Hi-Ho, it's off to Reno we go

APPARENTLY UNDETERRED BY Washington State's two quarters-plus of lethargy against Idaho, oddsmakers have installed the Cougars as 10-point favorites in their nationally televised tilt with Nevada this Friday night in Reno. The game, which will be the Wolfpack's season opener, pits a pair of teams with veteran coaches who expect more than the five wins they each collected in 2004.

Chris Ault is back for his 21st year as Nevada's head coach and ranks No. 5 among active Division 1-A coaches with a .705 winning percentage. This is his third stint at the helm. Most recently Nevada's athletic director, he began this latest tenure after firing Chris Tormey at the end of the 2003 campaign. It seems that beating the Dawgs in Seattle paled in comparison to going 6-6 and losing to UNLV for the fourth straight year.

Ault has vowed a "return to the top of the mountain" where he left the program, then in the Big West Conference, in the mid-90s.

Ault built his 168-win career largely on the passing game and the ‘Pack appears ready to go aerial this season, switching from a one-back offense to a shot gun --- or, as they like to call it in Reno, the pistol --- scheme. Junior Jeff Rowe is at quarterback and All-America candidate Nichiren Flowers leads the receiving corps. Rowe, who fired for 2,633 yards in 2004, is on the watch list for the Davey O'Brien outstanding quarterback award and Nichiren, who caught 91 balls for 1,126 yards last season, joins Cougar Jason Hill on the Biletnikoff Award watch list.

Rowe, by the way, attended the same Reno high school, McQueen, as Cougar kickoff specialist --- and head-hunter extraordinaire ---- Graham Siderius.

IN A MID-SUMMER POLL of league coaches, Nevada was picked to finish 5th in the nine-team Western Athletic Conference, with heavyweights Boise State and Fresno State sharing the top spot. Hawaii was picked third. Idaho was picked last.

In 2004, the ‘Pack won five games, but their list of victims was hardly the stuff that dreams are built on: Sacramento State, Buffalo, Rice, Tulsa and San Jose State. "Last year was a very humbling and disappointing year," said Ault. "You learn more from your setbacks and this challenge has become bigger and bigger and I like that. We've made huge strides, are coming off an excellent spring and we had all our returning players stay here this summer to work out together."

ON DEFENSE, NEVADA is turning to the 3-4 this season, ostensibly to better fit its personnel (i.e. more depth at linebacker than tackle). In 2004 the Wolpack ranked 106th in the nation in rush defense. The 3-4 is always a challenge for opposing QBs because four linebackers allows for greater obstruction of the lanes used in slant routes and hot reads. It also offers up the chance for a variety of zone blitzes. Alex Brink is no stranger to the 3-4, having faced it with the Huskies last season.

THE COUGARS AND WOLFPACK have a lot in common. Both universities are Land Grant schools and both have between 16,000 and 18,000 students on campus. On the football field, both play their home games on FieldTurf. And, they share an impressive national distinction. Nevada hasn't been shutout since 1980 (the second-best streak in the land). And the Cougars, at seventh best, haven't been skunked since a 44-0 setback at Ohio State in 1984.


This will be just the second time WSU and Nevada have squared off. The first was a 31-7 Cougar win in Seattle in 2002. Will Derting intercepted three passes in that contest and returned one 98 yards for a TD, marking the longest INT return in WSU history.

Friday's game will be televised nationally by ESPN. Kickoff is at 7 pm Pacific time.

Only a dozen or so Wolfpack players hails from the state of Nevada. Some 80 percent of the team is Californians. Arizona is also fairly well represented on the roster. In addition, there's a pair of Alaskans, one Idahoan, one Hawaiian and even a lineman from London (as in England), but nary a sole from the Evergreen State.

If you're in Nevada this weekend to gamble instead of to watch football, rest assured that you can still take the Cougars with you. Among the 26 stations in the Cougar Sports Radio Network is KLAV-AM (1230 AM) in Las Vegas. For a complete listing of stations, CLICK HERE.


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