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.
* PEOPLE ARE FREAKING OUT about the recent Nevada football transfers. In the last month, four players have announced they’re leaving the program. Now, that number alone isn’t too concerning. Typically, some disgruntled players will exit your program every year if they’re not getting playing time or are homesick or just don’t jive with the coaches. That’s normal. It’s not as normal to lose arguably your top returning offensive and defensive player to transfer, which is what’s happened to Nevada.
* THE FOUR WOLF PACK PLAYERS who have announced their transfers are WR McLane Mannix, DB Nephi Sewell, TE Trevion Armstrong and DB Knowledge Smith. Armstrong and Smith make sense. Armstrong came to Nevada as a wide receiver and was fairly productive in 2017 before being moved to tight end this season, where he slipped down the depth chart. Smith was a true freshman this year who didn’t see the field. Both came from far away to play for Nevada – Armstrong from Virginia; Smith from Texas – and will likely find a more local FCS school to play for. Those aren’t big losses given Nevada’s depth at those positions. But losing Mannix and Sewell will sting, and have fans questioning things.
* MANNIX HAS GONE TO great lengths to explain his transfer is because of family reasons, and we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Sewell, meanwhile, is homesick, per coach Jay Norvell, and will look for a school closer to his home in Utah. Fans immediately fingered Oregon as a destination (that would not be closer to home), in part because his younger brother, Penei, who plays for the Ducks, tweeted about his brother “pulling up.” The Sewells have been strong in saying Nephi is not going to Oregon, so we’ll see. If he does end up at Utah, BYU or Utah State, that adds credence to him truly being homesick.
* IT’S OBVIOUSLY NOT A GOOD look for Nevada, but is this symptomatic of a bigger cultural issue? I don’t think we can go that far, but it does shoot off alarm bells the Pack lost two stars (it could be three when all is said and done). Norvell went on the offensive this week, saying tampering is an issue in college football and the Group of 5 risks becoming the “minor leagues” for the Power 5 thanks to the NCAA’s transfer portal that allows players to transfer without getting permission from their school. Tampering no doubt happens, but it’s also up to the Pack to make sure its stars are as happy as possible. Athletes have more power than ever before and are exercising it more than ever before, which is why the transfer market is so clogged. Nevada must ensure star players aren’t looking for greener pastures.
* LET’S BE REAL: No non-local kid grows up dreaming of playing for Nevada. When kids do join the Wolf Pack, it’s a business decision. They think Nevada is the best option to help them accomplish their goals (mainly make it to the NFL, which ever kid believes he’ll do). If there are better options in accomplishing that goal after a couple of years in Reno, they’re going to be tempted to make that jump. The best way Nevada can push back against that instinct is by putting players in the NFL, something it did a great job of from 2009-13 when it had 10 players drafted. It has not done a great job of that of late. From 2014-18, it has had only two players drafted. The last time Nevada signed a scholarship player who eventually was drafted was 2009 when it inked Joel Bitonio, a second-round pick in 2013. That’s a long time ago.
* NEVADA MUST SHOW IT can put players in the NFL if it’s going to keep its good players long term while also threading the difficult needle between being an old-school disciplinarian and a new-school player’s coach (Eric Musselman somehow manages to do both, which is what makes him special). The new reality is transfers are going to happen and programs will either be victimized by it or a beneficiary of it. Just because the Wolf Pack lost a couple of good players doesn’t mean the program is in shambles as some have surmised. Nevada took a nice step forward this season, but it has to be a net positive in the transfer game because we’re only going to see more and more kids moving schools in the future.
* THE WOLF PACK MOVES ON TO the Arizona Bowl, which is a fine bowl given the games the MW offers. The MW really needs to enhance its postseason options if it wants to be considered the best Group of 5 conference in the nation. The league has just one matchup with a Power 5 opponent (the Las Vegas Bowl) and is losing that bowl after next season. The American, comparatively, has three bowls against Power 5 opponents (vs. the ACC, Big 12 and SEC), which is a major advantage for the league. And somehow the MW and AAC don’t have any bowls against one another. The MW is facing a number of issues, but one of the biggest concerns is its lack of attractive bowl options, an issue that needs fixing.
* IF NEVADA BASKETBALL BEATS No. 20 Arizona State tonight, the Wolf Pack will go undefeated in non-conference play (that’d be 13-0) and will have a better-than-even shot of finishing the regular season unbeaten. After the matchup with the Sun Devils, Nevada will basically be a double-digit favorite in every game for the rest of the year. The MW has not been good in non-conference play – SDSU just lost to San Diego and New Mexico got blow out by NMSU – and one of the most impressive things about Nevada under Eric Musselman is it never fails to show up (the one exception being in the MW Tournament vs. SDSU last year). Are you ready for Nevada being 31-0 heading into the postseason? If it wins tonight, it’s going to happen.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.