilariously bad." Not putting even one WAC team on a list of the most unwatchable football teams is like calling "Braveheart" historically accurate.

To rectify this injustice, I'm taking a look back at the worst WAC teams of Nevada's time in the conference from 2000 to the present. You want unwatchable, Hall? I got yer unwatchable right here!

#5 Nevada 2000 (2-10)

Sorry guys, but I'd like to at least maintain the illusion of having an impartial list here. New coaches and new conferences don't traditionally mix well, and Chris Tormey's first year in Reno was no exception. Blowout losses were everywhere that year, including a few to some equally terrible opponents. No matter how much his teams improved from year to year, he never beat UNLV, and for this he shares equal blame with those idiot Rebel fans for the heinous travesty pictured above.

#4 Idaho 2008 (2-10)

Sure, the 2007 edition of the Vandals finished 1-11, but that team was actually fairly competitive in many games that year, and you have to respect a team that at least fights back in spite of their own suckitude. But in addition to the greater number of lopsided defeats this season produced, I have a two-word explanation for why this team is more worthy of the "unwatchable" designation: butt logos. No, your eyes are not deceiving you -- that is, in fact, an Idaho logo placed directly on that poor defender's Idahole. Even worse, they lost that particular game 70-0, and even had a bizarre cheerleading outfit "controversy" a few weeks later. On and off the field, this season resembled a dumpster fire slowly spreading from one trash heap to the next.

#3 San Jose State 2009 (2-10)

Here's another instance of off-field issues contributing to a team's unwatchability. After leading the Spartans to a bowl win in 2006, Dick Tomey went 11-13 the next two years. In 2009, things finally devolved to a sad, bittersweet climax. Scholarship reductions from APR sanctions took their toll on his team, and a season full of blowouts was painfully punctuated by a 62-7 loss to the Pack on a sparsely attended Sunday night. It remains to this day the only Nevada road win I actually felt a little dirty after witnessing. Tomey's resignation eight days later just put an "I give up" cherry on this sundae of failure.

#2 New Mexico State 2005 (0-12)

The New Mags haven't played in a bowl game since 1960 and Las Cruces has become, in the words of Football Study Hall "the most consistent coaching graveyard at the FBS level." So why does this particular season sparkle amidst the team's numerous other diamonds of ineptitude? Well, the Oh-fer obviously helps, but it set a precedent for other bad WAC teams after the realignments of 2005 that hasn't been equaled record-wise since. This was a team that yelled "I call the basement!" when they moved into the WAC and has definitively stayed there ever since. Simply put, NMSU is the poster child for just how bad WAC football is capable of being, and 2005 was their magnum anus.

Now you must be asking yourself "If that's true, then how come you only have them at number two?" An excellent question. And even after you see who I have at number one, you may look at the records and say "That doesn't make sense. You're an idiot." Just keep reading, and let me explain why.

#1 Utah State 2006 (1-11)

If the 2005 New Mexico State team is the usual gold standard for WAC worthlessness, then this Aggie team is the real Hall of Shame entry, the Guinness World Record holder that truly went below and beyond, then went even lower after that. Some of their infamous distinctions include three straight shut-out losses and four overall, failing to score a single offensive touchdown until five games into the season, and being forced to punt from inside the 30-yard line on at least one occasion out of genuine fear of their place kicker. Did I mention their punter was also their original quarterback? And their uniforms had "AGGIES" on the back like some all-man-child Pop Warner team? Even their lone win -- a 13-12 comedy of errors against Fresno State -- still managed to be every bit as depressing as each of their eleven losses. I remember watching Nevada pummel them in a slurry of horizontal rain and snow at Mackay that year thinking "This is one of the worst football teams I've ever seen. Also, I can't feel my fingers or toes." Give Brent Guy a college football program and four years of free reign and his path of (self) destruction will be unparalleled.

So while NMSU may hold the dishonor of being the only winless team on this list, as far as the quality of play on the field and who was less competitive more often, the Aggies from Utah have everyone else beaten. And at least on this blog, they will be forever immortalized as the WAC's most unwatchable team of the last decade.

Shameful Mentions Who Didn't Quite Make the Cut: UTEP 2002 (2-10); SMU 2003 (0-12); Louisiana Tech 2006 (3-10); San Jose State 2010 (1-12)

So who would you put on your "most unwatchable" list?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Better Know the Units: Special Teams

Welcome to another installment of "Better Know the Units." I'd like to depart from tradition, as I feel I should preface this entry with an apology for the list of rankings you're about to read. Those of you expecting an apology for my quality of writing can kindly lick me.

This list focuses on special teams play, a unit often overlooked and undervalued until the moment when a game's outcome pivots on its timely (or untimely) execution. It's football's "miscellaneous" category, encompassing punts, kickoffs, punt and kick returns, field goals, extra points and the attempts to block and otherwise defend those various plays.

Until now, my lists of previous units have involved calculating composite rankings while looking at how many starters a unit returns from the previous year. About two thirds of the way through my data collection for this entry, I realized that applying this method to special teams was what we'd call "problematic." Because the special teams umbrella covers so many different phases of play that are only loosely related to each other, it's much harder to draw definitive conclusions from a composite ranking of their average strengths. Teams that were excellent in one area of special teams play could be terrible in another, which more often than not skewed all of my composite rankings towards the middle and helped make the list you're about to read very crowded.

I looked at seven special teams categories to compile my (admittedly flawed) rankings: average yards per punt return, average yards per kick return, average yards per punt, percentage of kickoffs that were touchbacks, yards allowed per punt return, yards allowed per kick return and percentage of field goals made. My last disclaimer is that I didn't include long snappers or holders when I looked at how many special teams players return for a given team. We all appreciate what they do, but the fact is that they're not nearly as hard to replace as a good return specialist or place kicker is.

#12 Hawai'i 74th and 1 of 4 ~ It's a good thing the other two Warrior units were as good as they were, because their special teams play was severely lacking in 2010. Tormey-ocrity strikes again!

#10 TIE New Mexico (76th and 5 of 5) and Fresno State (75th and 4 of 4) ~ Once again, you'll find me giving the benefit of the doubt to the teams with more returning starters. For all the emphasis he's placed on special teams play in the past, it's pretty surprising to see a Pat Hill team ranked this low.

#9 Utah State 69th and 3 of 5 ~ Coach Gary Andersen was reportedly very concerned with all of his potential punters after their spring game in April, which could compound problems if their new quarterback struggles as well.

#8 New Mexico State 70th and 4 of 4 ~ The Aggies return a very good kick returner (17th in average yards per kick return), but could probably afford to find some replacements for punts (116th in yards per punt) and kickoffs (113th in touchback percentage).

#7 UNLV 60th and 3 of 5 ~ What is it about good kick returners landing on bad teams? Rogers at NMSU, Kerwynn Williams at Utah State and now Marcus Sullivan for UNLV.

#6 Idaho 62nd and 3 of 4 ~ The numbers for Trey Farquhar and Bobby Cowan might look impressive at first, but a lot of specialists could probably put up stats like theirs if half their games were played indoors.

#5 San Jose State 62nd and 4 of 4 ~ The best individual ranking of any team in any category for this list is the Spartans' kick return defense, which was 5th nationally last year.

#4 Boise State 54th and 2 of 5 ~ I've already fessed up to these rankings being flawed, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the one time I won't see Boise State ranked #1 in one of these lists! Truly I am a sad, strange little man.

#3 Texas Tech 53rd and 4 of 6 ~ What do you get for a series of rankings that ranged from mildly sub-par to very good? The #3 spot on this list. Joygasm.

#2 Louisiana Tech 46th and 3 of 5 ~ For further proof of how arbitrary some of these rankings are, look at how high the Bulldogs can find themselves ranked in spite of losing Philip Livas at punt and kick returner.

#1 Oregon 46th and 4 of 4 ~ Even with all of the problems I've already outlined with using this ranking system for special teams, I think there's at least partial validation to be found in who came out #1. The Ducks were the most consistent team across the board and boast a legitimate All-American in Cliff "No, I really am Batman" Harris.

For those of you readers who are more statistically inclined than I am, how would you have gone about ranking the special teams units of Nevada's opponents?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Media Day Recap

I made an executive decision last night to put off my next "Better Know the Units" entry in favor of a recap of the WAC's media day, specifically focusing on Coach Ault's portion which can be viewed here. I also have to tip my hat to Chris Murray's Twitter feed, which got most of the important stuff as it was said and gave me something to compare my account of the presser to.

~ Ault started by saying he had no interest in discussing anything Mountain West-related -- a no-brainer given the circumstances, of course, but still important for us as fans to remember.

~ With Steve Haley's return, he anticipates the offensive line returning four out of five players who've previously had starting experience.

~ He used the term "heir apparent" when referring to Zach Sudfeld at tight end, but also believed there'd be good competition among Stephen Jeffers and "two or three other players" at that spot.

~ "Tyler will throw the ball a little bit more than we did last year, but we are still going to run first;" he mentioned how excited he was to see Lantrip finally start, as he felt he's performed very well in his last two series of spring practices going back to his junior year; he listed Mason Magleby, Cody Fajardo and Tanner Roderick before saying "Our quarterback spot for the future is in good hands."

~ While there's no running back that stands head and shoulders above the others the way Vai Taua did, he felt there would be plenty of opportunities for each player to stand out at fall practices; he said that Stefphon Jefferson had the best spring of all the backs and that the position's depth will enable some good things to happen out of their two-back sets.

~ Khalid Wooten was referred to as the secondary's "fifth starter" playing at the nickel spot last year, and the secondary as a whole hasn't enjoyed their current level of depth in at least three years; he called the running backs and secondary the team's two strongest units at this time.

~ In the receiving corps he called Rishard Matthews "one of the best we've ever had there" and said they would look for multiple ways to utilize all of his talents; Tray Session is the fastest and most knowledgeable of the receivers, and along with Shane Anderson had to learn all three receiver positions last year; he hasn't found a specific replacement for Brandon Wimberly yet, but the list of potential replacements includes some players who are faster than him; the schedule means this group "has to get better in a hurry."

~ He raved about the strength of Brett Roy and Willie Faataualofa and the rotation they'll form with Zack Madonick; he pointed out a couple of times that Dontay Moch can't be easily replaced, but sounded pleased all the same with who he'll have at the ends.

~ James-Michael Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Brett Roy have to be the catalysts that lead the defense; "Our defense has to carry us and give that offense a chance to grow as we move;" he said they were "solid" but not great last year, and that "...I expect our defense to be very good this year."

~ Anthony Martinez will perform kicking duties, but there's no clear leader among the punters and it's a "very unsettled" position at this time.

~ He called Murray a "smart-aleck" when he jokingly asked about the Mountain West move. It's not an important observation, but it was still amusing to watch unfold, especially with the awkward silence and total absence of laughter that followed the joke.

~ In response to a question posed by Brian Murphy from the Idaho Statesman (I know the Mountain West also had their media days in Vegas this week, but why was he at this one? Habit? Boredom?) about BSU's current uniform drama: "I don't think we've ever lost to Boise's uniforms yet." Probably the most salient thing anyone has said on this whole issue to date. So thank you for that, Coach.

~ Bit of a weird question from someone at the Utah Statesman asking where he thought he'd be at the end of the year with Boise State gone. It was sort of hard to explain and phrased in a weird way. Coach went on to say some interesting things about his past experiences in moving from one conference to another and the extra significance each game on this year's schedule will have because of this.

~ An unknown reporter posed this next question. If Nevada found itself in an automatic qualifying conference -- be it the WAC or Mountain West -- Coach said the biggest difference would be the doors it would open as far as building a recruiting base would go.

~ Another Murray question, this one on the schedule. He said the schedule "is what it is" and also that the San Jose State game is every bit as meaningful as the Oregon game because of its position.

~ He says he's not concerned about carrying last season's momentum over as much as he's concerned about breaking in his new players and shoring up depth in the beginning third of the schedule.

~ When asked by someone about the WAC's future, he mentioned Karl Benson's prior experiences in building the league back up from defections and how important good, sound leadership at the top of a conference is; he goes on to say that ongoing relationships with other WAC programs regarding schedules will be important to Nevada and that the time they've spent in the WAC will be remembered fondly.

~ He concluded his time at the podium with the remark that he'll be more involved with scheduling from now on but that the athletic director will obviously still have the final say.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Translation Guide: What Coaches Are REALLY Saying at Media Days

The WAC's media days begin this Thursday at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. This will happen almost immediately after the Mountain West concludes their own media days across town at the Red Rock Resort, further cementing Karl Benson's weird fetish with imitating Craig Thompson whenever he does something in Vegas.

We all know how carefully coaches often try to choose their words when interacting with members of the media. This is especially true when both parties are asked to converge on one location for several days and pretend to be interested in what they both have to say. It's all part of a time-honored song and dance: the media asks the different coaches questions that range from tame and silly to more uncomfortably invasive than a prostate exam, and the coaches respond by disguising what they really mean in the politically correct language of "coach-speak."

In order to better inform you, the reader -- and at the risk of jeopardizing whatever chance I have of getting a PWtW press pass in the future -- I present you this translation guide to some of the many cliches you'll hear at a typical media day press conference.

"Good morning. I'm happy to be here representing [name of program] and am excited to tell you all about the team we're putting together for this season."

Translation: "I can't wait to get back on the recruiting trail instead of being forced to waste any more time than I have to with you putzes."

"We didn't have many players available at [random position], and I think we're going to see some interesting competition there in the fall."

Translation: "I have no idea who is going to start there and have already gone through a lot of ulcer medication thinking about it."

"I understood the high standards at [name of program] when I took this job, and I wake up every morning looking forward to the opportunities I've been given to live up to those expectations."

Translation: "I'm in way over my head. Our fans are all nutjobs who live vicariously through this football team. Please kill me before one of them does it first."

"To someone on the outside looking in, I suppose it may look like coaches are paid too much."

Translation: "You try doing this crap for a living and see how much YOU think we should get paid."

"We may not win every game, but I can tell you that we'll always play with a lot of heart and will never quit."

Translation: "Yeah, even I have to admit there are times when we look pathetic out there."

"Our players have been working hard in practice and they've responded really well to what we've been teaching them. They'll be ready when the season starts."

Translation: "It took them long enough, but those little puss bags have finally started to respect us."

"I haven't seen what [highly touted offensive recruit] can do at the college level yet, so I'm looking forward to starting up fall practices."

Translation: "The second he starts hot-dogging or running his mouth, our senior linebacker will flatten him. And it will be glorious."

"Let me tell you, no one on my staff was satisfied with how we [ran the ball, passed the ball, etc.] last year."

Translation: "I'm surrounded by incompetence and have to suppress the urge to strangle those idiots."

"It's nice to be picked by the media to win your conference, but it's our job as coaches to keep those kids' heads from getting too big."

Translation: "Stop making my job harder, you worthless schmucks."

"I'm looking forward to another great season. It's been a pleasure talking to all of you. Thank you for having me here."

Translation: "FREEDOM!"

Now it's your turn: what are the real meanings behind some of your favorite bits of coach-speak?

Translation: Respond to this entry. Please. Give me some sort of validation for all of the time I spend on here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Better Know the Units: Pass Offense

Through most of the summer, I've tried to update This Space every Tuesday and Friday. That changed this week, when I didn't have anything to put up on the 19th. Sure, I probably could've wrought out a half-assed "What's with all of this realignment stuff?" entry, but I know you're all too smart for that. And I ain't apologizing for my brief absence, either. Ya know why? 'Cause it's hard to find stuff to blog about in the summertime, damn it! And I don't owe you maggots anything except a swift kick in the toolbox for riding me so damn hard all the time.

OK, that didn't work. I can't just alienate and ingratiate my readers at will like the NFL and NBA can. So please come back! There's sheet cake and punch this week. And another BKtU entry!

This one is on passing offenses, or more specifically, the quarterbacks and receivers who make them possible. This one was particularly interesting in that only four of Nevada's twelve opponents return their starting quarterback from the previous year, and that's obviously a big factor in the offense's continuity from one season to the next. If you're the Nevada secondary, this is also a big deal in that you're probably thanking the football gods for actually throwing you a bone for once.

I calculated a composite ranking from the teams' average passing yards per game, the total number of passing yards they accumulated, their pass efficiency rating, their completion percentage, the number of passing touchdowns they had and the number of interceptions they threw. Final factors in approximating their strength included how many of their starting receivers return (I'm including tight ends in this group) and whether their quarterback also returns, which I'll list next to their name and composite ranking.

#12 New Mexico 106th and 3 of 4 ~ There's no way to spin this one in a positive manner except to point out how many receivers return. Not only is a projected starting quarterback no longer on the team, but his nickname was "Stump." I can't believe I'm typing this, but I think I've actually found a nickname that makes "Jimmer" sound dignified by comparison.

#11 Utah State 99th and 5 of 5 ~
For all the talk we heard about Diondre Borel being a good dual-threat quarterback, the passing stats he put up last year were quite poor. His coach's good fortune of having four starting receivers and a tight end all return makes the task of finding an adequate quarterback -- not even a great one -- critical for the Aggies.

#10 New Mexico State 96th and 1 of 3 ~ If it weren't for the relatively few interceptions their quarterbacks threw, this would be the worst of the twelve passing attacks on this list. As it stands, I can admit their composite ranking was skewed upwards a little because of this.

#9 UNLV 83rd and 3 of 3 ~ Well this is awkward. For the first time in this series, the Rebels' unit in question isn't ranked in the bottom three. Suddenly I feel like everything I know is a lie. I have to go lay down somewhere.

#8 Louisiana Tech 72nd and 3 of 4 ~ For a team implementing a spread offense for the first time, the Bulldogs made out pretty well. They made visible progress as the season went on and likely have more productivity to look forward to with Colby Cameron taking control under center.

#7 San Jose State 69th and 3 of 4 ~ It's true -- the Spartans were actually decent at moving the ball through the air last year. Granted, their old quarterback still threw a lot of interceptions and wasn't very efficient overall, but there's no reason to believe they can't continue getting better.

#6 Idaho 50th and 2 of 4 ~ The Vandal offense finds itself at a crossroads. Nathan Enderle and his former receivers helped turn the program around for the better, but their replacements will be asked to continue what they started and the potential for a letdown is certainly there.

#5 Fresno State 39th and 2 of 3 ~ Ryan Colburn was mediocre in a few areas and above average in most others. Derek Carr will have a good group of receivers to throw to, but has to depend upon an almost entirely new offensive line for protection.

#3 TIE Hawai'i (24th and 1 of 4) and Oregon (27th and 2 of 4) ~ You read that right -- it's the first tie of these entries. Both units boasted really impressive numbers in several areas last year, but have their own sets of pivotal questions to answer. Hawai'i was first in the country in three of this list's categories, but saw their composite ranking dragged down by lots of interceptions. Losing two of their top tree receivers is a concern, but not a significant one. Oregon was the more statistically well rounded of the two, but has a lot of productivity and depth to recapture in their receiving corps.

#2 Texas Tech 17th and 2 of 5 ~ Similar to Hawai'i in that replacing their quarterbacks and receivers from year to year isn't normally an issue. The names will be different, but we can still likely expect the usual air-it-out Red Raider offense.

#1 Boise State 4th and 2 of 4 ~ So the Broncos have to replace 5,900 receiving yards worth of productivity from where Titus Young and Austin Pettis used to start. Are you really anticipating a big step back for them in this area? Didn't think so. Worst-case scenario is the passing offense falls back from "Chuck Norris awesome" to "Boba Fett awesome."

So what say you, loyal reading stumps, of my list?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Better Know the Units: Rush Defense

Former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes once said "There are three things that can happen when you pass, and two of them ain't good." Given how his career in Columbus ended -- refusing to resign after punching a Clemson player who intercepted a pass at the 1978 Gator Bowl -- we can probably amend that quote to say four and three things, respectively. Where am I going with this? To another BKtU entry that would equally infuriate Hayes: rushing defenses.

Specifically, two very good rushing defenses, a few that were slightly above average, and a whole bunch that the pistol offense would gleefully tear apart for a free "How Not to Defend the Run" coaching clinic. I looked at the average rushing yards allowed per game, total rushing yards allowed, average yards per carry allowed, number of rushing touchdowns allowed, tackles for loss and the number of rushing plays of ten or more yards they allowed. Throw in the usual composite ranking of the six categories and the number of returning starters on the line and in the linebacking corps and you'll have a general idea of who we can expect to challenge the pistol's new personnel in 2011. For the sake of transparency, I'll include the composite rankings I came up with and the aforementioned number of starters they return.

#12 UNLV 116th and 2 ~ "Yeah, Moe, that team sure did suck last night. They just plain sucked! I've seen teams suck before, but they were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked." Moving on...

#11 New Mexico 116th and 5 ~ Nearly indistinguishable from the damn dirty Rebels, but with the benefit of much more in the way of returning experience. Huzzah.....?

#10 New Mexico State 111th and 5 ~ Here's where we're more accustomed to seeing the Fightin' Mummes. Will five starters back really make a difference on what was already a poor run defense? History says "no."

#9 Utah State 99th and 5 ~ Any hope the Aggies have of finally breaking through has to start with actually stopping something on the ground for a change. I suggest trying an armadillo first and then working your way up from there.

#8 San Jose State 102nd and 7 ~ Here's where you'll hopefully pick up on a trend in these entries: when faced with two statistically similar teams, I generally side with the one who has more coming back from the previous year.

#7 Idaho 82nd and 5 ~ Something I noticed about the stats in this entry is how little variation there generally was across the various categories. If a team was ranked in the 80s in one particular area, they were most likely in that same neighborhood for all the other categories.

#6 Fresno State 73rd and 4 ~ Some big names depart, others return, and mediocrity generally rules the day.

#5 Louisiana Tech 68th and 4 ~ Like their shared mascot, pretty much the same story here.

#4 Texas Tech 61st and 4 ~ The new 4-2-5 scheme could provide the tools necessary for what was a pretty young front last year to pull themselves up a bit this year.

#3 Hawai'i 49th and 5 ~ The only run defense that posed serious enough problems for the Pack to lose against last year loses some big producers themselves, but returns others.

#2 Oregon 25th and 2 ~ Oregon's front seven was very effective against the run last year. But literally every player of note -- Brandon Bair, Kenny Rowe, Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger -- is gone. Their effectiveness could potentially end up closer to that of the Warriors' rushing defense than you might realize.

#1 Boise State 9th and 4 ~ If nothing else, the statistical supremacy of the Broncos in these entries thus far should illustrate just how special Pack Friday was, as well as the degree of shear difficulty of what the coaches and players did that night.

I'll be back on Tuesday, so pray that my Hope Solo crush doesn't blossom to restraining order status by then.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Nevada Beats Oregon (Yes, Really)

I'm a history buff, and I especially enjoy reading up on the bygone years of college football's past. Think of me as a much younger Beano Cook, but with (maybe) one hundredth the knowledge and even less of the ability to whip out colorful metaphors on the spot.

So when I recently checked out a copy of "Legacy: 100 Years of Athletics at the University of Nevada," imagine my surprise when I read a passage on a Wolf Pack team from the 40s that upset a favored Oregon Ducks team in Eugene. With this season's opening tilt on all of our minds, I couldn't wait until September for the opportunity to share their story with my readers.

The majority of what you read next can be found in that book, the contents of which are ultimately the property of the University of Nevada Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and author John Trent.

* * * * *

Nevada has played Oregon six times in football. The Ducks have won five of those contests, some of which were close (a 24-20 loss in Reno in 1997 and a 31-23 loss in Eugene in 2003) and others not so close (72-10 in 1999, 36-7 the following year). But on October 4, 1947, Nevada went on the road and beat Oregon in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.

Norm Van Brocklin during his time at Oregon

The Ducks were led by Norm "The Dutchman" Van Brocklin, future Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and an eventual inductee of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. To the Wolf Pack's credit, Nevada boasted some quarterback star power of their own in the form of Stan Heath, who played his first collegiate game on that day. He would go on to become one of five Heisman finalists the following year, ultimately losing the award to SMU running back Doak Walker. Oddly enough, one of Van Brocklin's teammates on the Rams' 1951 NFL championship team was former Nevada running back Tommy Kalmanir, who went on to lead the league in kick return yards.

Jim Aiken, the former Nevada coach who left for Oregon that year.

The game might've gone down in history as just another match-up of quality west coast teams were it not for some extra drama on the sidelines. Nevada head coach Jim Aiken had left to take the same job at Oregon before the 1947 season, nearly fifty years before Jeff Horton and the infamous "Red Defection." Aiken even played a role in putting Nevada on the Ducks' schedule that year, apparently convinced that his former team would be, in the words of Wolf Pack tight end Scott Beasley, "a pushover."

Nicknamed "Slingshot," Stan Heath and Nevada's passing attack both garnered national attention in the late 1940s.

The coach who took over at Nevada was Joe Sheeketski, a former player at Notre Dame under Knute Rockne whose only previous head coaching experience was at Holy Cross. Using a T-formation with two receivers and two running backs, the Wolf Pack gained national attention for throwing an average of more than twenty forward passes a game at a time when the nation's football fans and coaches alike still weren't quite sure what to make of the innovation.

The two teams took to Hayward Field with identical 1-1 records. After a scoreless first quarter, the Ducks struck first on a Van Brocklin touchdown pass to Dan Garza, taking a 6-0 lead. The Dutchman then led another long drive down to the Nevada 8-yard line, but was stopped on three consecutive plays by the Wolf Pack defense. With Heath on the sidelines after participating in the previous defensive stand, back-up quarterback Mike Mirabelli connected with Carl Robinson for a 24-yard touchdown to put Nevada ahead 7-6 at the half.

Hayward Field as it looked around the time the game was played. Today, it is now the University of Oregon's main track and field venue.

After the break and with the weather turning rainy, another quarter transpired with both teams unable to score. All too aware of their tenuous lead late in the fourth quarter, Sheeketski had experimented with numerous combinations of backs and linemen in an attempt to keep his players rested enough for the remainder of the game. And when Nevada back Duke Lindeman saw the Dutchman try to throw a short pass to his fullback -- a play he had snuffed out earlier in the game -- he knew what to do. Seventy-five yards later, Lindeman had returned his interception for a touchdown, and Nevada escaped Eugene with a 13-6 victory.

* * * * *

Oregon went on to finish 7-3 in 1947, but didn't play in a bowl game that year. After the following season, however, they became the first west coast team to play in a major bowl game outside of the Rose Bowl, losing to SMU in the Cotton Bowl 20-13.

Nevada went 9-2 in 1947, beating North Texas State in the Salad Bowl -- the forerunner of what we now call the Fiesta Bowl -- for the program's first ever bowl win. Stan Heath and the Wolf Pack continued to set passing records throughout the historic 1948 regular season, nearly going undefeated except for a loss to Santa Clara that probably cost the team a berth in the Sugar Bowl. They ended the year with a 27-7 loss to Villanova in the Harbor Bowl, and wouldn't crack the national rankings again for another 62 years. On September 26, 2010 -- the day the Wolf Pack finally returned to the polls -- Stan Heath passed away at his home in Georgia at the age of 83.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Better Know the Units: Offensive Line

Our latest recurring feature "Better Know the Units" (or "BKtU" for you Internet hipsters) is back, and this week I had a hard task ahead of me: finding a way to quantify and assess how effective an offensive line is. No biggie, right?

In my last BKtU entry, I used a multitude of easily referenced statistical categories to roughly guess how good each pass defense on the 2011 schedule might be. But what stats do you look up to see how good an offensive line is? The number of steak dinners their quarterback treats them to in a season? The number of corny group pictures they take with their running backs over the summer? The number of preachy Sandra Bullock movies that have been made about each of their lives?

I found a great entry from the Texas A&M blog I Am The 12th Man which tackled this question head-on (no pun intended, but you have my permission to boo me for it). It assigns specific point values to certain running and passing plays to help generate efficiency metrics for the line's performance in a game. But since that would involve two sets of calculations for each of twelve or more games for each of Nevada's twelve opponents -- and because my time is already extremely valuable, as you've all no doubt surmised -- I decided against this.

What I did come up with, however, was another set of composite rankings that I still feel can shed some light on an offensive line's general effectiveness. Using 2010 stats, I looked at how many sacks the line allowed, how many tackles for loss it allowed, the average yards per carry of the team's rushing game, the completion percentage of the team's passing game and their offense's average time of possession per game. I then calculated composite rankings and looked at how many starters return from that line in 2011 to make my final assessment. Granted, these categories still have the potential to be misleading, particularly average time of possession (as an example, Oregon was 106th in this area last year), but again, I have neither the time, the patience, nor the general math-iness to do an efficiency metric like the Aggie blogger's.

#12 UNLV ~ These poor dopes were what I like to call P.D.W. ("pretty damn wretched") across the board. Throw in only two starters returning for more punishment this year, and you should consider sending some preemptive "Sorry About Your Shattered Ribcage" cards to whoever their new quarterback will be.

#11 New Mexico ~ The Lobos' line is the next (small) step up from that of the Rebels, but in terms of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, that's like "moving up" from "Jingle All the Way" to "End of Days."

#10 Idaho ~ Pretty much the only thing separating Idaho from New Mexico is the three starters they return to the Lobos' two. Otherwise, they're essentially at the same level of badness.

#9 San Jose State ~ Two teams are on our next level up, and like the rest of their team, a unit that was ravaged by injuries last year has some potential for upward mobility from this spot as the season goes on.

#8 Utah State ~ Again, I have to put them fairly low initially, but with four out of five starters returning, all they need to be considered decent is a quarterback who can complete more than 60% of his passes under their watch.

#7 Fresno State ~ Here's a team that seems to have equal potential to either fall back or jump ahead numerous spots. They had a lot of injuries last year and only return one starter, but they did help the Bulldog offense control the ball for many long scoring drives.

#6 Hawai'i ~ The other team on the slate with one starter returning. Their rushing and passing stats were both good (25th in yards per carry and 28th in completion percentage), but they HAVE to give their skill players some better protection (113th in sacks allowed and tied for 81st in tackles for loss allowed).

#5 New Mexico State ~ Believe me, I'm just as surprised as you are to see the Aggies ranked this high in anything. They pass-protected surprisingly well last year and return four of five starters, but the lack of good skill players around them to complement their efforts is a shame.

#4 Louisiana Tech ~ In my opinion, the best of the WAC's offensive lines not named Nevada. They ranged from average to good in the most important categories and could really help running back Lennon Creer to a great season.

#3 Oregon ~ This was a line that pass-protected very well, but showed an unusual proclivity for giving up tackles for loss. They also lose quite a bit of experience from last year's team that will be interesting to see the replacements for.

#2 Texas Tech ~ The only team on the 2011 slate whose line returns all five starters. I felt their overall prowess was a hair below Oregon's, but I have to give the nod to all that returning experience.

#1 Boise State ~ I'm only two entries into this series and it's already annoying to see how many categories the Broncos were in the top ten of last year. But at least my composite ranking of the Pack's line was ahead of theirs!

So that was my way of saluting the titans of the trenches. What are your thoughts on the conclusions I arrived at?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Proud to be a Wolf Pack Fan

To celebrate our nation's independence yesterday, many of us took a moment to reflect upon why we're fortunate to be Americans and the people and things that make this country great. Or we stumbled up to Tahoe with copious amounts of sunscreen and booze worrying if we'd be ticketed for parking on the side of a two-lane highway near Sand Harbor. Not that I would have any experience with that.

But where the Fourth of July affords the opportunity to stop and consider why being American kicks ass, what do we as Wolf Pack fans have to remind ourselves how lucky we are? Me, of course! So sit down and shut up for the next few minutes as I explain -- in bullet point form, no less -- why being a Nevada fan is awesome.

~ Nevada is neither a "football school" nor a "basketball school" -- we've been fortunate to witness the kind of recent national success in both sports that many athletic programs at other levels would kill for.

~ Because of this, our off-season only stretches from early April to the end of August. If we were Rebel fans, football would just be a sucky distraction to mock and/or placate us until basketball starts.

~ On that note, our fans can actually recall the last time the football team won a conference championship.

~ We spell "Wolf Pack" the right way.

~ Our rivalry trophy is a cannon -- not a pig, platypus, wagon wheel, milk can, beer stein or whatever the hell an Illibuck is, but an ACTUAL FRIGGIN' CANNON! Seriously, how many debates amongst other college football fans can be ended by saying "Well, we have a there"?

~ Our football team's head coach has more loyalty for his alma mater than Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino and Rich Rodriguez have for themselves. And that's a lot of loyalty.

~ The fact that it's pretty much impossible to overstate the previous sentence.

~ Having a head coach willing to put his reputation on the line in the relative twilight of his career for the sake of creating something called the "pistol offense."

~ Also having a staff of assistant coaches who didn't commit him to an insane asylum when he first explained it to them.

~ Having that same coach pass on a pay raise not because the state ordered him to, but because he felt it was the right thing to do.

~ In addition to cheering for the Pack, we've had the privilege of witnessing nationally ranked competition come to Reno to challenge Nevada -- Texas Tech and Boise State in football and Kansas and North Carolina in basketball, with even more on the horizon.

~ The fact that Nevada's actually beaten a few of those teams.

~ Seeing our last quarterback garner almost as much national attention for his work ethic and personality as he gets for his skills with a football.

~ This video. 'Nuff said.

~ Cheering for a basketball team who's had actual success in the NCAA Tournament in the last decade.

~ Being invited to a conference with bowl destinations in Las Vegas and San Diego.

~ Being invited to a conference where at-large NCAA bids are the norm and not the exception.

~ Being invited to a conference that believes in the importance of playing college football on Saturdays and not in whoring its teams out to the programming whims of an implacable, uncaring monolith.

~ Being invited to the only FBS football conference that can boast of having a service academy as one of its members.

~ Being invited to a conference whose commissioner gives the impression -- at least, most of the time -- that he actually knows what he's doing.

~ And last but far from least...being invited to a conference with a future to look forward to.

So those are some of my reasons for why we've got it made -- what are yours?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Better Know the Units: Pass Defense

For This Space's first entry after the Summer Filler series, I wanted to do something a little more substantive than just perusing old depth charts and trying to come up with new ways to make fun of San Jose State. So I'm moving on to a new endeavor this week, like the wino who's had his fill of boxed wine and who yearns for something newer and (marginally) better.

I decided to call this new series the mysterious -- and may I say vaguely dirty -- Better Know the Units. I'll look at a variety of statistical categories and count down in ascending order what I believe will be the twelve best units of that type the Pack will face this year. I won't claim any of these lists to be authoritative or even wholly accurate, but considering I have a blog and you most likely don't, I win any and all arguments by default.

I'll kick off the series with a look at the pass defenses. For this list, I examined six different categories: average passing yards allowed per game, total number of passing yards allowed, pass efficiency defense, completion percentage defense, number of passing touchdowns allowed and number of interceptions. I then assigned an average composite ranking of all of these categories to each team and then used the number of returning starters in the secondary as a final means of determining who should be ranked ahead of who heading into 2011.

#12 New Mexico State ~ Any time you lose an NFL draft pick from a secondary that was already bad is never a good thing, hence why they're ranked at the bottom here.

#11 Louisiana Tech ~ Junior corner Chad Boyd is a promising talent, but there are some big unknowns around him in the Bulldog secondary.

#10 UNLV ~ Another case of a solid starter surrounded by mediocrity and/or uncertainty -- this time it's Will Chandler.

#9 Utah State ~ It was really hard for me to put the Aggies this low, but the fact is that they only return one starter in the secondary and Curtis Marsh won't be easy to replace.

#8 New Mexico ~ Here's a case of a unit that didn't do well no matter how you may try to spin it, but does return all four starters. As Pack fans are all too aware of, continuity from season to season often helps a great deal in the secondary.

#7 San Jose State ~ Yes, the Spartans were terrible against the pass in most areas, but they actually didn't allow very many passing TDs and, like the Lobos, return all four starters.

#6 Idaho ~ There's not a lot of separation between the teams ranked twelfth through fifth -- they're ultimately just different shades of "terrible."

#5 Texas Tech ~ This is probably my most debatable selection. The Red Raiders were HEINOUS defending the pass last year, and it remains to be seen how long it will take to adjust to that new 4-2-5 scheme. But the guy implementing it did great things at TCU, and with the talent Coach Tuberville is already bringing in, I see a sizable -- but not too sizable -- boost coming to the Texas Tech secondary.

#4 Hawai'i ~ The next level of pass defense on this list could be described as "adequate," and it's the area where you'd see Nevada if they were ranked with the other twelve teams. Mana Silva and Jeramy Bryant's production will be greatly missed, so there's definitely potential for them to fall in this area.

#3 Fresno State ~ The Bulldogs were pretty mediocre across the board in all the pass defense categories I looked at. Two starters must be replaced, and they have to get better at forcing some interceptions.

#2 Oregon ~ This is where things got really hard. The Ducks and Broncos will clearly have the two best pass defenses of any of Nevada's opponents in 2011, and it's not even close. The composite ranking I gave Oregon was 28th, and the next-best one would've been Nevada at 59th. Cliff Harris is an elite talent, and after he serves his not-yet-fully-disclosed suspension for pretending to be Batman on an Oregon freeway, he will arguably be the best corner in the nation.

#1 Boise State ~ The most consistently exceptional pass defense across the board Nevada will have faced, both in 2010 and 2011. It was very tough for me to decide between BSU's all-around stats and a lesser Oregon defense that boasts a play-maker of Harris' caliber. I ultimately sided with Boise State, but not by much. The Broncos only return two starters in their secondary, but we should know by now not to doubt their ability to replace their star players from year to year.

So those are the pass defenses the Pack will line up against this fall -- two very good ones and ten pretenders. I'll see you all again after the Monday holiday with whatever is on my mind.