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Murray's Mailbag: Can Nevada football reach a New Year's Six bowl in 2020?

Carson Strong
Carson Strong throws a ball during Nevada's bowl game against Ohio. (Nevada athletics)

Coronavirus might have shut down sports, but it can't shut down the Monday Twitter Mailbag. (It did lead to a lot of questions about toiler paper, though, which was my fault). We have a cornucopia of topics of topics today, so let's get to your questions. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

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

I will start by saying the SP+ projections have Nevada as the No. 110 team in the nation in 2020 (that's out of 130 FBS teams). Those projections have the Wolf Pack being the 21st worst team in the nation. So, if you're not a Wolf Pack fan, you're probably laughing at the question since Nevada will have to go undefeated to get to a New Year's Six Bowl in 2020, and even that might not be enough given the rise of the American Athletic Conference and the projected strength of schedule for the Wolf Pack in 2020 (it's soft).

But that strength of schedule is one reason fans are dreaming big. The biggest underdog games Nevada will have next season are at Arkansas (which went 2-10 last year and will be under the direction of a first-year head coach) and at USF (which went 4-8 last year and will be under the direction of a first-year head coach). Those are Nevada's "toughest games." One of the overlooked elements of Nevada's historic 2010 season was the schedule. It was easy. In non-conference, the Wolf Pack played a horrible Colorado State team, mediocre Cal and BYU teams and FCS champ Eastern Washington. Five of its eight WAC opponents didn't make a bowl. That left Boise State, Hawaii and Fresno State on the schedule and Nevada beat the Broncos in overtime, lost to Hawaii and beat Fresno State by one. Toss in a limited Boston College team in the bowl game (a seven-point win) and the Wolf Pack's schedule was pitch perfect for a 13-1 season.

The same applies to the 2020 season. Most of Nevada's games should be decided by a touchdown one way or the other. We shouldn't see the blowouts we witnessed last year. The Wolf Pack returns the most experience of any Mountain West school, a title held by Hawaii last season when the Rainbow Warriors surprised everybody by getting to the MW championship game. Could Nevada repeat that feat but take it one step further by winning the conference?

The Wolf Pack has the best returning personnel in the offensive skill positions with QB Carson Strong, RBs Toa Taua and Devonte Lee and WRs Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs. It has a difference-maker on defense in DE Dom Peterson. The big questions come on the offensive line and defensive back seven. Those are both major concerns, and both will be under the direction of new position coaches this season. The Wolf Pack offensive line was awful, but it does return all of its key members. The defensive back seven understandably had issues in 2019 as it broke in a new secondary. Nevada is switching to a four-down defense heavy on man-to-man coverage. Add those to the fact Nevada hasn't gotten the most out of its offensive personnel in recent years and there are plenty of things to overcome.

ESPN's Bill Connelly's projections give Nevada a 7 percent chance of going 3-9 or worse and a 6 percent chance of going 9-3 or better. There are a wide range of outcomes. The Wolf Pack will have to go 13-0 to get to a New Year's Six Bowl. So you're basically asking for an impossibility. To accomplish the miracle, Nevada would have to get amazing play from its skill positions; have the offensive line go from bottom 15 in the nation to top 25 in the nation; make massive gains on defense under a first-year coordinator while losing half its starters; and have the schedule be even easier than it appears on paper. Coach Jay Norvell has said his goal is to get Nevada to a New Year's Six Bowl, but the odds of doing so in 2020 are slim, even if the schedule sets up nicely.

I can work on those this week (not very many sports going on right now!), but I imagine UNLV will be ahead of Nevada. The Rebels return five of their top-six scorers (Bryce Hamilton, Amauri Hardy, Donne Tillman, Cheikh Mbacke Diong and Marvin Coleman) and add transfers David Jenkins Jr. (from South Dakota State) and Mo Wood (Tulane by way of Reno's Galena High) while also adding a top-40 recruiting class in the nation. Nevada is losing three of its top four scorers. Yeah, I'm 100 percent sure UNLV will be ahead of Nevada in my "Way Too Early 2020-21 Mountain West basketball rankings."

I'll have a larger story on this Tuesday, but it's not a good development. The NCAA hasn't outlined anything yet, but no "units" will be handed out for this year's tournament and presumably the credits from six years ago will fall off the ledger. So, for the next six years, conferences will only get five years worth of credits. Let's say San Diego State got to the Elite 8 and Utah State won one game this year. That might be a little optimistic, but those results would be worth six units. Each unit is worth about $282,100, so that is $1.693 million per year. Multiple that by the six-year cycle and you're talking about $10.156 million (or $923,236 per school) over the life of the six-year cycle.

That's a lot of money. But that's only half the story. With spring sports being canceled, Nevada should save money. The spring sports lose a lot of money for the Wolf Pack. You're talking baseball, softball, men's and women's golf, men's and women's tennis and outdoor track and field. All of those program run a deficit, some up to $1 million a year. So by not playing the spring sports, Nevada will save a great deal of money on decreased travel, etc. The coronavirus could be a financial positive for Nevada due to the cancellation of spring sports even with those NCAA Tournament units evaporating.

The Atlantic Sun (Liberty), Big South (Winthrop), Colonial (Hofstra), Horizon (Northern Kentucky), Missouri Valley (Bradley), Mountain West (Utah State), Northeast (Robert Morris), Ohio Valley (Belmont), Patriot (Boston), Southern (East Tennessee State), Summit (North Dakota State) and West Coast (Gonzaga). That's 12 out of 32 Division I conferences. That's what made Joe Lunardi's hypothetical NIT that included Nevada very suspect.

It was the correct decision. You can't put a bracket together when the majority of your conference tournaments haven't been completed. The cynical part of me thinks some coaches were pushing to have a bracket released so they could collect bonuses for making the NCAA Tournament.

Correct. By not announcing a bracket, Nevada's streak of NCAA Tournament berths is intact at three. If the Wolf Pack were to make the Big Dance next season, it'd be fair to say Nevada had made four straight NCAA tournaments. It'd also be fair to say the Houston Astros should be stripped of the 2017 World Series title. Sorry about that. Had a flashback to a couple of weeks ago.

The ship has sailed on that. The NCAA has canceled everything. Could the NCAA have postponed the tournament? Yes. But kids are largely out of school in early May, and this thing won't be sorted out by then. Canceling the spring championship events like the College World Series seemed a little rash, but how do you play a postseason tournament without a regular season? It was probably best to ice everything. Logistically, the NCAA probably could have made it work with different venues and chartered flights, but it would have been awfully difficult, and odds are we're still dealing with this in June. The whole point of self-isolation is to ensure it takes longer for coronavirus to spread, so this thing is going to take a while. We'll be self-isolating for a couple of months, which would have made an NCAA Tournament impossible during the academic year.

The NCAA said last week it would grant an extra year of eligibility to spring sport athletes, not winter sport athletes. Basketball is a winter sport. “Details of eligibility relief will be finalized at a later time," the NCAA said. "Additional issues with NCAA rules must be addressed, and appropriate governance bodies will work through those in the coming days and weeks.” The spring athletes, regardless of class, will all get an additional year, which will require scholarship limits to be tinkered with in 2020-21 so incoming recruits aren't squeezed out of spots. That's going to be complicated.

There has been discussion of winter sport athletes, like those in basketball, getting another year, but the NCAA hasn't commented on that. Honestly, it wouldn't make a lot of sense. You're probably looking at 95-plus percent of winter sport athletes already finishing their season (only athletes in the NCAA Tournament and NCAA championships in indoor track and swimming and diving were still competing). I doubt basketball players will get an extra year of eligibility. The spring sport call was easy because most of those athletes were under the 30 percent threshold of games played required before burning a redshirt season.

Spring sports: 100 percent

Winter sports: 10 percent. It is horrible for seniors who were headed to the NCAA Tournament (Utah State's Sam Merrill, for example), but everybody getting one more year because a handful of seniors got robbed of an NCAA Tournament experience would have a lot of repercussions and doesn't really make sense given most of the winter sports athletes were already done with their season.

Wolf Pack coaches and players are off limits to the media with the exception of our interview last Thursday with Nevada football coach Jay Norvell, which was pre-planned before the coronavirus issue as part of Wolf Pack All-Access. So, no, I haven't been able to talk to any coaches or players. Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth told a story today on NSN Daily about stopping the Wolf Pack softball bus from leaving campus to fly to Las Vegas. Nevada track and field athlete Nicola Ader flew to Albuquerque on Thursday for nationals and was told the event was still on until an hour later being told it had been canceled by the NCAA. It sucks. It really does. But we all have to sacrifice something to make sure we are keeping others as healthy as possible.

Those are tough jobs. In my rankings of best Mountain West basketball jobs, Wyoming was ninth and Air Force was 10th. For Wyoming, former Nebraska/Colorado State/South Dakota head coach Tim Miles is interesting. For Air Force, you need an Xs and Os coach, so Northern Colorado's Jeff Linder makes some sense. He's a former Boise State assistant. Both of these guys have experience in the conference.

No. The AP Top 25 will come out Wednesday and Kansas will be No. 1, but I doubt anybody is going to consider the Jayhawks the theoretical 2020 champs based on a poll. It just goes to show how dumb it was that college football used to decide their national champion that way rather than play it out on the field.

This year? There is no path. Next year? Win the NCAA Tournament, which isn't happening.

Nevada basketball's floor was installed prior to the 2016-17 season after the old floor was there for more than a decade. The new floor cost about $140,000 and came out of Wolf Pack athletic department funds. The court is constructed of first-grade Northern Hard Maple wood and includes two extensions for additional space for practice, with room for two hoops to be added. The court, which is made of 340 pieces that lock together, was manufactured by Connor Sports and comes with a projected lifespan of 15-20 years. While it was originally going to be a floor used at an NCAA Tournament site, Nevada got a new floor instead. I've worked on my stories after games when the court is being taken apart and it takes about an hour. They unlock the pieces and put them on rolling carts that are stored at Lawlor Events Center. In terms of the chunk taken out from the shock clock, there are extra boards for the side court extensions, so I imagine they can just swap some pieces.

I don't think college football will be impacted too much. The regular season doesn't start until September. That's 5.5 months away. Things should be clear by then. Yes, some spring practices could be canceled, but I don't see that leading to more injuries. If anything, limited practices across the nation should help Nevada, which will play seven teams this season with first-year head coaches. The lack of practice is going to hurt programs like that more than Nevada, which does have to install a new defense after a change at coordinator. You could see fewer summer conditioning programs, but most of those are done in smaller groups, so they shouldn't be too effected. If we're still in self quarantine in September when the college football season starts (or August when fall practice begins), we've got bigger issues as a country than what that means for the college football season.

They are currently only suspended indefinitely, so there's a chance high school spring sports return for the playoffs, unlike the NCAA, whose spring playoffs have been canceled. Probably makes sense to cancel the high school playoffs, too, if we're going to abide by the CDC's policy of no gatherings larger than 50 people through May 11 (all regional playoffs are scheduled before that date). It sucks, but I guess we have to play it safe. And Bishop Gorman wins all the state titles anyway.

(1) Chris Ault already has a field named after him. Does he need a road, too? If he does, call the pathway that runs from Evans Avenue to Legacy Hall "Chris Ault Lane."

(2) One week mourning period for Shoppers Square. Something much nicer is going to replace it. Don't get sad.

(3). No. I don't want to see basketball players wearing wrestling outfits.

(4) Doritos, and it's not even close.

1. Meatball sub

2. BLT

3. French dip

4. Philly cheesesteak

5. Grilled cheese

Maybe I should make one of these per day during my self-isolation period and post it on Twitter.

No sugar in spaghetti sauce. You just need tomato puree, tomato paste, whole tomatoes, a large onion chopped, water, oregano, garlic powder, pepper and salt. And then make some meatballs and toss them in with spare ribs and sausages.

I don't play video games, so board games, movies and puzzles will be on the agenda, but there are still plenty of things you can do in isolation while enjoying the outdoors in Nevada. Plenty of hikes to take and activities to enjoy outside in groups of three or four. That's the great thing about Northern Nevada. I just hope we're still not isolating when summer hits because we like to spend every other weekend up at Tahoe. We might start a family book club, too, so we can all read the same book and make sure the kids are learning something while out of school.

1. Work (I'll be working from home for a while)

2. Play with the kids (we can still play tennis!)

3. Board games (Ticket to Ride is my favorite)

4. Puzzles

5. Read a book (I suggest "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead or "The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov)

That's all I've got. You really don't get bored or have to pass time when you have kids. You're always doing something.

Dang, I have seven of those 10 games. How about I rank all of the games in my game closet.

1. Ticket to Ride

2. Sorry!

3. Backgammon

4. Battleship

5. Life

6. Yahtzee

7. Chess/Checkers

8. Scrabble

9. Operation

10. Mastermind

11. Out-Foxed

12. NFL Monopoly

13. Farkle

14. Pictionary

15. Chutes and Ladders

16. Hungry Hungry Hippos

17. Jumanji

18. The Home Alone Game

19. Chinese Checkers

20. Say Anything

21. Cranium

22. Dinosaur Escape

23. Hi-Ho Cherry O

24. Star Wars

Looks like I need to get Trivial Pursuit.

Well, it opens up more scholarships. But it's never good to lose your leading scorer to transfer after a season ends, and Essence Booker was one of four Nevada scholarship players who has put their name in the portal since the end of the season. (Here's a story on all of them.) The other three were junior-college transfers who joined Nevada this season with varying levels of impact. Miki'ala Maio is a sizable loss and Jacqulynn Nakai was a rotation player. I really liked coach Amanda Levens' first big recruiting class, but three of the big names from that class (Booker and Emma Torbert, who transferred before the start of this season) are gone (the other is Kailee Oliverson, who spent only one summer at Nevada). It's hard to build without some continuity. You have to keep your culture strong and re-recruit every player every year these days. It's difficult to balance being tough on your players and being a players coach at the same time. You don't mind losing players off the bottom of your roster, but it hurts to lose them off the top of your roster, too. Nevada still has a decent group of players returning in Imani Lacy, Nia Alexander, Alyssa Jimenez, Da'Ja Hamilton, Amaya West and Dom Phillips. That's six of the team's top eight scorers. And now Nevada has seven scholarships to supplement that group, so it will be busy this offseason.

On the women's side, yes (see above). On the men's side, I haven't heard of any Nevada players in the portal (I don't have access to it, but somebody did tip me off about the women's entries).

Boondoggle Stadium is being paid, in part, by a hotel room tax in Clark County, which is funding $750 million of the project. The tax revenue was already falling short in 2018 and now the Strip has basically closed down, which will lead to an obvious shortfall. Those in charge told the Las Vegas Review Journal they could go a year and a half without any revenue and make bond payments. The 2017 Republican-led tax bill also made the Clark County payments less palatable. To get to the heart of your question, I'm not 100 percent sure who would be on the hook. It wouldn't be the state. Presumably, it would be Clark County and defaulting on payments would hurt the county's credit rating, which is never good. The Oakland taxpayers are still on the hook for $163 million for the Raiders and Warriors stadium even though both have left town. These taxpayer handouts for sports stadiums never work out.

Cruises are basically done, right? Like, there won't be cruises when this is all over. No industry will be worse off after coronavirus than cruise companies.

Honestly, I've never tried, so I have no idea. I'm not a huge fan of hard-boiled eggs. Maybe 15 in an hour? That's one every four minutes. I think I can do that.

Given the league of guys I play with, I don't need to have much of a strategy to win.

That's going to take 12-18 months, and it's going to be done by people far smarter than me. I wonder if the anti-vaxxers will take this vaccine.

No. It's not a cake. I also deduct points because whoever created that petition didn't spell "lasagna" correct in the sub-headline.

Thankfully I was able to find some toilet paper at Raley's, so I can go without putting that sandpaper bag on my butt.

Raley's, Target, Walmart, Amazon and Home Depot were all out Saturday night when I went looking. I called around Sunday morning and Raley's said to rush over to get some, so I did that and got a 16-pack. I only got one package because I didn't want to deplete the quantity for other families. But on Saturday night we spent $54 on eight rolls via eBay in case I couldn't find any Sunday. People are hoarding toiler paper. This is the world we live in.

It goes (1) toilet paper and (2) take a shower. I'm not wiping with anything else.

Was Julius Caesar killed over a roll of toilet paper?

I don't want water getting shot into my butt.

It's a bull market for bidets. Until we eventually run out of water. And then we're just shooting air up our butts.

(To be 100 percent honest, all of this butt talk is making me uncomfortable).

The only time I've done an in-person interview for another sports journalism job came a couple of years ago for a position at the Idaho Statesman, but I turned down that offer. I've been asked to apply for other jobs in bigger markets, but I decided early on I wasn't going to leave Northern Nevada in search of another sports writing job. In an alternative world, I could have pursued covering big-league sports, and I think I would have been good at it, but you have to sacrifice so much of your personal time to do that. I want to have a life and not just a job that requires me to be "on" 24/7. Additionally, I want to be able to root for specific pro sports teams (mostly the Dodgers), and I'd have to give that up if I covered pro sports. So I'll be in Reno for the long haul. Whether that is writing about sports or doing something else, I don't know. But Northern Nevada is home.

1. Yeah-yeah: Ah, Squints was pervin’ a dish."

2. Ham: "You’re killing me, Smalls!"

3. Babe Ruth: "Remember, kid. There's heroes and there's legends. Heroes get remembered. But legends never die."

4. Squints: C’mon, Benny man. The kid is an L-7 weenie.” Yeah-Yeah: “Yeah-yeah. Oscar Meyer, even. Foot-long! Dodger Dog. A weenie!”

5. Bertram:Oh, God. He looks like a dead fish.”

All right. That's it for this week. See y'all next week. Hopefully with less butt talk!

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