Chris Ault is a Hall of Fame college football coach, but his leadership and motivational skills will be tested as UNR prepares for its final regular-season game.
The Wolf Pack, which has lost two straight after falling to San Jose State 27-24 on Saturday, must beat Louisiana Tech at Mackay Stadium on Saturday to become bowl eligible. Then UNR (5-6) has to hope unbeaten Hawaii beats Washington later that night.
Ault’s challenge? To make sure his team is focused solely on the Bulldogs, who are entertaining the same bowl dreams as UNR as this season’s most improved team in the Western Athletic Conference.
“(Our players) better not be looking ahead,” Ault said Monday. “We’ve lost two in a row. Their focus has to be on Louisiana Tech. It’s a one-game season.”
Ault was doing his best to ignore any bowl talk.
“Bowls are fine and dandy, but we have no control over that,” he said. “I know the media is going to be hyping the bowl talk and I understand that. We just can’t afford to get caught up in it.
“(Saturday’s) game that means a whole lot to a lot of people. It’s our final home game. It’s Senior Day. And we need to stop this losing streak. That should be motivation enough for our guys.”
The home finale is a bowl game of sorts for the Wolf Pack. A victory would give UNR the required six wins for bowl eligibility and lift it to 4-4 in the WAC, creating a three-way tie for fourth place with Tech and San Jose State. But UNR would be the only bowl-eligible team of the three.
A Louisiana Tech win would put it in the bowl mix at 6-6.
The WAC has three bowl tie-ins — the New Mexico, Hawaii and Humanitarian bowls, the latter in Boise, Idaho.
Hawaii, which clinched the WAC on Friday by beating Boise State, is in the Bowl Championship Series mix. If the 12th-ranked Warriors beat Washington in its season finale Saturday at Honolulu, they would surely stay in the top 12 and remain eligible for a BCS game.
That outcome would open the door for UNR to be invited to one of the three WAC tie-in games.
Boise State, which finished 10-2, could find itself playing at home on New Year’s Eve. Fresno State (7-4) finishes at New Mexico State on Friday.
Win or lose, the Bulldogs will finish third and could be headed to the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 23. That would likely leave the UNR-Louisiana Tech winner bound for the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 22 at Albuquerque.
If Hawaii loses to Washington, it would likely stay home to play in the Hawaii Bowl and UNR, as the WAC’s fourth-place finisher, would be left out.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 387-2913.