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1,000 Words: Nevada football's season will be defined by next three games

Nevada football
Nevada football's season will be defined by its final three regular-season games. (Jenna Holland/NSN)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.

* THE NEVADA FOOTBALL TEAM’S 2019 season will be remembered by what happens over its next three games. November games count the most, as the old saying goes, and that’s certainly true for this year’s iteration of the Wolf Pack. The Nevada fan base seems down on this year's team, and it’s easy to see why despite the Wolf Pack sitting at a respectable 5-4. Nevada’s five wins have come over an FCS team (Weber State), two of worst FBS teams in the nation (UTEP and New Mexico), a team that historically has been awful (San Jose State) and a Big Ten team (Purdue) that is 3-6. That’s five wins (by an average of 7.8 points per game) against opponents that are a combined 7-27 against FBS competition.

* MEANWHILE, WHEN NEVADA has played bowl-quality teams, things have gotten ugly. In the Wolf Pack’s four losses – to Oregon (a great team), Wyoming (a good team), Hawaii (which might not make a bowl) and Utah State (which might not make a bowl) – it has been crushed. Those four losses have come by a combined score of 198-22, so you kind of understand why fans have been bearish on the Wolf Pack, which is on track to make a bowl game but has been nobody’s definition of a good team in 2019. But all of those issues and lopsided losses could be washed away with a strong close to the season.

* BELIEVE IT OR NOT, the Wolf Pack could still win the MW’s West Division. Beat San Diego State, Fresno State and UNLV to close the season and Nevada would finish the year 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the MW. That might be good enough to win the West. All that would basically be required would be for Fresno State to beat San Diego State next week. Can Nevada really sweep its final three games? If it plays at the level we’ve seen up to this point in the season, the answer would be “No.” But SDSU, which is ranked No. 24 in the country, is the most beatable team in the Top 25 given its offensive limitations.

* IN NO WAY DO I THINK Nevada will run the table. Most likely, you’re looking at road losses to SDSU and Fresno State and a home win over UNLV. That’d be enough for the Wolf Pack to become bowl eligible and win back the Fremont Cannon, which some fans might consider a successful season (I wouldn’t considering who those wins are over and how those losses have come). But the possibility of a great season still exists if Nevada can somehow jump to a new level for this final month of the season. The Wolf Pack has muddled along this season, but it has muddled to a 5-4 record, which isn’t bad.

* IF THE WOLF PACK beats SDSU – a big if, of course – the program would have its first road win over a Top 25 foe ever (it’s 0-18 in such games). Nevada would then get a bye to prepare for a Fresno State team that is average at best. That’s a winnable game, even on the road. Then comes UNLV at home in what will be Tony Sanchez’s final game coaching the Rebels (if he lasts that long). The Rebels can’t be too pumped given how its season has unfolded (0-5 in MW games). If Nevada wants to get back a portion of its fan base and have a season to remember, the goal is clear: three straight wins to close the season.

* WHILE NEVADA BASKETBALL lost to Utah in its opener, the game provided one of Lawlor Events Center’s most memorable moments this decade (and a ton of great moments have been stuffed into the last few years). But seeing Lindsey Drew open the game hitting three 3-pointers in the first four minutes and the crowd rising to its feet to applaud him gave me goosebumps. As a journalist, I stay neutral. But Drew is the last vestige of the Eric Musselman tenure and a guy who has spent five years in Reno. He's beloved. And he tore his Achilles, had double-hip surgery and had not played in a regular-season game in 630 days. Then he goes out and puts up 30 points, eight assists, six rebounds, five made 3-pointers and zero turnovers, which nobody in college basketball has done in a decade. It was incredible.

* IT ALSO MAKES YOU WONDER how far Nevada would have gone in last year’s NCAA Tournament if it had a healthy Drew. Yes, Cody Martin filled in admirably as the team’s full-time point guard, but Drew would have been the perfect piece on that team, a glue guy who does it all. A guy who doesn’t care about his stat line but can take over a game when needed. Without Drew, Nevada lost to Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and was coming apart at the seams at the end of the season. Drew was that missing piece, and while he painfully had to miss the Sweet 16 run, hopefully he enjoyed Tuesday night.

* IT’S FUNNY HOW MUCH expectations have changed for Nevada from one year to the next. Wolf Pack fans seemed fine with the loss to Utah, whereas even close wins last season led fans to freak out. It’s a sign of an educated fan base. Nevada lost Jalen Harris to injury, was in foul trouble from the first whistle, played a lot of young guys and somehow was out-shot 35-9 at the free throw line, which is damn near impossible to do as the home team. A lot of things were going against the Wolf Pack against Utah, but Nevada stuck in the game to the end. A home loss Saturday to Loyola Marymount, however, wouldn’t be greeted with such a rosy reaction. There’s no such thing as a must-win basketball game in November, but Nevada better win.

* THE NORTHERN NEVADA high school football playoffs begin Friday, and here’s what I want to see: The winner of the 4A playing the winner of the 3A in early December. I’m assuming the 3A winner will be Churchill County. That’s a fair assumption considering the defending 3A state champions are 20-1 over the last two seasons and have outscored opponents, 943-236, an average score of 45-11. During that two-year stretch, Churchill County hasn’t played a 4A team, its lone loss coming to a team in California. The Greenwave has had five Division I players on its roster the last two seasons, so the top-end talent is certainly there. Could Churchill County beat Spanish Springs, Damonte Ranch, Bishop Manogue or whichever team comes out of the 4A? I don’t know. But I’d like to find out.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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