Santoro: Sports fodder for a Friday morning
Special to the Tribune
The Nevada Wolf Pack football program needs to learn a lesson from Northern Illinois and Fresno State. College football, especially for mediocre programs in mediocre conferences, is all about scheduling. Fresno State and Northern Illinois haven’t played anyone this year and right now they are both undefeated and ranked No. 14 (Fresno) and 15 in the latest BCS standings. Nobody actually believes those two schools are among the best 15 in the nation but reality doesn’t matter in college football. College football is simply about smoke and mirrors. All you need to do is jump on the back of a great player like Fresno’s Derek Carr and Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch and have that player beat a bunch of bad teams.
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The Wolf Pack athletic department should be ashamed for the schedule it handed this Pack team. Non-league games at UCLA and Florida State on top of a silly conference schedule that forced them to play at Boise State, Fresno State and San Diego State in a span of 29 days? That’s criminal. But this athletic department has sabotaged its own football program before. Remember 2011 when they had to start the year at Boise State, Oregon and Texas Tech? If head coach Brian Polian does nothing else at Nevada, he needs to teach his bosses how to schedule.
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The good news is that the Pack has a much more manageable schedule in 2014. The body-bag games at UCLA and Florida State have been replaced by winnable games against Washington State and Arizona. And the road Mountain West games are at Air Force, Hawaii, San Jose State and UNLV. The Wolf Pack will be the most improved team in the Mountain West next year. And they really don’t have to play all that much better than they did in 2013. It’s the old smoke-and-mirrors theory at work.
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The best thing to come out of this Wolf Pack football season is the emergence of freshman wide receiver Hasaan Henderson. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Henderson is a future NFL wide receiver or tight end. He’s a bigger, more talented and more explosive Brandon Wimberly. Henderson has 15 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown the last two games combined as the Pack finally figured out what they had sitting on the bench over the first eight weeks. Henderson could catch 35-40 touchdown passes over the next three seasons. He’s that good.
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The smoke and mirrors theory also works in college basketball, at least in the regular season. The Wolf Pack men’s team doesn’t play anybody of note over its first six games and should find itself at 5-1 heading into a game against UCLA on Nov. 28. This team still can’t rebound and still can’t play any defense in the paint but, hey, they are working on it. Head coach David Carter has transformed a selfish, lazy roster into one that is hungry and wants to please its coach. The Mountain West isn’t half as talented as it was last year. Don’t be stunned to see this team approach 18-20 victories and be in the running for a NIT bid by the end of the year. Carter should also get a lot of support for Coach of the Year.
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What’s wrong with Colin Kaepernick? Nothing. Yes, Kaepernick had an awful game against Carolina. But his offensive line was even more awful. He was hit more times against Carolina than he was all four years at Nevada combined. Those things happen in the NFL once in a while. There’s no reason to panic when it comes to Kaepernick. He is playing this season with a receiver group that would make Chris Ault cringe. These guys just don’t get open all that often. Kaepernick is still one of the more unique talents to ever play in the NFL. And don’t ever doubt him. There are multiple Super Bowls in his future.
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Yasiel Puig would have been the National Rookie of the Year in a normal year. But Puig just happened to debut in the same year as one of the greatest rookie pitchers in the history of the sport. Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins was arguably the best pitcher in the big leagues last year, going 12-6 on a horrible team with a 2.19 earned run average. He was 10-3 with a 1.50 ERA after June 1. In their only matchup, Puig went 0-for-3 against Fernandez with a strikeout. Yes, Puig played in many more meaningful games than Fernandez and it’s a shame the two couldn’t have shared the award. But put Fernandez on the Dodgers and, well, they might be World Champs right now.
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