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1,000 Words: Six things to watch during Nevada football's spring game

Kelton Moore
Kelton Moore and the Wolf Pack play their spring game Saturday. (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

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 will cap spring camp Saturday with the annual Silver & Blue Game and there are plenty of story lines for fans to watch during the spring scrimmage. Here are a few.

* THE QB BATTLE: The Wolf Pack will pit its first string against the rest of the team, although that first string includes three quarterbacks: Cristian Solano, Carson Strong and Malik Henry. Each will get a shot with the No. 1 unit, and while spring games can be misleading – David Cornwell looked like a future NFL player two spring games ago before never panning out – it is important for those three to play well in a race that will come down to the season opener. Solano is the favorite, but the ceilings of Strong and Henry appear to be higher.

* THE RB ROTATION: Toa Taua is penciled in as the team’s starting running back, but don’t forget about Kelton Moore. The senior was just as good as Taua on a per-carry basis last season. Taua averaged 4.9 yards per carry to Moore’s 4.8. And Moore, who has averaged 5.1 yards per carry over his career, had a higher rate of touchdowns per carry. It’s easy to overlook Moore. He’s a quiet kid who doesn’t seek the spotlight. But he’s a power back – 5-foot-11, 240 pounds – who deserves his share of carries this season

* WHICH WR EMERGES: McLane Mannix was Nevada’s go-to receiver last season, and while he left for Texas Tech this offseason, the team’s other top-six receivers all returned. Kaleb Fossum is excellent in the slot, but who will step up to the big-play receiver to fill Mannix’s void? Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs are the favorites, and Brendan O’Leary-Orange has that potential, too. Mannix was a weapon opposing defenses had to double-team. Somebody needs to become that player to make Nevada’s offense more dynamic.

* NEVADA’S FRONT SEVEN: The Wolf Pack returns a nice corps of defenders up front with linemen Dominic Peterson and Hausia Sekona and linebackers Gabe Sewell and Lucas Weber. That group needs to be dominant to help an inexperience safety corps. Watching them battle Nevada’s offensive line, which will break in three new starters, will be interesting during the spring game. The Wolf Pack defense was elite against the run last season and might be able to stay there given the quartet listed above.

* THE SAFETY PLAY: Outside of quarterback, this is the biggest question on the team. Nevada has basically no experience at safety, a position loaded with converted offensive players. As such, there’s good athleticism here, but safety will be a concern heading into the season. A half-dozen players could earn starting roles, so there’s a lot to be earned (or lost) at the safety position during the spring game. This spot has gone from Nevada’s most experienced group in 2018 to its least experienced in 2019.

* ATTENDANCE: Nevada has done a better job of promoting its football program this spring and while Norvell has helped turn the Wolf Pack’s record around (from three wins in 2018 to eight in 2019), attendance is still a major issue. The Wolf Pack averaged 17,181 fans per home game last year with what the school called the best home schedule in program history. Nevada needs to pump up its attendance, which will be tough to do in 2019 with home games against Weber State, New Mexico, SJSU and Hawaii (Purdue and UNLV highlight the schedule). Spring game attendance can be a good litmus test for the enthusiasm for a program. Nevada’s spring game record is 4,501 fans in 2013. Drawing 3,000 would be nice.

* HYPOCRITE, THY NAME IS DABO. Clemson signed its football coach Dabo Swinney to a 10-year, $93 million deal today. Swinney once said this about his players potentially getting paid: “As far as paying players, professionalizing college athletics, that's where you lose me. I'll go do something else, because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is.” Entitlement. Like making $93 million off the back of unpaid employees? College athletics is pretty bonkers right now. If the NCAA doesn’t start paying the athletes, it’s time to blow this thing up. I still have no idea how college sports are legal.

* LOOK, I HAVE NO ISSUE WITH coaches getting paid. They put in ridiculous hours and are the faces of their universities. But you can’t argue there isn’t enough money in college sports to pay the players when coaches are getting $93 million contracts. That’s the second-most-expensive contract ever given to a coach in American sports behind John Gruden’s 10-year, $100 million deal. The money is there to pay players. I know figuring out how to do it won’t be easy, but this is getting ridiculous. Even Nevada, a school that struggles financially, can pay a coach $11.6 million in fully guaranteed money.

* I’M NOT SURE WHAT THE Arizona Cardinals are doing. In the last 13 months, the team has signed QB Sam Bradford to a $20 million deal; signed QB Mike Glennon to a $8 million deal; traded draft currency to move up to draft QB Josh Rosen, who got an $18 million deal; and then used the No. 1 draft pick to select QB Kyler Murray, who will get a deal worth about $35 million. So in case you ever wondered if you could do a better job than a real NFL general manager, you now know you could. The Cardinals are proof of that.

* FUN FACT: With Murray go No. 1 overall, Nevada has now played against three of the last five No. 1 overall picks in Jameis Winston, Myles Garrett and Kyler Murray. In Nevada’s game against Texas A&M in 2015, Murray was a true freshman who was backing up Kyle Allen. He completed 2-of-4 passes for 32 yards and ran twice for 10 yards. Both Allen and Murray transferred after that season, which eventually cost Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin his job. If Sumlin would have made Murray his starter from the get-go, he probably keeps his job and gets a big raise. But even coaches struggle to figure out who their best quarterback is at times.

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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