How much importance does Nevada Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian put on the point spread for Saturday night’s game in the Rose Bowl against the UCLA Bruins?
“Absolutely zero,” Polian said. “Nobody sets our expectations for us.”
The odds makers have made the Wolf Pack a three-touchdown underdog against the defending Pac-12 South Division champs. UCLA finished 9-5 last year while the Wolf Pack finished 7-6 in Chris Ault’s final year as head coach.
“We’ve read about the point spread,” Pack running back Kendall Brock said. “It weighs a little in the back of your mind because it shows just how little people think about us.”
The Wolf Pack has beaten a Pac-12 team as an underdog before. The most recent was in the first game of the season at California (31-24) last year.
“We think it’s a little high,” said Pack offensive tackle Joel Bitonio of Saturday’s spread. “But we’ll be ready to play no matter what the point spread says. We’ll show what Nevada is made of.”
The Wolf Pack doesn’t mind the underdog role.
“Anytime you are an underdog, it’s always motivation,” quarterback Cody Fajardo said.
“We’re a big-time underdog,” wide receiver Aaron Bradley said. “But we look at it as a challenge.”
CAL VICTORY ENDED UP HURTING PACK LAST YEAR: A victory at UCLA might not be the best thing for the Wolf Pack this season. The Pack, after all, won at Cal in the season opener a year ago but still finished with a disappointing 7-6 record.
Fajardo said the Pack might have gotten a little overconfident after beating Cal.
“It was almost too much, too soon for some of the younger guys.” Fajardo said. “Some guys might have overlooked some teams after that. I think some guys thought things were going to come easy for us.”
Fajardo said the Pack learned from last year.
“If we win this game, it doesn’t mean things change,” he said. “The next opponent is still the most important. It doesn’t change how we prepare.”
The Wolf Pack has opened a season eight times against a Pac-12 opponent since 1996 and has gone 1-7.
OUT FOR UCLA: Polian said wide receiver Nigel Westbrooks and tight ends Stephen Jeffers and Randy Horton will not be available to play against UCLA.
Westbrooks, Polian said, was suspended “for violating team rules over the summer” and was reinstated to the team on Monday but will not play this week.
Jeffers, a Bishop Manogue High graduate, and Horton will not play because of injuries.
Westbrooks, a junior, missed all of last season with a knee injury and has yet to make his Wolf Pack debut. Jeffers, a senior, has played in 30 games (four catches, one touchdown) since 2010. Horton played in six games a year ago, mainly on special teams.
AIR QUALITY A PROBLEM: Polian said the Wolf Pack has handled the poor air quality, caused by wildfires in California, as well as can be expected.
“We are working with our medical staff and we know which players we need to watch,” Polian said. “I think we have handled it as well as we can.”
The air quality, though, has been a concern as the Pack prepared to meet UCLA in the season opener, Polian said.
“Who would ever imagine that somebody from Reno would be excited to go to L.A. to improve their air quality?” smiled Polian.
LAVULO A STARTER: One of the biggest surprises in this summer’s training camp has been Fred Lavulo.
The former defensive tackle was moved to the offensive line this summer and will start at guard against UCLA.
The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Lavulo, who will turn 28-years-old on Sept. 26, is married and has three children. He came to the Wolf Pack last season from Cerritos College and played in 11 games (no tackles) in a backup role.
“He has a terrific skill set for the offensive line,” Polian said. “He has a chance to be a real good guard. I feel bad for him that this move (to the offensive line) wasn’t done earlier in his career. If it was we would be talking about a guy who has a chance to be an All-Mountain West player.”
MEDIA DISRESPECTS BITONIO: Wolf Pack starting offensive tackle Joel Bitonio was handed some extra motivation by the Mountain West media this summer when he was left off the All-Mountain West pre-season team.
Bitonio, who has started the past 26 games for the Wolf Pack, was an Honorable Mention All-Mountain West selection after last season. The media, though, did not select him to the pre-season team this summer, choosing instead Boise State’s Charles Leno and Matt Paradis, Colorado State’s Weston Richburg, Fresno State’s Austin Wentworth and Utah State’s Tyler Larsen, who didn’t even play in the Mountain West last season (Utah State was in the Western Athletic Conference).
“When it happened, it was kind of a slap in the face,” Bitonio said. “You can use that as motivation if you want to. But the good ones don’t need that as motivation. The good players have their own motivation. They don’t need other people to motivate them.”
Phil Steele and Athlon, two college football publications, did select Bitonio to their pre-season All-Mountain West teams.
WIMBERLY BACK AGAIN: Wide receiver Brandon Wimberly is now in his sixth season with the Wolf Pack football program.
The senior spent 2008 as a red-shirt and was named the WAC Freshman of the Year in 2009. He missed the entire 2011 season because of a gunshot wound suffered the summer before the season. It was because of that missed season that the NCAA granted him another year of eligibility.
“I’m just glad to be a part of this,” Wimberly said. “I had two good years with Kap (quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2009 and 2010) and now I‘m getting two good years with Cody (Fajardo).”
Wimberly is now 24-years-old and has caught at least one pass in all 40 games of his career. He has caught 164 passes for 2,060 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career.
“I’ve seen a lot of players and a lot of coaches come and go since I’ve been here,” Wimberly said. “I feel like the grandpa around here.”