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Nevada's Jay Norvell 'disappointed' by Mountain West's uneven schedule

Jay Norvell
Jay Norvell and the Wolf Pack will play eight conference games this season. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

Nevada football coach Jay Norvell isn't a huge fan of the Mountain West's decision to have an uneven schedule in 2020.

The conference released its schedule Thursday and nine MW teams will play eight conference games, two will play seven conference games (Boise State, San Diego State) and one will play six conference games (Air Force). Since Nevada moved into the MW in 2012, the conference has had an unbalanced schedule. But it's never had teams play a different number of conference games.

"This year has been so unorthodox and different, it's just another thing," Norvell said on a Zoom press conference Thursday. "It's a little disappointing everybody isn't playing the same amount of conference games. But at this point, it's kind of out of all of our control. At the end of the day, you have to win the games you play. And at the end of the year, the cream should rise to the top. That's how we're looking at it. All through this thing, we've tried to have the mentality of worrying about things we can control, and this is just another part of that. We'll just continue to practice and prepare for the chance to play these teams, and I'm confident at the end of the year the best teams will rise to the top and get a chance to play in the conference championship game."

Air Force had previously scheduled games against Navy and Army, the latter being in the middle of the MW's season, which will include eight games in eight weeks for most schools. That game threw a wrench into the MW schedule. Boise State also will play a non-conference game with BYU in the middle of the season, and San Diego State and Air Force have byes on the final week of the regular season. Norvell said the MW coaches didn't get much of explanation on the scheduling inequities.

"We didn't really get in-depth with it as far as the coaching staff, but there were some agreements with Air Force," Norvell said. "Boise, I'm not quite sure what their circumstances were, but there were prior agreements with the service academies and Air Force, so it is what it is. We have a really good conference. We have a well respected conference. We deserve to compete for a championship. The level is not quite even, but we still have to go play the games and play the teams we need to beat to have a chance to play in that championship game. We're fine with the format. We were scheduled to play eight conferences games, and that's what we got, so that's what we'll play. But I would have preferred everybody play the same amount of conference games."

The MW also said Thursday it will not have two divisions this season. Instead of the Mountain Division champion playing the West Division champion, the conference's top two teams by winning percentage will play in the MW title game. Norvell wasn't thrilled with that decision.

"I think when you're in a 12-team league and you have two divisions, you should probably play your divisions and the winners should advance," Norvell said. "But this is an unusual year. I just don't like the fact that not everybody is playing the same amount of conference games. If we're all in a conference and we're going to have all conference games, we should all play eight conference games and decide a champion.

"But it is what it is, and when we get done with this season we're all going to look back and it's going to be a very unusual year. But thank goodness we get a chance to play. For our seniors to have an eight-game schedule were they get a chance to compete for a championship, I think it's probably the best we could have hoped for after everything we've been through. I think everybody is happy we're playing now instead of the spring."

Despite the schedule not being ideal in Norvell's eyes, he's just excited to get in a fall football season after it was originally pushed to the spring. With Gov. Steve Sisolak increasing maximum gatherings in the state to 250 people, Norvell's team began practicing as one group Thursday morning. Before that, it was doing two practices in smaller groups. And with a schedule set, the season is starting to feel more real.

"We're just really excited to have something to zero in on," Norvell said. "Our kids are really excited. We've been in camp for a week now, and it's kind of like the first week of training camp. Our guys are getting a little leg weary and sore and beat up and we're going to scrimmage on Saturday, so we're looking forward to these next three weeks, which will go quickly, and getting a chance to play."

Nevada's eight MW opponents were unchanged from the original schedule, which Norvell was thankful for because the Wolf Pack had been preparing for those specific teams all summer. However, the order of the opponents was changed, most notably UNLV moving from the last game of the season to the second game, on Nevada Day Weekend. Norvell said he was fine with that move.

"I think anytime we get to play them, you look forward to it," Norvell said. "There's something cool about having it at the end of the year because it kind of tops off the end of the season, but it's also kind of fun you don't have to wait that long to play them. We're looking forward to it. I think it's great. The kids have a chance to get our juices flowing earlier in the year and gives us something to look forward to."

Nevada's game at Allegiant Stadium will be the first college contest at the Raiders' new stadium. It also will be the stadium's first game with fans, as long as the Rebels get clearance from the state to have a reduced capacity as part of Sisolak's announcement earlier this week. Norvell coached for the Raiders from 2002-03 and has always spoken fondly of his time with the organization.

"I think it will be great," Norvell said of playing in the NFL stadium. "The stadium looks awesome on TV. I saw some of the Monday Night Game, and it's really cool. The Raiders organization is kind of like a mom and pop organization. The people who have worked there grew up as ball boys and spent most of their adult lives working for the organization. When Al Davis was alive, it was a kind of a special deal to be around him. I think it's cool the walkway they have for him and the torch. I think it's a great tribute. It will be fun playing there. It's a great-looking stadium, and our guys are really excited by that opportunity."

With the eight-game schedule set, some games could be shifted up a day or two to accommodate television. With the season being truncated, the expectation is there will be a lot of Thursday and Friday games to allow the MW's television partners to get as many games on air as possible. Norvell said he was fine playing weekday games as long as they are not after the Hawaii game, which is known for its tough travel.

"I actually don't mind playing on Friday," Norvell said. "We haven't had too many Thursday games, and that could really give you a short week when we have no byes. But I really don't mind playing on Friday. I kind of like playing on Friday if we get a big TV audience and are one of the few games that are playing. I know the players like that, too. I'm not opposed to that at all. I kind of look forward to playing on one of those alternate days."

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