by Eric Uribe
The Wolf Pack has been stuck in reverse, riding the mediocrity merry-go-round for the past four years.
Nevada’s records each of the past four seasons proves that: 7-6, 7-6, 4-8 and now 7-5. Nothing screams mediocre more than a 25-25 record in a four-year span. Each of the past four years, there’s been no magic for the Wolf Pack. Each season, there’s been a campaign-defining game to measure any progress with the team and each time, Nevada falls flat on its face.
The 2011 Hawaii Bowl. The 2012 New Mexico Bowl. Multiple games against Boise State. The de facto West division championship game against Fresno State two weeks ago. All crushing losses for the Silver and Blue. Every year, the calendar moves but the story doesn’t for Nevada. Big-game atmosphere, even bigger meltdown. Who can shake the memory of losing a 13-point lead with 42 second left to Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl two years ago or being punched in the mouth by an inferior Fresno State team on senior night?
This time around, that season-defining game for Nevada comes against Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 20.
Bygones will be bygones, however, this is the Wolf Pack’s opportunity to right its four years worth of wrongs — a measuring stick game to show if the program is moving in the right direction.
The New Orleans Bowl is nothing short of a must-win for Nevada. For a senior class that’s reputation has been stained by should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. For second-year head coach Brian Polian who is still searching for his signature win. For a fan base in dire need of something to cheer for (besides owning UNLV, one of the worst college football programs in the country).
The players — especially the seniors — know what’s at stake, too.
“Just the opportunity to play one more time is big for me and I know for all the seniors,” said Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo. “Some guys may never put their shoulder pads on again … It’s the last game of the year. You got guys throwing their body around knowing there’s not another game. Everyone is willing to put what they have on the line to win.”
“I know how the seniors felt leaving that (2012 New Mexico Bowl game) losing by one and I know the seniors on this team don’t want to go through that,” said Wolf Pack linebacker Jonathan McNeal.
However, a win won’t be easy.
By all means, this is a home game for the Ragin’ Cajuns. The Superdome, which hosts the bowl game, is a short two-hour-and-change drive from Lafayette, Louisiana as the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League have proven, the Superdome is a hostile environment for road teams. Few stadiums match the loudness of the Superdome, whose noise can swallow up visitors. This will be the fourth consecutive year that ULL will close out the season in the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won each of the past three seasons — a feat only six other teams in the country can lay claim to.
After a 1-3 start, that included being routed by Ole Miss and Boise State, ULL has won seven of their past eight games, finishing second in the Sun Belt Conference. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be sparked by a potent rushing attack that ranked 26th in the nation by averaging 228 yards per game. The pulverizing run game is keyed by tailback Elijah McGuire. The 5-foot-11, 198-pounder has chewed up 1,165 yards on the ground (averaging 7.8 yards a carry) and has tallied 14 touchdowns.
Complementing Mitchell will be the bruising running back Alonzo Harris. At 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds, Harris is bigger than many of Nevada’s linebackers. Harris has racked up 737 yards and 12 scores this season.
It won’t be a walk in the park, but the Wolf Pack is desperate for a win. Any program that has lost six of its last seven bowl games dating back to 2006 would be.
There are no excuses for Nevada to lose this game. It’s time to flip the script. It’s time to leave mediocrity behind.
Eric Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Uribe_Eric.