By Neil Patrick Healy
Good news Pack fans, the sky didn’t come crashing down this week. Nevada beat Hawaii, but the bad news is that the Pack needed a major second-half comeback after entering the locker room down 17-0.
“Oh, it’s going to hit the fan now,” I said to myself as I watched Nevada’s bowl hopes almost slip from their fingers. Thankfully, for head coach Brian Polian’s sake, his team came away with a much-needed 30-20 win. Now with the desperately needed bye week this week, it is time to turn our attention to November’s schedule and wonder just what the odds are that Nevada can reach a bowl game and put a positive spin to an overall disappointing season. With a 4-4 record, there aren’t two guaranteed wins left on the schedule to qualify for a bottom-tier bowl game. Let’s preview the last four games of the season and see the likelihood of reaching the “Roast Beef Bowl” or whatever new bowls they come up with this year.
A Thursday night game at Fresno State doesn’t scream “easy win” to anyone who has followed Nevada football. Fresno leads the all-time series 27-18-1 while winning 11 out of the last 17 meetings. That being said, this is not a good Bulldogs squad that former Nevada defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has going for him. Fresno sits at 2-6 with wins over Abilene Christian and UNLV and rank below the top 100 in passing yards, rushing yards, points for and points against. Former quarterback Derek Carr and running back Ryan Matthews aren’t walking into Bulldog Stadium next Thursday, but this game is a test nonetheless.
SAN JOSE STATE
The Spartans are usually the perennial doormat for, well, everyone. That has somewhat changed in large part to the nation’s second leading rusher in running back Tyler Ervin and his ridiculous 1,159 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Despite a front seven with some talent, Nevada’s defense has been gashed by talented running backs this season. Arizona’s Nick Wilson (183 yards and three touchdowns), Texas A&M’s Tra Carson (137 yards) and Wyoming’s Brian Hill (188 yards) have all exposed the weaknesses in Nevada’s run defense and I expect Ervin to take it up a notch against the Pack. Keep in mind that the only guy in the entire country who has more rushing yards than Ervin is the demigod LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
The Aggies have shown they can beat teams big, as they forced Boise State to commit seven turnovers in the first half of Utah State’s eventual 52-26 win. Utah State also doesn’t lose at home, with the last home loss in Maverik Stadium on Oct. 12, 2013. Sure, the Aggies don’t have anyone on offense that jumps out at you from the stat sheet, but keep in mind that they ranked 24th in total defense this season.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Nevada’s defense will get to travel down to San Diego to face the Aztecs and arguably the best player in the conference in running back Donnel Pumphrey. Pumphrey is the only player in the FBS to lead his team in rushing yards, receiving yards and receptions. After a rough start, SDSU is now riding a four-game winning streak and looking to claim the West Division title. This game will be a big one for Nevada’s season in either direction. If Nevada can go 3-0 up to this point they are still contenders for the West Division title along with SDSU, but if it may also be that deciding game for the Pack’s sixth win, which would make them bowl eligible.
Six wins are all that is needed to become bowl eligible in the FBS, but with four tough games left on the schedule it’s not looking good. Let’s face it Pack fans, the odds of making a bowl game are becoming more and more unlikely. Three out of the next four contests are on the road and the fourth is a mid-November match up with one of the top running backs in the country. A lot will have to go right for Nevada to reach a lower-tier bowl game.
In all seriousness though, there really should be a “Roast Beef Bowl.”
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.