Friday Fodder: Wolf Pack football on track to break records
Special to the Tribune
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
The Nevada Wolf Pack football program, which opens spring practices next week, has a chance to make history in 2014. The Pack’s biggest improvement in victories from one season to the next is six, when they jumped from 7-4 in 1989 to 13-1 in 1990. The Pack went 4-8 last year and (stop laughing) 10-2 is not a total fantasy. The reason for optimism? UCLA and Florida State are not on the schedule and Boise State, Fresno State and San Diego State have to come to Reno this year. And, oh yeah, the Pack won’t lose to UNLV two years in a row. While a six-game leap might be too much to ask (the defense has to start over with yet another new defensive coordinator) there’s no reason why this team can’t turn 4-8 into 8-4
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There is one huge reason for Pack football optimism in 2014. Quarterback Cody Fajardo will be better. Fajardo basically played the 2013 season on one good leg. If he stays healthy in 2014, he will be the best player in the Mountain West. He will be explosive in the running game once again and we all know how unstoppable the pistol offense becomes when it has a dynamic running quarterback. Fajardo averaged a good-but-not-great 4.4 yards a carry in 2013 when he had to play with a young Forrest Gump knee brace. He averaged 5.7 yards a carry over his first two years. He’ll average over six yards a carry in 2014.
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Deonte Burton will be a solid NBA player if some team gives him a legitimate chance. Burton has a NBA body and mentality. He has NBA strength and athletic ability. There also won’t be a player in this year’s draft with more experience or maturity than Burton. Burton is everything the NBA should be looking for. Why all of that didn’t add up to more victories at Nevada, well, that will always be one of the greatest mysteries in Wolf Pack basketball history. But don’t hold that against Burton. You also shouldn’t hold his lack of height (he’s listed as 6-foot-1) against him. There have been plenty of NBA point guards who were 6-foot or 6-1. When you can jump over Mount Rose — and have a NBA wingspan like Burton — you don’t have to be 6-4. All he needs is a chance.
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All you need to know about the NBA playoffs is one thing. Will Dwyane Wade be healthy? If Wade is healthy, the Miami Heat will win its third consecutive NBA title. If Wade isn’t healthy, if he can’t play 35-plus minutes a game, every game, the Heat won’t even get to the Finals. And the champion (San Antonio? Oklahoma City?) will come out of the Western Conference.
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Jay Johnson is doing a solid job in his first season as Nevada Wolf Pack baseball coach. The team is a little offensively challenged and there isn’t a whole lot of depth on the pitching staff but Johnson and his staff has this team believing in itself. Next year, though, could be the year Johnson’s Wolf Pack makes its biggest jump. The 2015 team will have Johnson’s first full crop of recruits. Also, don’t overlook the talent former coach Gary Powers left the program, players like Michael Fain, Austin Byler, Colby Blueberg, Adam Whitt, Kyle Hunt, Tyler Wells, Kewby Meyer, Barry Timko and Jay Anderson. That group will give the Pack its most experienced and talented nucleus in quite a while. A regional berth in 2015 is a distinct possibility.
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A lot of things fell into place for the Oakland A’s last year. Every young pitcher the A’s threw out on the mound seemed to resemble Catfish Hunter and the American League West, outside of the Texas Rangers, was awful. The West won’t be that bad again. And you can be sure some of those young A’s pitchers will struggle a bit more this time around. The A’s, as usual, also didn’t make any drastic improvements in the off-season. So don’t expect 96 wins again. Odds are they won’t even win 90. It will be difficult for the A’s to get back to the playoffs this year.
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The San Francisco Giants, on the other hand, will get back to the postseason. Unlike the A’s, nothing went right for the Giants in 2013. The Giants went out and got better this off-season, adding Mike Morse and Tim Hudson. If those two, along with Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan, stay healthy for 140-plus games, the Giants will be in line to get a wild card spot. The biggest question surrounding the Giants is not offense anymore. Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Sandoval, Morse and Pagan will produce runs. The biggest issue is starting pitching. Can Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum recapture their former greatness? Can Ryan Vogelsong contribute? Can Hudson stay in one piece?
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Major League Baseball predictions for 2014: The American League division champs will be the Royals, Yankees and Rangers with Detroit and Boston getting the wild card spots. The National League division champs will be the Dodgers, Reds and Nationals with the Giants and Cardinals grabbing the wild card positions. The Dodgers will beat the Yankees in the World Series.
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“Let Them Play,” rallies are taking place across California with a mission to bring back high school and youth sports.