by Jack Rieger
Nevada football has accepted its invitation to play in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl against conference opponent Colorado State on Tuesday, Dec. 29.
2015 has been a season to forget for Nevada. The Wolf Pack conceded the Fremont Cannon to UNLV at home, lost to Wyoming, who won just two games all season, and finished the season by losing its last two games with a chance at making the Mountain West Conference Championship. The NCAA honored Nevada’s .500 record by placing the Pack in a bowl game that isn’t even broadcast on national television, which hasn’t happened since 1994. In fact, most people in Arizona won’t be able to watch the game on local television.
Along with being shunned from national television, the Arizona Bowl consists of two teams who play in the same conference, which hasn’t happened since 1979. Although unusual, this is not a good thing. Bowl games are designed to match up quality football teams who wouldn’t ordinarily play against one another, like when Nevada played Louisiana Lafayette last year, or Arizona in 2012. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson criticized the NCAA in a 619-word statement published on the conference’s website.
“It is a travesty the Mountain West has been forced into this situation,” Thompson said. “Clearly, the system is broken. There is an excess of bowl games due in part to a disparate allocation of openings vs. conference bowl histories. The result is teams with sub-.500 records participating in bowl games. There is consensus change is needed and this year’s outcome must not be repeated.”
Thompson went on to explain that the Mountain West did everything it could to avoid the interconference matchup. “The Mountain West explored every possibility for placing the teams in question,” Thompson said. “We suggested swaps, alternative financial arrangements and creative options. Unfortunately, no one was willing to adjust and those efforts were to no avail.” To the surprise of local media and fans, San Jose State, who finished the season 5-7 with losses to both Nevada and Colorado State, was invited to the Auto Nation Cure Bowl in Orlando. The Spartans will play Georgia State, who finished the season 6-6 in the Sun Belt Conference. Not only does San Jose State have the luxury of playing in a bowl game next door to Disney World, as well as against a non-conference opponent, their game is even on national television.
Although the Arizona bowl seems to lack a silver lining for Nevada, Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian expressed his enthusiasm for Nevada’s opportunity to play in a bowl game. “Our program is genuinely excited to accept an invitation to the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl,” said coach Polian.
“We’re really excited to continue this season together and I’m personally excited to spend a couple more weeks with this team. We’re looking forward to another chance to compete and to try and finish the 2015 season with a winning record.”
Although they finished fifth in the Mountain division, Colorado State had a moderately successful season and finished the year on a four-game winning streak. The Rams are led offensively by sophomore quarterback Nick Stevens, who ranks second in the conference in passing yards and is first in passing touchdowns. Colorado State also has one of the best receivers in the conference in junior Rashard Higgins, who finished second in the conference in receiving yards and first in receiving touchdowns. Colorado State’s defense struggled at times during the season to stop the run and finished the year seventh in the Mountain West in rushing yards allowed.
When Nevada plays in the Arizona bowl against conference foe Colorado State, they won’t have the national attention and excitement that a bowl game typically warrants. The Pack doesn’t have the luxury of playing in a glorified city like San Diego or Orlando. Instead they get to play in Tucson, a city known for having an alarmingly high poverty rate and morbidly hot summers.
If Nevada decides to concede the game to Colorado State, few people will blame them. The Pack is playing in the only bowl game not broadcast on national television and against a conference opponent. But if they do choose to finish the season strong, Nevada has an opportunity to finish with a winning record and send its seniors out with a victory.
Jack Rieger can be reached at Jrieger@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter@JackRieger.