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1,000 Words: Nevada football can still have a season to remember

Jay Norvell
Jay Norvell and Nevada are chasing a season to remember. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.

* NEVADA FOOTBALL HASN’T HAD MANY seasons to remember of late. There’s obviously the 2010 campaign when Nevada went 13-1 and finished 11th in the nation. There’s the 2005 team that upset No. 16 Fresno State to win a share of the WAC title before beating Central Florida in the Hawaii Bowl to cap a 9-3 campaign. But outside of those two seasons, the rest of the years blur together, an amalgamation of six- or seven-win showings (or worse) over the last two decades that fans don’t remember a year after they happened. This year’s Wolf Pack has a chance to change that. It has a chance to post a season to remember.

* THE WOLF PACK FRITTERED AWAY its opportunity to score season-defining major upsets, losing games to rivals Fresno State and Boise State as well as to SEC foe Vanderbilt, but Nevada’s in a good position to post eight or nine wins this season, and the Wolf Pack has hit the nine-win barrier just five times in its FBS era (just twice since 1997, the two years mentioned above). Nevada doesn’t even have to beat any great teams to get to nine wins. Saturday’s tilt with San Diego State is the toughest Nevada faces for the remainder of the regular season, although the Wolf Pack is only a 2.5-point underdog against a team that struggles to score 20 points a night.

* IF NEVADA WINS THIS WEEKEND, it heads off to a bye before playing Colorado State (3-5 with a loss to an FCS team), San Jose State (0-7 with a loss to an FCS team) and UNLV (2-5). The Wolf Pack should not lose to those teams. If Nevada can leap the SDSU hurdle, a five-game winning streak to end the regular season isn’t just realistic but a rather likely outcome. That could be getting ahead of ourselves. After all, Nevada has won back-to-back games in a season just once in the last three years. Expecting this team to win five straight might be overly bullish, but things are set up for the Wolf Pack to finish the regular season at 8-4.

* AND THEN THE WOLF PACK would head to a bowl game – almost certainly against a Group of 5 school – with the chance of picking up a ninth victory. After going 3-9 last season, the second-fewest wins in school history since Chris Ault was hired in 1976 – tripling that win total a year later would count as a season to remember. But that almost entirely hinges on Saturday’s game against San Diego State. That’s a must win if this is going to be a season to remember rather than one that fades in memory. The Aztecs have a quality program that could be in the Top 25 next week if it leaves Mackay Stadium with a win. Beating SDSU, which is 7-1 in its last eight games against Nevada, would be a big step for the Wolf Pack.

* NEVADA’S FOUR WINS TO DATE include victories over a 1-6 Pac-12 team (Oregon State), a 3-4 FCS team (Portland State), a 3-4 MW school (Air Force) and a 6-3 Hawaii team whose wins have versus teams that are 5-31 against FBS foes this season (and that doesn’t including two losses to FCS teams). Bottom line is Nevada has scored wins against some bad teams and could do so again with its final three games of the regular season (CSU, SJSU and UNLV, who are a combined 5-17). There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what you’re supposed to do, but for this to be a season to remember, Nevada has to beat SDSU and whoever it plays in our hypothetical bowl game to show it also can beat good teams as well as bad ones.

* AT A VERY MINIMAL, this season has shown us second-year coach Jay Norvell is taking the program in the right direction. Nevada does lose starting quarterback, Ty Gangi, and a host of defensive play-makers (Malik Reed, Korey Rush, Asauni Rufus, Dameon Baber) to graduation after this season, so there will be big holes to fill in addition to a harder schedule in 2019. That might indicate the Wolf Pack takes a minor step back next season – it’s hard to forecast that far into the future – but Nevada has a chance to do something special this season. A MW title is likely out of the question, but a 9-4 season with a win over UNLV and a bowl victory are still in the picture. If Nevada does that, this will indeed be a season to remember.

* THE MALAISE AFTER NEVADA basketball’s loss to Washington seems to have lifted. It’s funny how down fans can get after one bad half, but fan spirits are back up after seeing their teams ranked seventh in the preseason AP poll, ninth in the preseason coaches poll and having their first preseason AP All-American in school history (Caleb Martin). Of course, the big question is whether Nevada can remain in the top 10 and whether Martin will be a first-team All-American at season’s end. The last time a mid-major school like Nevada finished the season in the top 10 of both national polls and had a first-team All-American was Gonzaga in 2012-13 (Kelly Olynyk was the All-American). Another goal for Nevada to shoot for.

* DAMONTE RANCH’S CADE McNAMARA broke the Nevada state record for career touchdown passes Thursday with 139 (his record-tying TD pass was to his brother, Kyle, which had to be pretty cool). I know everybody is eagerly awaiting the annual Nevada-UNLV football game, but I’m just as excited to see Damonte Ranch take on Bishop Gorman in a North versus South battle (assuming both make it to the state title game, which they should). Las Vegas writers are already bragging about how Gorman, which has been average by their own lofty standard this year, will beat Damonte Ranch by 30-plus points. I’m not so sure about that. I like Damonte's chances. We should get to see that matchup a month from now.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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