On January 11, 2011, the Nevada football team woke up to the news that they were ranked No. 11 in the country according to the final AP Top 25 poll of that season.
That was the program’s best performance, as the Wolfpack finished 13-1, including wins over then-No. 3 Boise State and two power conference schools (Cal and Boston College). Nevada ranked eighth nationally in offense with 41 points per game, a respectable 31st in defense with 21.4 points per game, and finished one spot behind Nick Saban’s Alabama team in the final AP Top 25.
It seemed to be the dawn of a new day for Nevada football, long a solid FBS program that was used to playing in bowl games annually but had never been a nationally relevant program. That changed in 2010 with a historic victory over Boise State, the school’s first top-25 finish since 1948 and its star player, the electrifying and at times unstoppable quarterback Colin Kaepernick, finishing in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting.
This offseason, Nevada added two full-time positions to its long-absent support staff. Momentum increased to gain more support for the program. And despite losing Kaepernick and a few other stars (namely Virgil Green, Dontay Moch and Vai Taua), the 2011 Wolf Pack was still able to bring back a solid supporting cast – 10 players from the 2011 squad would eventually play in the NFL – with the goal being that to maintain the high standards of the previous year.
Nevada was on the national map after the 2010 season. It fell off quickly.
Unfortunately for the Wolf Pack, that standard set in 2010 has not been reached since then, as Nevada has not appeared in the top 25 since that lucky year; hasn’t won a conference championship since; and now in the fourth coaching reboot since 2010. The latest renewal came after Ken Wilson was fired after a 4-20 record over the last two seasons and replaced in December by Jeff Choate, the latest man hired in the hope was to bring football in Nevada back to the lofty heights of 2010.
Since 2010, Nevada has gone 74-86 – 12 games below break-even – although with eight bowl appearances in 13 seasons. The Wolf Pack has not played in a conference championship game since 2010, making it one of three Mountain West schools, along with New Mexico and Colorado State, that have yet to play in the title game. Chris Ault era, Jay Norvell. And since 2010, Nevada has been the only MW team not to have at least one nine-win season. Even New Mexico, Hawaii, San Jose State and UNLV have done this.
It wasn’t necessarily that Nevada was bad, although it was pretty terrible the last two seasons. Since 2010, the Wolfpack has had two campaigns with eight wins each, namely 2018 and 2021. They were also 7-2 in 2020. It has reached a bowl game most times since 2010 and has gone 3-5 in its eight postseason appearances over the past 13 seasons. But the hype around 2010, which saw two sell-outs that energized the fan base, could not be built any further. It was a missed opportunity.
Meanwhile, every other established Wolf Pack men’s program has achieved championship-level success since 2010:
* Men’s basketball won five championship titles and four NCAA Tournament berths
* Baseball wins four championships and breaks two-decade drought in the NCAA Region
* Men’s golf reaches four straight NCAA Regionals
* Men’s tennis won two conference championships and reached its first NCAA tournament
* And men’s skiing and men’s cross country skiing will be raised from the dead
But the largest and most financially important sport on campus – football – is in the midst of a 13-year championship drought, the longest for Nevada football since the Wolf Pack joined Division I-AA in 1978. The longest drought before that was seven seasons from 1998 to 2004, with the current 13-season series being almost twice as long.
This week on NevadaSportsNet.com we will dive into a six-part series that looks at the issues that have plagued Nevada football since the historic 2010 season. The schedule for the week is listed below:
February 12th: What has happened to Nevada football since 2010?
13th February: The momentum after 2010 has slowed down
14th of February: Coach error
February 15: Loss of offensive identity
February 16: Lack of investment
February 17th: The Future of Football in Nevada
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight into Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.