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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 19, 2009

Nevada has found way to beat cold

By Ferd Lewis

It was 22 degrees yesterday in Reno and there is a chance for snow this week, all in all pretty much traditional pre-Christmas weather there.

Not that the hometown University of Nevada football team would know this anymore.

The Wolf Pack, you see, has found a way around the drudgery of snow shovels, tire chains and long underwear this time of the year.

It is called the bowl season.

When the Wolf Pack holds its first Aloha Stadium workout this morning in preparation for Thursday's Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl against Southern Methodist, it will mark a school-record fifth straight bowl berth.

That's the second longest active streak among Western Athletic Conference members, trailing only Boise State. It is also the most visible sign of the emergence of a Wolf Pack program than has spent less than 20 years at the major college level.

For a school that had gone without a bowl appearance for eight consecutive seasons at one point (1997-2004), the newly heralded "bowl tradition" has become a source of pride, not to mention a major selling point during this recruiting season.

The appearance that began the string, the 2005 Hawai'i Bowl, marked the Wolf Pack's postseason coming out of sorts. It was a milestone capped by a 49-48 overtime upset of Central Florida and one that remained long talked about by the players who made the trip.

So when the 8-4 (7-1 WAC) Wolf Pack finished second in the conference this season, assuring it one of the WAC's bowl slots and some leverage in the assignment process, it lobbied hard for a return to the Hawai'i Bowl.

"Of all the bowl options, this was our first choice," said Chris Ault, the Nevada head coach. "It is a special thrill to spend Christmas break (in Hawai'i). It is one of the class bowl games."

To be sure, the Hawai'i Bowl berth is a reward for a successful season for a team that achieved a dramatic turnaround, winning eight of its last nine games. That and a lot more.

The nation's top rushing team (362.3 yards per game) returns 16 starters and 33 of its top 44 players, including seven all-WAC performers, next season. As such it is an opportunity to advertise itself in advance of a promising 2010 season in a coveted, uncrowded Christmas Eve time slot on ESPN while working in two extra weeks of practices that non-bowl teams don't get.

"You really have a chance to practice more with your youngsters and, with the weather conditions (in Hawai'i), you get to have some quality practices," Ault notes.

And it has become their annual rite, spend a week away from the snow.