Murray's Mailbag: Biggest questions for Nevada football heading into fall camp?

Christian Solano
Christian Solano is battling for the starting quarterback job. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Finally, some Nevada football questions. The Monday Mailbag has mostly been Wolf Pack basketball terrain the last several months, but with Nevada football camp starting Thursday, we've received a majority of gridiron questions this week (as well as some Stranger Things). Let's jump into this week's Monday Twitter Mailbag. Thanks, as always, for your inquiries.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome).

I'm most eager to see the new players on the roster. You read and hear so much about the incoming recruiting class before they land on campus, but I get way more intel from being able to watch them in person for a month during fall camp. I can usually tell who the keepers are in that 30-day period. As for the question marks, they are:

* Starting quarterback: Nevada has to settle on a starting quarterback between Cristian Solano, Carson Strong and Malik Henry. Unlike two years ago, coach Jay Norvell plans on naming a starting quarterback midway through fall camp rather than waiting until the day of the season opener. It still seems like Solano will get the gig, but we'll see.

* Interior offensive line: Nevada has Jake Nelson back at left tackle, but the rest of the line is a question mark (Nate Brown will start, too). The Wolf Pack needs to sort out seven players on the line it can trust and find a consistent center. Snapping was an issue in the spring game. If the line isn't good, whoever wins the starting quarterback job will have his hands full.

* Safety: Nevada lost all three starting safeties (Dameon Baber, Asauni Rufus, Nephi Sewell) this offseason and has a bunch of former offensive players vying for the starting jobs at that position. The Wolf Pack made major gains as a defense in its second season under coordinator Jeff Casteel and will have to find some keepers on the back line to ensure it doesn't backslide too much.

* Pass rushers: The Wolf Pack said "goodbye" to All-Mountain West performers Malik Reed and Korey Rush and must replace their ability to get into the backfield. Dominic Peterson, who has all-league potential, will pull up some of that slack, but can Sam Hammond, Jaden Lewis, Tristan Nichols and others consistently get to the quarterback? That's a big question this year.

* No. 1 receiver: McLane Mannix transferred to Texas Tech after two strong seasons at Nevada. The Wolf Pack has plenty of talent at the position as it returns six of its top seven pass-catchers from a year ago, but will any of them draw double-teams on every play like Mannix did? Rising sophomore Romeo Doubs has tantalizing talent and could be a future NFL player if he puts it all together.

* Position switch: Gabe Sewell and Lucas Weber will switch positions this season, with Weber moving to inside linebacker and Sewell moving to outside backer. I'm interested to see how that move changes the productivity of the two. Weber should hit 100 tackles and Sewell could find his way to 7-10 sacks as a blitzer.

QB Malik Henry: The fan base wants to see him and he has the highest ceiling (for this season) among those vying for the job.

TE Henry Ikahihifo: At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Ikahihifo has the size to play right now. He is the second-highest-rated player in the 2019 class.

DE Breylon Garcia: The Wolf Pack needs immediate pass rushing and Garcia should fit the bill there even if it is difficult to play on the line as a true freshman.

DE Javasia Brunson: Same thing as Garcia. The two were teammates in East Texas in high school and are reportedly pretty developed players.

WR Melquan Stovall: He enrolled a semester early, so he has a better grasp on the offense compared to most freshman. He had an excellent spring camp.

DB Avery Carrington: Nevada has almost zero depth at safety, so Carrington could see early playing time, especially if there are injuries.

DB Cameron Stephens: The highest-rated player in the class, Stephens is a cornerback who, like Carrington, could see the field as a true freshman.

I'm high on Stovall, but his reps will probably be somewhat limited with Nevada returning Kaleb Fossum, Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks and Brendan O'Leary-Orange. Stovall will battle seniors Ben Putman and Dominic Christian for reps behind Fossum in the slot. He'll certainly get on the field his share, but he's not going to replace Mannix's 50/875/7 from last year. In the long term, he's a good Mannix replacement.

As for two receivers over 1,000 yards, I'll put it at 1 percent. Nevada hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Rishard Matthews in 2011. It hasn't had two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season since 1998 when Geoff Noisy and Trevor Insley both hit that mark. With uncertainty at quarterback and Nevada wanting to run the ball with Toa Taua, I just don't see any way the Wolf Pack has two 1,000-yard receivers this season. Even one 1,000-yard pass-catcher seems like a stretch.

1) Barring injury and assuming Toa doesn't transfer or turn pro early, I believe he'll break Nevada's all-time FBS rushing record, which is held by Vai with 4,588 yards, but it will be close. Vai only had 112 yards as a freshman, so Toa has a 760-yard head start. Toa would have to average about 100 yards per game for the rest of his college career, which isn't easy, but it's doable. He just can't miss any games with injury. Durability was one of Vai's underrated skills.

2) No. I'll take the Taua and Luppincott duo. For starters, they had better lines to run behind, which helped. But they combined for 8,645 yards and 92 touchdowns in four seasons. That's nearly impossible to top individually, and it will be hard to match the team success those two had from 2006-10 (Nevada went 42-24 overall and 28-12 in conference during their tenures).

A kickoff time of 9 a.m. is not going to happen. The Mountain West broadcast partners need late game live events, which is why they are interested in the MW in the first place. The only two FBS conferences where you can have 7 p.m. Pacific time kickoffs is the Pac-12 and the MW, so those two conferences are going to be playing night games all the time in exchange for the multiple millions of dollars they get from their broadcast partners. If the MW wants a television deal that pays it $25 million to $30 million per year, which is my guess for the financial impact of its next deal, it has to play night games. End of story. And the conference needs that money, so barring some Eastern time zone trips (like Nevada's game at Vanderbilt last season), you're never going to see morning kickoffs.

As for the season-opening attendance, Nevada has drawn attendances of 17,525, 19,138, 21,483 and 21,021 for its last four Labor Day weekend home games. That's an average of 19,792 fans per game. Those were all against FCS opponents. Since Nevada is playing a Power 5 foe in this game (Purdue), I'll juice that number by 10 percent and give you a guess of 21,771 for the season opener.

It's going to be the Purdue game to start the season or the UNLV game to end the season. The other home games are Weber State, Hawaii, San Jose State and New Mexico, which is barf, barf, barf and barf. The highest-attended home game of the Norvell era came last year against Boise State when Nevada drew 21,431 fans in a game that used to always sell out. The first UNLV home game of the Norvell era drew only 17,359 fans, the lowest attendance for the Battle for the Fremont Cannon contest since 1989. Only two of Norvell's 12 home games have drawn more than 19,000 fans. So there's an attendance problem here. I'll use my guess of 21,771 fans for Purdue as the highest figure of the year. In theory, you'd assume that would be the UNLV game, but that one will be played Thanksgiving week, which neuters attendance. The Wolf Pack will need some major to be on the line -- more than just the cannon -- to approach a sellout there.

I posted my full preview of the Nevada-Purdue game here (I'll be doing previews of every game this season over the next three weeks) and noted: "The Boilermakers will probably be a touchdown or better favorite despite being the road team." I'm guessing it will be a 7.5-point line in favor of Purdue at kickoff, and I'd give the Wolf Pack a one-in-three chance of winning since the game is at home. It's a winnable contest against a Big 10 opponent, and those don't roll around very often. Nevada is 1-4 against the Big 10 since moving to the FBS in 1992, that one win coming against Northwestern at home in 2006 (a 31-21 victory in the only game a Big 10 team has played at Mackay).

It's a great fit and I do think Malik Reed has a better chance of making the Broncos' 53-man roster than not making it. Worst-case scenario is he's on the practice squad. He's a perfect replacement for Shaquil Barrett, a Colorado State alum (also in the MW) who spent the last four seasons in Denver as an undersized pass-rusher before signing with Tampa Bay this offseason. ESPN's projected 53-man roster for Denver doesn't include Reed, nor does the Denver Post's or the USA Today's, so I'll be in the minority with my guess he makes the roster.

I'll go softball. Nevada should be able to maintain its pitching level from last year while taking a jump in the batter's box. Seven of the MW's nine teams last season were in the RPI's top 102, including five in the top 60. If the league takes a little step back and Nevada a little step forward, it could compete for a league title.

Top-15 Stranger Things characters, ranked.

1. Chief Jim Hopper: Perfect casting with David Harbour.

2. Steve Harrington: He's had the best character development over three seasons.

3. Dustin Henderson: He dropped after lying about keeping D'Artagnan in season two but rose with his Neverending Story duet in season three.

4. Lucas Sinclair: His "Eat sh!t!” line in the first season is my favorite line in the series.

5. Alexei: I've never liked a Russian more.

6. Eleven: In the first season, she looked like my 4-year-old son.

7. Murray: Perfect name.

8. Erica Sinclcair: Kudos to the writers for increasing her role in season three.

9. Max: I was resistant at first to her addition to the party, but she won me over.

10. Bob Newby: What a hero!

11. Billy: Looks like the male version of our former nanny Ashlynn, so I call him, "Ashlynn boy." I enjoyed his character development in season three.

12. Will Byers: He's the best actor of the little kids (male version), although I only see Millie Bobby Brown as having future success in the business.

13. Joyce Byers: She was great in season one with the Christmas lights.

14. Jonathan Byers: Only because he looks like Elon Musk.

15. Ted Wheeler: Points for being the most useless human in the world.

On par with season one and better than season three. It'd be hard to top season one because of the novelty of learning what was going on for the first time. Season two was kind of a let down, but season three made up for that. Steve and Hopper had their best seasons and there's a good vein of female empowerment in season three. Murray and Alexei are excellent in this season, Dustin was awesome and Erica's role really grew. There are a ton of cliffhangers at the end of the season (Is Fat Rambo really dead?). Additionally, the visuals and colors implemented in the shooting of the season were elite. It was an excellent season, well worth the time.


My guess is the American is "Papa." I'm guessing Hopper went into The Upside Down as the gate was not completely closed (it looks like it was left three inches open, as he told Eleven to leave the door three inches open in their home). That'd be my guess, but either way I'm interested to see how they make it work out. Hopper is certainly not dead.

I don't have specific intel on this, but Australia has really upped how much it pays players. The NBL's new CBA increased minimum salaries from $38,000 per year to $55,000 while increasing its salary cap from $1.1 million per team to $1.43 million. The average wage and support package for a NBL player last season was $146,000 compared to $120,000 the year prior, per The Sydney Morning Herald. I'm guessing Cameron Oliver will get around $150,000 to play in Australia this season. Compare that to the $7,000 per-month base salary – or $35,000 per year – in the NBA G League. So while a move to Australia lessens Oliver's chances of being picked up by an NBA team by a pretty good margin, it's hard to blame him given the financials of heading overseas. It's a shame the G League doesn't pay their players more.

I would guess he probably doesn't make it now. Australia is getting scouted more, and having LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton, two potential first-round picks in the 2020 draft playing in the league this season, will help. But the easiest route to the NBA is through the G League. At some point, you have to pick money or opportunity. It's hard to quibble with a player picking money. This doesn't shut the door on Oliver making it to the NBA. I'm a firm believer that he has NBA talent. But this does shut the door to a degree.

In football, it's not a coincidence. NFL teams have area scouts, so there are stronger links with some colleges to specific NFL teams. Denver, for example, has had four Nevada players in recent years. Cleveland has had three, all offensive linemen. Sometimes an area scout can develop a good relationship with a school and pump players onto their rosters. It's different in the NBL. The NBL has increased its compensation for players in recent years, so it's attracting more players. I'm sure the Wolf Pack players who have gone to the NBL talk to other Wolf Pack alums and pass along a good word, which can help increase the numbers, but it's not like there's a local NBL scout in Northern Nevada who has created that link.

I don't think it would be used for anything specific or for something like a 5 percent budget increase across the board. It would just be used to cover holes. The Wolf Pack already owes the university nearly $6 million in previous debts it must pay off.

They don't need to, but it's nice to give a local kid a spot on the roster (this is in reference to Manogue's Gabe Bansuelo, who has joined Nevada). Nevada's local walk-on last season, Jalen Townsell, from Spanish Springs, is a different story. He was a legitimate Division I prospect. He's going to be a scholarship player at some D-I school after his stint at Arizona Western this season. Bansuelo is more of your typical walk-on. I don't see him getting many, if any, minutes this season, which he seems to understand. He's a practice player who might get a few minutes in blowouts when fans begin to chant his name. Nevada has had very few walk-ons earn sizable roles on the team in games. The last player who rose to that level was Seth Taylor in 2004-05. He averaged 11.6 minutes per game that season, averaging 2.5 points per game.

I mean, there are "aliens." You'd have to have a lot of hubris to believe humans and animals on Earth are the only living creatures in the universe. I don't know that they're here, though. I'm not one for conspiracy theories. From your list, the most likely to be true is aliens are here. If Big Foot was here, somebody would have a cell phone pic of him or her. I don't believe there's a goat-sucking creature named Chupacabra, and there's no underground city. Tahoe Tessie is a real thing, though. I've met her.

MarioKart battle on the big screen at Greater Nevada Ballpark. A 64-player double-elimination tournament. Winner gets to keep the Jumbotron. I'd put it in the backyard of my new house. Let's do it.

I'd request we move to the Big Sky? But seriously, it's all about hiring good coaches. If you hire good coaches, you'll create more interest and more revenue and long-term stability. It's not that dissimilar of a situation as Nevada, the major differences being SJSU gets way more university money and Nevada has the potential for way more community traction since Reno is a college town and the Bay Area is a pro sports town. SJSU will never be top dog in town. Even Stanford and Cal struggle to draw. SJSU is just a Big Sky department in the MW.

Commissioner Thompson said this to The Athletic's Chris Vannini when asked about expansion:

”We’ve been through it. We’ve had 15 football-playing institutions. The market will dictate, in the West, there’s BYU and New Mexico State that are independent. I don’t want to speak in hypotheticals, but more probable would be contraction. ‘What are the other options? Go to another FBS conference?' Geographically, there are 26 FBS-playing schools; 12 Pac-12, 12 Mountain West, BYU and New Mexico State west of Denver.”

I've long been a proponent of kicking San Jose State out of the MW. Perhaps there's more traction there than I believe. I don't think the MW will dismiss SJSU, although it could do so with cause in my opinion. Thompson isn't a fan of partial members, so removing Hawaii could make some sense, too, although it'd make less sense than booting SJSU. Hawaii is usually decent in football and brings the Hawaii Bowl into the fold for the conference. And it doesn't take any of the television revenue.

In a perfect world, the MW would be a 10-team conference that plays a full round-robin nine-game football schedule (so Nevada gets to play Boise State every year) and a full 18-game home-and-home series in basketball. To do so, all it has to do is remove San Jose State and Hawaii. Again, I don't think it happens, but it makes more sense than adding schools.

It has nothing to do with "guts." It has to do with the contract Boise State signed when it agreed to not leave the conference in 2012. The MW can't do anything about that now. If it showed its "guts" and tried to give Boise State an even share, it would end up in court and it would lose based on that signed contract (of which I have a copy in my desk). The MW got played back in 2012 and there's little way to fix that issue outside of legal action, which isn't worth it. What would MW argue? We signed a bad deal in 2012 and want to change it? Can't do that.

UNLV wins the national championship but the team's players get eaten by rabid grasshoppers during the championship parade, which puts a damper on the whole title thing.

Coming off USC's first losing season in 18 years, Helton will need a big campaign. He did not get a favorable schedule. USC plays Notre Dame, Fresno State and BYU in non-conference and could end up playing six Top 25 teams. The talent is there for a 10-2 season, but more likely USC goes 8-4. My guess is Helton gets fired the day after the regular-season finale.

So the story line from No Country for Old Men (which was discussed on the Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz last week)? I'd take the money. We'd all take the money.

The NBA used to have preseason games at Lawlor Events Center, but it's been more than a decade since that's happened. The Golden Baseball League used to play at Peccole Park. Outside of high school games, I don't think anybody else has used Mackay Stadium outside of that UC Davis-Sac State game last season.

The NIAA hasn't approved eSports yet. Here's the latest reporting from colleague Kristen Edwards at KRNV. It sounds like the NIAA will most likely approve eSports as a sanctioned "activity" rather than a "sport" like flag football and bowling. As for the NCAA, I don't see eSports ever being accepted by the organization. eSports competitors wouldn't be able to take sponsorship deals, so it wouldn't get the best gamers. Plus, the college level already has the NACE. And if the NIAA or the NCAA does sanction eSports, it wouldn't change my coverage. I would still ignore it.

I'd put my money on the Cowboys paying him because Jerry Jones likes stars. That being said, that would buck the trend of not paying running backs. NFL teams aren't doing it anymore and you can see why. The drop off from a star running back to an average running back isn't as large at that position as others in the league, and running backs are almost all done by the age of 30. So you use a running back for his five-year rookie contract and franchise him once or twice after that and then he's done. That's not fair to the running back, but business is business in the NFL. I just believe Jones likes having big names on his team and will pay Elliott even though he has two years left on his rookie deal (and has been a little worse each year in the league as the carries have piled up). Melvin Gordon on the other hand? He'll be sitting out a while. The Chargers don't pay players and he seems pretty dug in on his stance.

A biography on Chris Ault just because I know his career well enough it'd be fairly easy. Ault has been trying to write a book over the years, but I don't think it has a ton of traction right now, unfortunately. It would be a good read if done right.

Blue cheese. End of list.

I haven't seen a figure on that. I think the bigger impact is on local charities. As of 2018, the Reno-Tahoe Open Foundation has donated more than $4.1 million to charities. Hopefully the Montreux members vote to keep to the tournament in town beyond this year.

The Dodgers add two relief pitchers but don't deal any of their top four prospects (C Keibert Ruiz, C Will Smith, P Dustin May, SS Gavin Lux).

The Giants are more interesting. New baseball ops leader, Farhan Zaidi, is a smart man and he knows the Giants aren't good enough to make it to the World Series even if they do land one of the two wild-card spots. The Giants are, at best, the ninth-best team in the 15-team National League. That being said, the fans won't be happy if Madison Bumgarner is traded and the franchise gives up on the season when it's only 2.5 games back in the wild-card race. I think the Giants trade some of its relief pitching for immediate help in the outfield and hold onto Bumgarner and take the compensation for making him a qualifying offer this offseason. I do think that'd be the wrong move. I'd trade everything if I was the Giants, using its improved placement in the standings as leverage to get a little more in trade offers. But I understand not wanting to wave the white flag.

This has been my fault. I added Jordan Lyles to your roster about a month ago and he's been a tire-fire since then (0-4 with a 15.00 ERA in his last four starts). Drop Lyles and your team should return to greatness. And nobody cares about your league since fielding errors and walks are actual categories. That's just weird. Fielding errors and home runs should never been worth the same amount.

Not sure if that fits since I've turned down many opportunities at "bigger and better jobs" so I could stay in Northern Nevada and try to have a better work-life balance. I do remember some ESPN executive spoke at the Reynolds School of Journalism when I was in school and one of his main pieces of advice for success was to be "extremely ambitious" and to be open to moving every year or two. That life wasn't for me. I didn't want to move every couple of years and never truly have a home to get to the "top of the profession." That limited my career in many ways, but I don't regret it. I wanted to have a home and a family, and this is that place for me. See y'all next week.

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