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.