Welcome to another Nevada Wolf Pack episode of Walking Dead.
Just when you thought it was safe to administer last rites to this Pack football season, well, they stagger down the middle of your street step by wobbly step and wake you up in the middle of the night with all of their incessant moaning and groaning.
You just can’t kill this Wolf Pack football team.
Cut off their arms with an overtime loss to San Diego State?
That was just a flesh wound for this resilient Pack football team.
Chop off their legs with a humiliating loss at Air Force?
Hey, you don’t need legs to win the Mountain West football title, buddy. All you need in the Mountain West this season is a pulse. A faint, barely-beating pulse heard only by well-trained hunting dogs wearing stethoscopes.
Yes, Pack fans, a zombie apocalypse has taken over Mountain West football this season and your Wolf Pack is just as dangerous as the next moaning, groaning, arm-less, leg-less member of the walking dead.
“We have to get ready for a three-game season,” Pack coach Chris Ault said.
The first night of the living dead for this Wolf Pack football team will be Saturday after dusk at Mackay Stadium against Fresno State. A Wolf Pack victory is mandatory for a chance at a Mountain West title. A Pack victory, in fact, is probably mandatory in all three of the Pack’s remaining regular season games.
That’s the theory, at least. We originally thought anything more than one loss would be the final lead pipe through the Pack zombie’s skull. But the zombie apocalypse invaded Boise State last Saturday and the Broncos were beaten by San Diego State so now not even two league losses has yet to eliminate the Pack from Mountain West title consideration.
“We need to fix what’s broken,” said Ault, who likely didn’t believe in the power of zombie football teams before this season.
In theory, yes, Ault is correct. The Pack is clearly a broken football team right now that needs to be fixed. But, in reality, nothing the Pack has broken this season has yet to be fixed. Arms, legs, elbows, noses, fingers, wrists, the defense. All have been snapped in two.
But in the Mountain West this season that simply does not matter. It’s the conference nobody wants to win.
No less than five teams — Fresno State, Boise State, Air Force, San Diego State and, yes, your beloved Wolf Pack — can finish tied atop the Mountain West this season with a league record of 6-2. And it doesn’t even require anyone to turn the Truckee River into wine or part Lake Tahoe.
It’s rather simple, actually.
The Wolf Pack must beat Fresno, New Mexico and Boise. Air Force must beat San Diego State and Fresno State must beat Air Force.
That’s it. It’s easier than programming your new remote. And just like that the Wolf Pack will share a league title with four teams. Start working out the details for the parade down Virginia Street now.
See, we’re not expecting a miracle to happen. We’re not expecting Air Force to lose to Hawaii. We’re not expecting Boise to lose to either Hawaii or Colorado State. And we don’t expect San Diego State to lose to Wyoming.
That would be crazy talk, right? Our scenario for a five-team tie on top of the Mountain West is not based on sleight of hand, mirrors or even Boise’s team plane missing the runway at Reno-Tahoe International. All of the above — the Pack sweeping its last three games, Air Force beating San Diego State and Fresno beating Air Force not only could happen, it should happen.
You see, the climb to the summit of the mountain west isn’t all that treacherous and steep. All it takes is three good weekends.
The Mountain West, we’re sad to report, is no longer is in the business of turning out football greatness. It no longer is worried about producing BCS-busting teams that will make life miserable for the power conferences come bowl time. When TCU, Utah and BYU left, and after Boise State and San Diego State said it was leaving, the conference is simply in the business of survival. All the Mountain West is doing this year in football is filling up bad cable channels that nobody can get with bad football.
Actually, to be honest, it is exciting football. But it’s a let’s-see-how-fast-I-can-chug-these-five-beers sort of excitement. The end result is not always pretty but you still watch to see what happens.
Watching Mountain West football this year is sort of like watching NASCAR for the car crashes. You don’t know when it’s going to happen. With the Pack, for example, it usually happens in the final minute. All you know is that it’s going to happen sometime and you don’t dare go to the fridge for another beverage for fear that you will miss the excitement.
Even Boise State is sort of a watered down version of itself this year. San Diego State is winning with its backup quarterback. Air Force runs a 1945 offense and is winning. Fresno State never does anything well for two weeks in a row and it is the title hunt. And we all know what rollercoaster ride the Pack has been on all season.
And those are the teams still in the title hunt. We won’t even talk about the other four (Hawaii, Colorado State, New Mexico and UNLV), except to say that they don’t even have enough life left in them to join the ranks of the undead.
So, how does a five-team championship party sound? Sounds great right about now with the Pack riding a two-game losing streak, right? Just call it college football’s version of a youth soccer league for 6-year-olds where everyone gets a juice box, orange slice and a trophy at the end of the season.
The real question, though, is not if the Pack can grab a share of the five-piece Mountain West football pie. We know that they can. There are no super teams in this conference.
There aren’t any very good teams. It’s just a collection of teams who can play well now and then and the Pack is definitely one of them.
The real question is whether or not it’s a championship worth winning if you have to share it with four other teams. Will it mean anything? Will it mean that the Pack’s problems are fixed?
No Division I football conference, even back to the leather helmet days, has ever had five champions in one year. Some have come close. The Big Ten had four in 1990, the Big East had four in 2004, the Western Athletic Conference had four in 1995 and the Mid-American East had four in 2000.
The Big Ten in 1918 had seven teams with zero or one loss. The Southern Conference in 1942 had six teams with zero or one loss. The Big Ten in 1938 and the Southeastern Conference in 1950 each had six teams with one or two losses.
But no Division I-A conference has ever had five teams all tied for first place in one season at the end of the season. But it could happen in the more-the-merrier Mountain West this year.
It has, however, happened before in the lower levels of college football.
Division III’s Centennial Football Conference had five champs in 2004 with Dickinson, Franklin and Marshall, Johns Hopkins, McDaniel and Muhlenberg at the top. Division III’s Upper Midwest Athletic Conference had five champs in 1976 with Concordia-St. Paul, Loras, Maranatha Baptist Bible, Northwestern (Wis.) and Northwestern College (Minn.).
Division II has also had two five-team champion conferences. The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association had five title holders in 2003 with Central Missouri State, Emporia State, Missouri Western State, Northwest Missouri State and Pittsburg State. The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1991 had champs Alabama A&M, Clark, Morehouse, Fort Valley State and Tuskegee.
So, yes, the Pack, Boise, Fresno, San Diego State and Air Force are hoping to become the next Muhlenberg, Johns Hopkins, Emporia State, Maranatha Baptist Bible and Pittsburg State.
Take that BCS.
Wolf Pack football has never seen another season like this one in its 63 previous seasons playing in a conference (30 in the Far Western Conference, 13 in the Big Sky, eight in the Big West, 12 in the WAC).
The Wolf Pack has won 14 league titles (three in the FWC, four in the Big Sky, five in the Big West and two in the WAC) and not one of them was with as many as two league losses.
The Far Western Conference was in existence from 1925-81 and it never had more than three teams tie for the crown in one year. The Big Sky has been around since 1963 and it never has had more than three tie for the title in one season. The same goes for the WAC, which has been around since 1962 and the Big West, which existed as a football conference from 1969 to 2000.
A five-team traffic jam at the end of the Mountain West football season would make the conference the laughingstock of Division I football.
The most teams the Pack has ever had to share a league crown with was two when they tied for the WAC title in 2010 with Boise State and Hawaii and in 1995 in the Big West with UNLV and Southwestern Louisiana.
We might not even be able to blame the Mountain West for all of the mess. The conference, after all, has had just one season when it had more than one team claim its football title. And that was back in its first season in 1999 when BYU, Colorado State and Utah all were 5-2. Since then, all dozen seasons, just one super team emerged.
The last eight Mountain West champs (four by TCU, two each by Utah and BYU) have all been unbeaten in league play. No league champ since 1999 has ever had more than one league loss.
Well, welcome to the Juice Box West Conference where everyone goes home a champion.
Then again, maybe the Mountain West is on to something. The conference, after all, might be able to send five league champions to bowl games this year, one for every bowl game the league is affiliated with. No other conference can say that, by golly. Other conferences send their fifth and sixth place teams to bowl while the Mountain West only sends out champions.
Only the best from the Mountain West. Sounds like the 2013 marketing campaign.
So, therefore, the answer to our previous question – whether or not the Mountain West is worth winning if you have to share it with four other teams — is a resounding yes. A ring is a ring and a championship is a championship even if everyone has one. It beats the alternative, doesn’t it? You bet it does. Ask UNLV if they’d like to be one of five teams getting a piece of a Mountain West title. What do you think their answer would be? They’d simply say, “Thank you for the trophy and where can I get my juice box and orange slice?”
If the Pack pulls this off — if they beat Fresno State, New Mexico and Boise State over the next three-plus weeks — it will be one of the greatest feats of death-defying magic this football program has ever pulled off. It would prove a lot of positive things.
It would prove that the defense could, after all, stop someone at least once with the game on the line. It would prove that the win over Boise State in 2010 was not a once-a-generation fluke. It would prove that Chris Ault and the rest of the coaches did not let one single player wearing silver and blue ever quit on this team.
Winning a championship, no matter how tarnished that championship may be, is never a negative. The Pack has played 63 conference seasons and has only won 14 titles. This program is not at the point when it can toss a conference title back in the water.
“All we are worried about right now is winning our last three games,” senior offensive lineman Jeff Nady said. “We can’t worry about all that other stuff around the league.”
It’s the other stuff, coupled with winning the last three games, that will get the Pack its title. They need some other Mountain West zombie to beat Air Force and San Diego State. They’ll take care of Boise State and Fresno State themselves.
“We know we’re still in it,” Nady said. “Nobody in our locker room has given up.”