RENO - Saturday is a huge day for the Nevada football program.
Not only are the Wolf Pack (7-3, 6-1) playing for a share of the Western Athletic Conference championship against Fresno State (8-2, 6-0) at 4 p.m. on ESPN2, but the team will say good-bye to 14 senior players, who will play their final home regular-season game at Mackay Stadium.
It's a big day for defensive end Craig Bailey, running back B.J. Mitchell, offensive tackle Adam Kiefer, wide receiver Nichiren Flowers, linebacker Roosevelt Cooks, offensive tackle Tony Moll, punter Justin Bergendahl, defensive tackle Matthew Swan, safety Roderick Stallings, cornerback Kevin Stanley, defensive tackle P.J. Hoeper, linebacker Jamaal Jackson, defensive end Cory Fagan and wide receiver Trevor Brackett.
It probably means more to guys like Mitchell, Kiefer, Hoeper, Jackson, Flowers and Bailey. They have endured quite a bit during their four and five-year stays in Reno. They can certainly appreciate the day more than the other seniors. They have suffered through the low points before realizing success this year.
"It's the last hurrah," Mitchell said. "It's been a tough road, but it's starting to even out now. One more game. One last chance. One last opportunity.
"Anybody that plays this game should believe or have this as an aspiration. It's something everybody should reach for. I always believed we could do it."
Mitchell had a scrape with the law a couple of years ago, and has put that behind him. He's been a model citizen ever since coach Chris Ault gave him a chance to return to the team.
And, Mitchell has been a huge reason why the Pack have put together a winning season, the first since Mitchell came to Reno. He's put together six 100-yard games this year en route to rushing for 1,144 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns.
Mitchell's play has earned accolades from coaches around the WAC, most notably Fresno State's Pat Hill.
"I love their tailback," Hill said during the WAC's weekly teleconference on Monday. "He's a tough, tough running back."
Moll came to Nevada as a tight end in 2001. The Pack won three games that year. Each year he's seen the team get better. This is the proverbial icing on the cake.
So what's been the reason for the Pack's resurgence?
"We've circled up the wagons," Mitchell said. "We believe in each other; believe that we can make something happen. We've stayed positive and stayed together."
"The first year I got here (2001) we weren't really a team, just a bunch of individuals," he said. "Things have really changed. Every year it's gotten better. Everybody hangs out together. It's not just a bunch of groups.
"There has definitely been a major change in our confidence (as a group and in each other). Before, we knew the offense would get the job done, but we were worried if the defense would. Now, we know we'll get the job done and they are going to get the job done."
BIG CROWD EXPECTED
Nevada officials have indicated more than 20,000 seats have been sold for the Fresno State game, and they are hoping for a big walk-up crowd if the weather stays on the calm side.
On Tuesday, the Bulldogs announced they had accepted the Liberty Bowl's offer.
A year ago, Nevada expected a big crowd for the Boise State game on Thanksgiving weekend and Northern Nevada was hit with a snowstorm that dropped around eight inches of snow. The announced attendance was more than 10,000, but there was far fewer than that in the stands.
As part of Fan Appreciation Day, the school has cut general admission prices to $10. The first 2,000 to the game will receive car flags, and each fan in attendance will get a coupon that can be redeemed for a ticket to a men's or women's basketball game this year. Tuition vouchers and Wooden Classic tickets also will be raffled off.
MORE BOWL TALK
With Navy apparently accepting the Poinsettia Bowl bid and the Emerald Bowl extending an invitation to an ACC team, it lessens by two the bowl opportunities for Nevada and Louisiana Tech.
The Pac 10 wasn't going to fill its six bowl spots, thus paving the way for Emerald Bowl officials to invite an ACC school to play Utah (6-5). The final Pac 10 opening will be decided Saturday. If Arizona State beats Arizona, then the Pac 10 will fill the potential last remaining spot, provided Oregon isn't selected for a Bowl Championship Series at-large berth.
If ASU loses, Nevada would have a chance to be considered for a spot in Las Vegas. If Nevada were to go to Las Vegas, Louisiana Tech would undoubtedly end up in Hawai'i.
"It's highly unlikely that we won't have a WAC team in Hawai'i," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said. "It's not even worth reporting on.
"If Louisiana Tech were invited to a bowl in their region, that would automatically put Nevada in Hawai'i."
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281