Joe Santoro: Early Pack Buck schedule mostly about wins

The Nevada football team takes the field at Mackay Stadium at the start of the 2020 season (Photo: Steve Ranson/Nevada News Group, File)

This year it will be Texas and the Word Incarnate. Last year it was Idaho and New Mexico. Two years ago, it would have been UC Davis and UTEP but the pandemic saved us.
It’s been three years since the Nevada Wolfpack football program treated us to a legitimate, well-known, and fun non-conference opponent at Mackay Stadium. You know, the kind of team that deserves to throw an empty beer glass when they enter the field. The last time it happened was when the Wolf Pack beat Purdue 34-31 to open the 2019 season.
Since then, however, one sleep-inducing opponent has been coming to Mackay Stadium on the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Pack, it seems, thinks you’ll buy a ticket to see whichever trash can, or mop an opponent can dig out of from the depths of a college football bargaining box as long as it’s early enough in the season.
If you’re old enough to remember test patterns on midnight TV, well, the likes of Texas State, Incarnate Word, and New Mexico State will bring back fond memories. What can we imagine of the Pack’s penchant for scheduling home games that aren’t meant for a snooze fest? This indicates that the Wolf Pack is terribly afraid of losing to its domestic fans if it can avoid it. Former coach Chris Ault subscribed to that philosophy, arguing that if Buck fans see his team lose at home early in the season, they might not buy another ticket for the rest of the season.
He also notes that the Wolf Pack can’t offer a big enough dollar guarantee to entice an actual live and breathing college football team that can walk and chew gum at the same time to come to Mackay Stadium. It also indicates that the package needs two home games without conferences to ensure that they win a minimum of six games to become eligible for the game. Is going to a bowl game on the backs of UC Davises, Incarnate Words, and New Mexico States in the world really an achievement? Well, yes, if the contract gives you a bonus for doing so.
These out-of-league package schedules are not for fans. They are for coaches who are already overpaid and who need some extra cash.
The Wolf Pack used to respect their fans more than this. Pack Football used to serve at least one mouth-watering appetizer on its non-conference schedule most seasons, tempting Pack fans to buy season tickets and impress them for the upcoming year.
From 1997 to 2019, teams such as Oregon, Oregon State, BYU, Washington State, Arizona, California, Missouri, Northwestern, Purdue and Texas Tech came to Mackay a total of 13 times. The Pack even won six of those games, beating BYU (2002), Northwestern (2006), Cal (2010), Washington State (2014), Oregon State (2018), Purdue (2019).
These wins and even some losses are some of the most memorable and exciting in the history of the Pack. All of these games made Mackay Stadium feel like it mattered and was part of the actual college football world for at least one day or night. They made Pack fans feel important, giving them an opponent they wanted to see if they were in their own backyard. Playing New Mexico State, Incarnate Word, Idaho State, and UC Davis doesn’t matter.
The Pack is playing a meaningful game outside of the league this year but you’ll have to get to Iowa City to see it in person. The Pack plays for Iowa this year on the road because former Hawkeye defensive linebacker Jay Norville was the Pack’s head coach. Playing the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium would net him a $1.5 million package, so no one in the silver and blue (except perhaps new coach Ken Wilson) was begging to get out of that game until after Norville headed to Colorado State.
The Wolf Pack, and all the teams stuck in the college football void outside of the energy-hungry Power Five conferences, will play anyone anywhere, anytime for $1.5 million. The Pack would play six SEC teams and six Big Ten teams all on the road and finish 0-12 if they were to make $18 million at the end of the year. Hey, the package still has to pay the 58-year-old rookie football coach and bored basketball coach looking to play the series in his career without the pressure of every million dollars a year, after all.
The Pack will play at USC next year, Minnesota in 2024 and UCLA in 2026, in a bid to pay the coaching staff. In case you were wondering, the only non-league football matches at home from 2023-26 currently scheduled are Idaho in 2023 and South Georgia in 2024. Plenty of seats are available.
The Pack in Iowa is one of about 20 big-name games (15 on the way) for the Mountain West teams this fall. While there are a few matches that look like potential failed YouTube videos (Utah in Alabama, San Jose in Auburn, UNLV in Notre Dame, Hawaii in Michigan, New Mexico at LSU), don’t be shocked if Mountain West wins over of half of those twenty games.
No, we’re not expecting Nevada to beat Iowa, but we do feel like Mountain West is going to leave those 20 games with something to be proud of, you know, other than a big check. Wyoming can go to Illinois and win, Utah can do the same in BYU and Boise must win Oregon and can get rid of BYU at home. San Diego State can beat Arizona on home soil and Utah on the road and Hawaii can start the year with a home victory over Vanderbilt. The Air Force could certainly defeat Colorado at home, Fresno could defeat Oregon at home, Colorado could wreak havoc in Washington State down the road and even the UNLV might fight a brave battle at Cal.
Beating the mediocre teams from the big-name conferences is the Mountain West Road.
The Wolf Pack will likely be 3-0 heading to its game on September 17th in Iowa. But you can also expect the package to be a double-digit underdog. Rookie Wolf Pack head coaches like Wilson, after all, haven’t done well against schools from the current Power Five conferences. The last time a junior Wolfpack coach beat a Power Five competitor was Joe Schicketsky in 1947, who beat both Oregon and Arizona. Of course, no one knew what the term “Power Five” meant in 1947, and then Arizona was battling the program in the so-called Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association alongside the likes of the Hardin-Simmons, Northern Arizona, New Mexico and New Mexico State. So this win doesn’t really count as a win called Power Five.
But winning over Oregon certainly matters. The 1947 Ducks were in the Pacific Coast Conference along with eight other schools that would later house the Pac-12. There was no Rookie Pack head coach before or after Sheeketski defeated the Power Five. George Philbrook lost 66-0 at USC in 1929, Brick Mitchell was defeated 38-0 at Cal in 1932, and Buck Shaw lost 54-0 at Cal in 1925. Since Chikitsky’s victory in Oregon in 1947, Jeff Horton has lost at Wisconsin In 1993, Jeff Tisdale lost at Oregon and Cal in 1996, Chris Turmy lost at Oregon in 2000, Brian Polian was thrown to the Wolves both at UCLA and Florida State in 2013 and Jay Norville lost at Washington State and North West in 2017.
A rookie coach named Chris Ault had to contend with strongholds like Montana Tech, Cal State Hayward and Willamette in 1976. Athletic director Ault made the junior schedule for Horton, Tisdale, and Tormy and retired just in time to take the Bullian batting in 2013.
Former Wolfback Basketball Striker Cam Oliver turned 26 on Monday.
One of the most famous and talented players to ever wear silver and blue has traveled a long and winding road since leaving Nevada after the 2016-17 season at just 20 years old. Oliver, who is not in the NBA, has played all over the world for the past five seasons. Oliver, who now plays in Spain, has also played in Australia, Israel, Delaware and Wisconsin as well as six NBA games with the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks.
Obviously, Oliver has the potential to play in the NBA. Standing 6-foot-8, he can shoot triples, rebound, and block shots. That seems to be what the NBA is all about nowadays. He has scored 10 or more points in five of his six NBA games, averaging 11 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists. Playing for Houston, he had 17 points against the Lakers on May 12, 2021 and a double (10 points, 12 rebounds) against Atlanta four days later. At 26, he should be in the NBA by now. He deserves a legit shot for creating the NBA roster. It’s time for the NBA to wake up and give him that shot.
Major League Baseball gives us the best All-Star game so far. NBA, NFL, and NHL superstar games are a joke and an embarrassing frontier. But baseball all-star bowlers are still trying to take out hitters, hitters are still trying to get a hit and players are still trying to catch the ball.
Perhaps baseball’s secret to making all of its star games competitive is the fact that it puts dozens or so players on its All Star rosters every year that don’t really belong there. Those players, who know they have stolen someone else’s Gold Willy Wonka ticket to the game, then try hard and hope to make the most of their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This year’s Golden Ticket players include Jose Trevino, Andres Jimenez, Andrew Benintende, Ian Hub, William Contreras, Garrett Cooper, Alejandro Kirk and former Aces assistant Joe Manteble.
If you know the teams these players play in the regular season, consider yourself a baseball expert. Nobody, except their wives, girlfriends, parents, and clients, wants to see them at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. But they will be there and likely be on the field in the late innings as the real stars head to the airport.
Benintende has three home runs for a terrible team. Mantiply, who spent eight days with the Aces in May 2021, is a longtime loyalist on a bad team. Kirk, Contreras, and Trevino are backup fishing gear. Cooper, Jimenez, and Hub are usually left on your waiver wire in your fantasy league. The former aces player who deserves to be at Dodger Stadium but won’t be there is Brandon Drury, who has 18 ground wrecks and 50 RBIs with the Reds.

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