Pack riding high in Mountain West now | RecordCourier.com

Pack riding high in Mountain West now

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

The best men's basketball team in the Mountain West right now plays its home games at Lawlor Events Center. The Nevada Wolf Pack has the best record in the conference at 9-2 and they've done it against one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the conference. The Wolf Pack is 4-2 away from home while the rest of the conference is a combined 12-27 away from its home court. No other team in the conference has won more than two games away from home. Colorado State (8-2) and Wyoming (7-2) also have lost just two games but they've both gotten fat against bad teams at home. Wyoming is 6-0 at home while Colorado State is 7-1 at home. UNLV, Fresno State, San Diego State and New Mexico are a combined 19-4 at home but just 5-11 away from home. The Pack, on the other hand, already has quality wins away from home against Washington, Oakland, Buffalo and Bradley. The Pack's only losses this year came in the season opener at Saint Mary's, the 17th ranked team in the nation at the time, and against Iona in Alaska to close out a grueling stretch of five games in nine days. Coach Eric Musselman threw his team into the fire to start this season and so far they are coming out of it battle tested and battle born.

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Jay Norvell will have his work cut out for him in his first year as the Wolf Pack head football coach. The Wolf Pack's 2017 schedule will feature eight bowl teams (Northwestern, Toledo, Washington State, Hawaii, Air Force, San Diego State, Boise State and Colorado State). The Wolf Pack's 12 opponents in 2017 have compiled a record of 76-69 this year. This past year the Pack finished 5-7 against teams that went a combined 62-88 the previous year (2015). Just five of the Pack's opponents in 2016 went to a bowl the previous year. Norvell's Pack will face a brutal road schedule in 2017, traveling to Northwestern, Washington State, San Diego State, Boise State, Colorado State and Fresno State. Only Fresno State of those six is not going to a bowl this year. The good news for Norvell and the Pack is that the home schedule in 2017 is very manageable with Toledo, Idaho State, Hawaii, San Jose State, UNLV and Air Force coming to Mackay Stadium.

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What kind of record can we expect out of Norvell's first season at Nevada? The Wolf Pack should finish somewhere between Jeff Tisdell's rookie season of 9-3 in 1996 and Brian Polian's first year of 4-8 in 2013. Expect a 4-2 or 5-1 record at home and 2-4 or 1-5 on the road. Victories over Idaho State, Hawaii, San Jose State, UNLV and Fresno State are not out of question with losses coming at Northwestern, Washington State, San Diego State and Boise State. That leaves contests against Toledo and Air Force at home and Colorado State on the road as the make-or-break-it games of Norvell's first year. Six or seven wins and a bowl invitation next year is a reasonable expectation for the 2017 season. Anything more than that and Norvell should be Mountain West Coach of the Year.

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What did Polian leave Norvell to work with in 2017? The cupboard isn't totally bare — playmakers such as quarterback Ty Gangi, running back James Butler, wide receiver Wyatt Demps, offensive lineman Austin Corbett, defensive backs Dameon Baber and Asauni Rufus and defensive lineman Malik Reed are coming back — but there are quite a few holes to fill. The position of linebacker needs to be totally rebuilt, for example, and the offensive line could use more than a few tweaks. And there are depth issues everywhere except on the defensive line. With Gangi, Butler and Demps, the offense should be just fine. Norvell's spread offense, which was born in the Big 12, should be able to put up a ton of points and yards in the Mountain West, a league almost totally void of defense. The key to the Norvell regime will be defense. He needs to find some athletes at linebacker.

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Norvell is facing a kinder, gentler introduction into Wolf Pack football than Polian did in his first year. First of all, Polian faced the toughest schedule in Wolf Pack history in 2013, having to go up against Florida State, UCLA, Boise State, San Diego State, BYU, Fresno State, Air Force and Colorado State. Not even Chris Ault would have carved a winning record out of that murderer's row. Norvell is also starting a month earlier than Polian, who wasn't announced as head coach until Jan. 11, 2013. That extra month will be huge for Norvell as he firms up his coaching staff and gets a head start on recruiting. Polian was forced to pick up leftovers on the recruiting trail in January 2013 and he secured just three impact players (Ian Seau, Matt Lyons, Elijah Mitchell) in his first class. Don Jackson was also in Polian's first class but he had already given the Pack his verbal commitment long before Polian was hired. That thin recruiting class in 2013 ended up being a big reason why Polian's Pack career fizzled out after just four seasons.

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Don't be so sure that Colin Kaepernick's career with the San Francisco 49ers is coming to an end at the end of this season. Odds are Kaepernick will indeed look to go elsewhere after the season is over but he might discover that he fits best in San Francisco after all. Would he really rather play with the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets or Chicago Bears? The 49ers also might not have a better option at quarterback than Kaepernick. Kaepernick hasn't exactly been the second coming off Joe Montana, Steve Young or even Steve DeBerg or Jeff Garcia this year, but his passer rating of 85.4 is better than that of Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, Carson Wentz, Blake Bortles, Brock Osweiler and Carson Palmer and just behind Eli Manning, Tyrod Taylor and Russell Wilson. Kaepernick is also the second-leading rusher among all quarterbacks with 416 yards and he's been intercepted just three times all year.

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The 49ers would be best served by getting rid of general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly and keeping Kaepernick. Baalke has done nothing right since he ran Jim Harbaugh out of San Francisco two years ago. Harbaugh, who coached with Jay Norvell with the Oakland Raiders in 2002 and 2003 and with Brian Polian at Stanford in 2010, was 44-19 with the 49ers. Every other 49ers coach since Steve Mariucci left after the 2002 season – Dennis Erickson, Jim Tomsula, Mike Singletary, Mike Nolan and Kelly – has been a combined 52-106. Kelly has gone 7-21 in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and 49ers the last two seasons since he was 20-12 in his first two seasons combined in Philadelphia. The Eagles fired him in just his third season because the players wanted him gone. And it doesn't look like the 49er players are all that thrilled with him either. The general manager and head coach are the problem in San Francisco. Not the quarterback.