A game-by-game look at the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 2011 football season . . .
GAME 1: Wolf Pack at Oregon, Sept. 10
You want to be the next Boise State? Well, go beat Oregon. At Oregon. Boise State beat Oregon in 2008 at Oregon, 37-32, and then did it again at Boise in 2009, 19-8. Forget the 72-10 shellacking the Pack suffered in Eugene in 1999. That’s not going to happen this year. Right? The Pack actually has played well in Nike Town, losing just 44-30 in 1996 and 31-23 in 2003. They also nearly beat the Ducks in Reno, losing just 24-20 in 1997. And, don’t forget, the Wolf Pack beat Oregon in Eugene in 1947, 13-6. Chris Ault was 11 months old. We’re not saying the Wolf Pack can’t go to Oregon and win and shock the college football universe. We’re just saying that you can’t expect to have a program-changing, once-a-century, greatest-win-in-the-program’s-history type of win every year. Right?
GAME 2: Wolf Pack at San Jose State, Sept. 17
The Wolf Pack simply cannot lose at San Jose State. Not with this ridiculous non-league schedule the first month of the season. The Wolf Pack has won eight of its last nine games against the Spartans. The last time the Pack was at San Jose State, they demoralized the entire Spartans’ program on national television, winning 62-7 in 2009. This game, though, is not going to be that easy. (Few games in the history of Pack football have been that easy.)You’ve heard of trap games? Welcome to the Wolf Pack’s trap game of 2011. First of all, the Pack is going to be coming off a tough, physical game at Oregon and they might be looking ahead to play at Texas Tech in Week 3. Nobody knows how healthy the Pack will be (physically and mentally) when they leave Eugene. And, second, the Spartans, are a young and improving program that will be much better than they have been in recent years. Look out, Pack.
GAME 3: Wolf Pack at Texas Tech, Sept. 24
Winning at Lubbock is never easy. The Red Raiders were a respectable 8-5 a year ago under coach Tommy Tuberville. They beat then No. 14 Missouri and a 4-1 Baylor team. And even though head coach Mike Leach was no longer around, it was your typical all-offense, no-defense Texas Tech team. This year the Red Raiders insist they will be better on defense (we’ll see). The Red Raiders will even have a new look on offense with quarterback Taylor Potts gone. This Red Raider team can even run the ball (so they say). Texas Tech will likely be 2-0 going into this game after easy wins over Texas State and New Mexico. And they’ll like nothing better than to beat a Nevada team that was nationally ranked the year before to go to 3-0. It will be another tough game for the Pack but it is one they can win. Honest.
GAME 4: Wolf Pack at Boise State, Oct. 1
Who scheduled this game? The Wolf Pack going up to Boise State for a non-league game (Boise is in the Mountain West this year) is sort of like the Miss America winner giving the first runner-up another shot at the swimsuit competition. A home game against a Big Sky Conference team would have looked awful good right about now. The Wolf Pack has won just two games in Boise in its history. That’s it. Just twice. The first one was in 1986 and the second was in 1997, on Chris Ault’s 51st birthday. This will be a tired Wolf Pack team heading to Boise for its fourth road trip in four weeks. And you know Boise already has this game circled on its calendar after what happened last November. We’re not saying the Pack can’t win this game. Boise lost a lot of talent off its 2010 team. But all of the intangibles will be dressed in blue and orange on this day, just like they were dressed in silver & blue last Nov. 26.
GAME 5: UNLV at Wolf Pack, Oct. 8
Waiting for this game will feel like waiting for the new Harry Potter movie to finally debut. The Pack finally gets to play a home game. And it’s the Rebels with the cannon on the line. And, don’t forget, it will be the first time we’ve seen this football team at home since that magical night last Nov. 26. Much of what happens on Oct. 8, though, will be determined by what happened the first four weeks of the year. What mental state will the Pack be in on Oct. 8? How heathy will they be? Will they be on their second or third starting quarterback? Will this team be beaten down physically and mentally before they even step onto the Mackay Stadium turf? Stay tuned.
GAME 6: New Mexico at Wolf Pack, Oct. 15
Since starting the 2008 season 4-4, the Lobos have gone 2-26. The Wolf Pack will also have revenge on its mind against the Lobos. It was New Mexico, after all, that stuffed the Pack’s Pistol in the New Mexico Bowl, 23-0, in December 2007. The Pack has played New Mexico three times in its long history and has scored a grand total of seven points. They should have more than that after their second drive.
GAME 7: Fresno State at Wolf Pack, Oct. 22
This game will likely be for the Western Athletic Conference title. Fresno State will be just happy to look across the field and not see Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua. Depending on what happens at Oregon and Boise, this Oct. 22 matchup against the Bulldogs will likely be the most important game of the Pack’s season. In addition to a WAC crown, this game — and the game at Boise on Oct. 1 — will set the tone for 2012 and beyond in the Mountain West Conference.
GAME 8: Wolf Pack at New Mexico State, Oct. 29
No need to worry here. The only place the Pack has problems with New Mexico State is at Mackay Stadium (see 1998, 2008). The Pack has never lost in Las Cruces. Something tells me this will be the Pack football team’s last trip to Las Cruces for a very, very long time.
GAME 9: Hawaii at Wolf Pack, Nov. 12
All Chris Ault has to do to get his team motivated for this game is remind them about last year. It was Hawaii that gave the Pack the one in its 13-1 record. Beating Hawaii in Reno is never as difficult as beating them in Honolulu but the Pack will have some business to take care of on Nov. 12 just the same.
GAME 10: Louisiana Tech at Wolf Pack, Nov. 19
Chris Ault has beaten Lousiana Tech six times in a row. He’s 7-1 against them in his career, 6-0 with the Pistol. The only time he lost to La Tech, it was with Chris Tormey’s leftovers in 2004. That 38-21 loss in 2004 is one of the big reasons why Ault decided to invent a new offense after the season. Louisiana Tech, though, should be better in 2011 and this could be a tough game for the Pack. But we say that every year.
GAME 11: Wolf Pack at Utah State, Nov. 26
The Pack will celebrate the one-year anniversary of its landmark 34-31 win over Boise State last Nov. 26 with a trip to Logan, Utah. It should be a fun trip if only because the Pack won’t have to chase Diondre Borel around the field this year. The former Utah State quarterback is finally gone, giving the Pack defense a breather. Utah State, which can’t wait until Boise, Fresno and Nevada are all out of the WAC, still can’t stop anyone. But, then again, neither did the Pack last Oct. 30 when the Aggies scored just about each time it touched the ball in the second half in a 56-42 Pack win at Mackay. It was an ugly Pack win, something Ault will no doubt remind his defense about in the week leading up to Nov. 26.
GAME 12: Idaho at Wolf Pack, Dec. 3
Say good-bye to the Western Athletic Conference. The Pack’s final game in the WAC should go a whole lot better than its first game, a 41-10 loss to TCU at Mackay Stadium on Sept. 9, 2000. Something to think about: The last time a Chris Ault-coached team played its final lame duck season in a conference, the Pack went 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference (12-1 overall) in 1991. Three of the teams on that 1991 schedule — UNLV, Idaho and Boise State — are also on the 2011 schedule 20 years later. The Pack won all three in 1991.