Story by Eric Uribe,

Don’t blame the players. Don’t blame the coaches. Blame the schedule. Among many fans and media members, Nevada’s too-hard-to-overcome schedule was the scapegoat in the team’s disappointing 2013 campaign. Pair the program’s all-time most difficult schedule with first-time head coach Brian Polian’s inexperience, and the Wolf Pack had a recipe for disaster. After all, two of the first three games last season were against ranked teams on the road with UCLA and Florida State.

The Bruins went on to win the Sun Bowl and finish the year ranked No. 17, while the Seminoles won the national championship at a perfect 14-0 record. Both powerhouse schools had little business being on the field with a mid-major school like Nevada.

Things didn’t lighten up with Mountain West Conference play either. The Wolf Packed faced four of the top five conference foes all away from the comforts of Mackay Stadium. Nevada had another excuse for its struggles this season: injuries.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo played the entire year banged up, while the Union was ransacked by injuries. Yet, in nearly all of Nevada’s games, the team hung tough in the first half before falling apart in the second half. But that’s not on the players and coaches, right? Nope. It’s because their schedule was too hard.

All forces were seemingly against Polian and company last season. They were doomed from the get-go in the eyes of many. In reality, the daunting schedule, inexperience and injuries were just excuses. All three excuses are a part of football. Good teams overcome that adversity.

Bad teams crumble. Nevada’s 2014 schedule was released last week, and there are no excuses now. This time around, the Wolf Pack’s non-conference slate includes Southern Utah, Washington State, Arizona (a giant downgrade from last season’s Florida State), UCLA and BYU.

While upper tier conference contenders like Boise State, San Diego State, Fresno State and Colorado State will all be coming to Mackay Stadium this year, the Wolf Pack will trek to UNLV, Air Force, Hawai’i and San Jose State — which combined for a 16-33 mark in 2013.

The circle-the-calendar date is Nov. 28 when Nevada clashes with bitter rival UNLV during Thanksgiving weekend, which closes the MWC regular season. The Fremont Cannon might not be the only thing up for grabs; a bowl berth could be hanging in the balance, too.

The Wolf Pack’s bye weeks set up pitch perfectly, as well. Nevada will take a breather after its non-conference slate, just in time before a big showdown at San Jose State on Sept. 27. The other bye week comes before the Wolf Pack’s final three games — ideal for making a last-season push.

If Nevada wants to return to mid-major prominence, 2014 is the year to do it. Reversing last season’s 4-8 finish and returning to a bowl game is not only likely — but this should be the baseline expectation. If Nevada doesn’t have a winning record in 2014, they’ll have no one to point the finger at but themselves.

Not the schedule. Not inexperience. Not injuries. No excuses.

Eric Uribe can be reached at euribe@sagebrush.unr.edu.