Friday Fodder: Wolf Pack counting on Rolovich
Special to the Tribune
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
Which coach holds the key to this Nevada Wolf Pack football season? It’s not head coach Brian Polian. Polian is more CEO than coach and really doesn’t affect the outcome of games. It’s not co-defensive coordinators Scott Boone and Bill Teerlinck. The Pack defense will be better this year if, for no other reason, than the schedule isn’t half as tough as last year. The key to this Pack season rests with offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. The Pack offense slumped a bit last year in Rolovich’s first year as coordinator but he gets a pass for 2013. He never really had a healthy quarterback or tight end, his running backs were inexperienced and inconsistent and the Pack played a lot of defenses that were much more talented and physical than the Pack offense. If Rolovich can get the Pack back to being a great and not just good offense, eight or nine wins is entirely possible no matter what Polian or the defensive coordinators do.
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We will see a much improved Wolf Pack defense this season. First of all, the Pack could have the best defensive line in the Mountain West, led by Brock Hekking, Jordan Hanson, Lenny Jones and Ian Seau. The linebackers will be much more experienced this year and the defensive backs don’t have to deal with the top two quarterbacks (the Pack’s Cody Fajardo and Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton) in the Mountain West as well as Fresno State’s Derek Carr, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Florida State Jameis Winston.
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Matt Williams’ toughest challenge the rest of the season as the Washington Nationals manager will be to keep Bryce Harper healthy and quiet. The first thing Harper did this past week after coming off the disabled list was to question Williams’ lineup. Harper didn’t like Williams’ decision to move Ryan Zimmerman back to third base, to put Anthony Rendon at second and Denard Span in center or to even put Harper in left and bat him sixth. Harper sure has a lot of opinions for a 21-year-old who is sitting with one homer and 10 RBI in early July. Harper also has never hit as many as 25 homers in a big league season or driven in 60 runs. He’s also never hit as high as .280 in a season or stolen as many as 20 bases. He needs to leave the lineup decision to his manager.
Williams has done a wonderful job in his first season as manager, considering that Harper and Zimmerman have spent considerable time on the disabled list. Williams, though, has to overcome a lot of history in order to win the World Series this year. Just four managers in the history of baseball have won a World Series in their rookie years. The last was Bob Brenly in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Williams played on that team. The first rookie manager to win a World Series was Bucky Harris of the 1924 Washington Senators. That is also the last time Washington has won the World Series.
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The United States’ soccer team sure did get a lot of mileage and publicity out of one victory in this year’s World Cup. The U.S. won just one of four games, was outscored 6-5 overall and the media made it seem like they were Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in Berlin in 1936. But it sure was fun, wasn’t it? Soccer is an amazing sport when the games mean something. Unfortunately, soccer only means something in this country every four years with the World Cup. That’s the biggest reason why the sport will never surpass football, basketball and baseball in popularity in this country.
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The best thing about this World Cup is that it finally, once and for all, wiped away all the silly clichés this country has promoted about soccer. Soccer is not boring. The United States’ 2-1 loss to Belgium this week was without question one of the most exciting events we’ve seen this year. It was certainly more exciting than the Super Bowl, World Series and NBA Finals. Soccer does not need more scoring. One goal in soccer is more thrilling than six touchdowns in a college football game, where somebody scores seemingly every three minutes. Yes, soccer players whine and cry a lot. But they don’t complain any more than NBA players, college basketball or football coaches or New York Yankee fans. Soccer is a highly skilled game played by incredible athletes whose abundance of passion, energy and stamina is surpassed only by its fans. It might be time we pay attention to the sport more than just once every four years.
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A United States’ hero was born in the 2-1 loss to Belgium. Goaltender Tim Howard is a guy you want to see a poster of hanging on your kid’s bedroom wall. The 35-year-old was brilliant against Belgium, saving a World Cup-record 16 shots. He has been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, was a very good high school basketball player and was once drafted by the Harlem Globetrotters. Howard once played with two broken bones in his back. He once scored a goal in the English Premier League and after the game could only express sympathy for the opposing team’s goaltender for allowing a goal to the other team’s goalie. His many tattoos reflect his children, his faith and his home state of New Jersey. He is an avid animal rights activist. So, yes, the sports world actually does still produce athletes we can admire.
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Carmelo Anthony is a wonderful basketball player and, believe it or not, is probably a little underrated despite averaging over 25 points a game in his career. But the most important free agent this summer just might be Pau Gasol. Gasol would make the Miami Heat overwhelming favorites to win the NBA title. He’d make the Chicago Bulls the favorites to beat the Heat in the East and make the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder the favorites to unseat the San Antonio Spurs in the West. The team that signs Melo has to change its entire plan of attack. Gasol can go anywhere and make his new team measurably better just by fitting in.
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