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Murray's Mailbag: How does the UNLV loss impact Nevada football's season?

Malik Reed
Malik Reed and the Wolf Pack won seven regular-season games this season but fell short against UNLV. (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

Now that's a tough way to lose a game. Losing any game is tough, sure. But leading your rival 23-0 while riding a four-game winning streak and then watching everything collapse is even more difficult. But that's what happened to Nevada against UNLV on Saturday as the Wolf Pack lost the Fremont Cannon to the Rebels, 35-29. As Nevada Nation mourns, I take your Monday Mailbag 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).

You're telling me.

Yes. It makes it a less successful season. I remember asking Brian Polian after the 2015 season if he thought the year was a success. Nevada went 7-6 and won a bowl game, but it lost to UNLV. He said it was indeed a successful season. The fans seemed to disagree. Some fans believe the minimum requirement for a successful season is a win over UNLV. Nevada did not secure that victory this season. I don't necessarily subscribe to that theory. If the Wolf Pack went 12-1 but the loss was to UNLV would it be a successful season? Yes. If the Wolf Pack went 1-11 but the win was over UNLV would it be a successful season? No. Of course, you want to win your rivalry game, but would you rather go 4-8 and own the Fremont Cannon (like UNLV this year) or 7-5 and make a bowl but not own the Fremont Cannon (like Nevada this year). Some fans would take UNLV's position there. I'd rather have Nevada's position. Another hypothetical: Would you rather have Nevada's 2017 campaign (3-9 but possess the Cannon) or its 2018 campaign (7-5 but not possess the Cannon)? I'd take the 2018 season.

Before the UNLV game, the Wolf Pack talked about the difference between having a "good season" and a "great season." A great season required beating UNLV. A great season required winning a bowl. Since Nevada didn't beat UNLV, it can't say it had a great season. Can it say it had a successful season? That depends on how much you value the Fremont Cannon. It's hard to call a season truly successful when you lose the Fremont Cannon in the fashion Nevada did. If you told the Wolf Pack players and coaches before the season started they'd go 7-5 but lose the Fremont Cannon, they wouldn't take that. They'd want to play the season out again and see what happens. The preseason goal was eight wins. The preseason goal was to win the cannon.

The loss makes the upcoming bowl even more important. A loss there and Nevada finishes the season 7-6 with defeats to UNLV and in its bowl to cap the year. A win pushes Nevada to 8-5 with just the sixth bowl victory in school history. As the UNLV game changes the complexion of how this season is viewed, so will the bowl game, even more so given how the regular-season finale went. The UNLV loss blemishes the Wolf Pack's 2018 season, but it doesn't mean it wasn't a good year. It can't, however, be a great year without winning the cannon, although a bowl win would shine up the season a little more and make everybody feel better about what the Nevada football team did this year.

I'd be more worried about how losing seniors like Ty Gangi, Sean Krepsz, Kalei Meyer, Malik Reed, Korey Rush, Dameon Baber, Asauni Rufus and Lucas Weber will impact the team going into next season than this loss in particular. This was a bad loss. You could argue its the worst regular-season losses in school history given Nevada had a 23-0 lead on its rival. It could impact how the Wolf Pack plays in its bowl game if it doesn't emotionally get over the loss. It will color how this season is remember. But it's not going to have a big impact on how Nevada plays next season. (More on the recruiting and fan impact in a couple questions).

True story. When Nevada had the ball in the red zone up 20-0 with 30 seconds to go in the first quarter, I decided if the Pack scored a touchdown to go up 27-0 before the first-quarter break I was going to tweet, "End of 1Q: Nevada 27, UNLV 0 (Also should cancel its football program)." Nevada did not score in that short time frame, eventually settling for a field goal early in the second quarter, thus saving me from embarrassment. As for the extension, as I've said all along, coach Jay Norvell has done a great job of changing the culture so far, but there's no reason to hand out an extension after two seasons when you can gain even more information on the trajectory of the program by letting it play out one more season. Saturday's game changed nothing for me on that front. He still has three years left on his contract. Let it play our one more season before taking on that financial obligation.

It is more interesting when both teams are capable of winning this game. That wasn't the case in Chris Ault's third tenure when Nevada won eight straight Fremont Cannon contests by an average of 22.5 points per game. The dream scenario (and the reason this game is played on the final weekend of the regular season) is for this game to be played with the MW's West Division title on the line. I might not live long enough to see that scenario play out, but that would be epic.

Nevada's 2019 recruiting class is nearly full, so I doubt it impacts it much at all. As for the summer season-ticket sales, those might dip a little. Depends on how Nevada finishes the season in its bowl game. I didn't expect a big rise in season-ticket sales next year, anyway. The Wolf Pack's home schedule of Purdue, Weber State, Hawaii, New Mexico, San Jose State and UNLV is not super appealing. Just treading water in ticket sales after falling each of the last five seasons is a solid goal.

1. I don't think so. It might dim the chances of sneaking into the Redbox Bowl, but that was already a long shot. I thought Nevada was going to the New Mexico Bowl before the UNLV game and think the same today (Arizona and Potato also in the mix).

2. The fans like Norvell a lot more than they liked Polian. He can survive this loss more easily because: (a) The game wasn't at home; (b) He's gone from three wins to seven wins in one year; (c) He's shown respect to Nevada's tradition and has the support of the Godfather (Chris Ault); (d) He rarely makes excuses and is accountable for how the Wolf Pack plays; and (e) He hasn't ripped and/or embarrassed the fans in any way.

UNLV played good ball over the last three quarters, so the Rebels deserve a ton of credit for the win. Nevada deserves a good dose of blame for the loss. We can do both at the same time. No team should lose after leading 23-0, but we must credit UNLV for fighting despite that hole and despite this being the end of an underachieving, bowl-less season. As for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, I understand what the paper was trying to do. UNLV has not been great in the revenue sports of late, but as I tweeted when the "Rebels in Ruins" series came out, UNLV is fourth in the Mountain West in titles since the conference went to its current membership in 2013 and literally won the most MW titles of any school last year. If UNLV is in ruins, half of the MW is in the same spot.

Social media can be the worst. Back in the day, people would quietly grumble about a player to their friends and family. Now they can tweet at said player. Ty Gangi knows he had a poor game. I'm sure he feels horrible about it. I'm sure he doesn't need it pointed out to him. As you know, I'm a big Dodgers fan. Yu Darvish blew two World Series games in 2017. I didn't tweet at him and say, "Horrible job tonight." He knows it. He feels bad about it. It sucked for everybody involved (except Houston Astros fans). And that's with a pro player making millions of dollars a year. Fans shouldn't be dragging college players after a bad game. Bad games happen, sometimes on the biggest of stages. And like you said, Nevada doesn't reach a bowl without Gangi. Look at that Fresno State game for proof of that. He had a solid season, but mixed in three critically bad passes against UNLV that ended up being crucial in the loss. Nevada did not lose the game solely because of him, though. Plenty of mistakes were made across the board.

Fans shouldn't be tweeting at players after bad games. They're college students. They're 18 to 22 years old. They're not getting paid. If you want to tweet your thoughts without tagging the player, I guess that's fine. You do sign up for criticism when you're a college athletes these days. Whether it's right or not, it's coming after bad games, especially at quarterback. That emotional fan investment is why people donate money to their programs and come to games to support teams, so when things go bad that same emotional investment will be unleashed.

Here's a (not-so-fun) fact for everybody: In Nevada's last three losses to UNLV, the Wolf Pack had the ball with about 2 minutes remaining in the game needing a touchdown to win. It failed all three times, with three different quarterbacks.

In 2013, Nevada had the ball on its own 12 with 2:15 to play. Cody Fajardo got Nevada to its 40-yard line before an incomplete pass on fourth-and-4 in a 27-22 loss.

In 2015, Nevada had the ball on its own 25 with 1:53 to play. Tyler Stewart got Nevada to the UNLV 43-yard line before an incomplete pass on fourth-and-10 in a 23-17 loss.

In 2018, Nevada had the ball on its own 25 with 2:34 to play. Ty Gangi got Nevada to the UNLV 44-yard line before throwing an interception in a 34-29 loss.

Again, I wouldn't pin this whole thing on Gangi, who does in fact have a two-minute, game-winning drive at Nevada under his belt (the 2016 win over Utah State in which he ran for a 6-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 5 seconds remaining in a 38-37 victory).

I get some variation of this question every week. My answer hasn't changed. I see true freshman Carson Strong as the long-term solution at quarterback, although rising senior Cristian Solano could very well start the season opener against Purdue and be given a chance to win the job based on his early play. The battle starts in March when spring camp begins.

Injuries have kept Devonte Lee out of the last two games, although Kelton Moore (ostensibly his backup) ran great against UNLV. The junior carried the ball 13 times for 129 yards (second most in his career) and a touchdown and caught five passes for 19 yards. The big boy played big against the Rebels. And let me see who Nevada is playing in its bowl before picking whether they'll win that eighth game or not.

It depends on the opponent, but when it really comes down to it in the most intense moments in the most crucial games, it's fair to say coach Eric Musselman prefers a small-ball lineup that can switch all screens on defense and space the floor to the 3-point line on offense. He basically said on signing day Nevada isn't in the big guy market despite having five scholarships left to fill its 2019 class. Musselman wants versatility, athleticism, shooting ability and Division I experience in his players. I think we'll see more smallball this season than originally expected, but the great thing about Nevada's roster is it can throw out a number of lineups -- smallball (nobody taller than 6-foot-7); a traditional setup; twin towers (two 6-11 bigs on the court) -- and be equally effective. My thought is Musselman just trusts the smallball lineup the most.

It's an area worth tracking because defense will make or break Nevada's hopes of reaching the Final Four. (Check out this story if you missed it the first time around). Basically, Nevada needs to be a top-50 KenPom defense to make the Final Four. Right now, the Wolf Pack is 48th in KenPom defense (first in offense). I wouldn't worry too much about the UMass game. The Minutemen hit some great shots and Nevada went with its smallball lineup to match up, and that lineup is not its best from a defensive standpoint (but the team scored 110 points, so it was clearly the right move). We'll know a lot more about this team, and the defense, after the next three games (Loyola-Chicago, USC, Arizona State). I wouldn't say you should be worried about the defense, but it remains the biggest wildcard/question mark on this team, which can clearly score the ball as effectively as anybody in the nation.

Nevada plays Arizona State next week and the Sun Devils are one spot out of the Top 25 today, so there's a chance the Wolf Pack does play a Top 25 team. And if Nevada just keeps winning, it doesn't matter who they play, the Wolf Pack will stay in the top five and keep moving up as other teams lose. But, you do get at the bigger issue from the NCAA Tournament perspective. The Wolf Pack will not play a lot of Quad I or Quad II non-conference games this season. Only Arizona State and USC will fall into that category. Nevada needs some MW teams to step up and into those Quad I and Quad II positions. Utah State has been impressive so far. SDSU, New Mexico and UNLV must play well. Nevada is going to post a lot of wins this regular season, but it could have a seeding ceiling based on the schedule.

Margin of victory doesn't mean much for the Top 25 rankings, in my opinion. Just win games and you won't drop, but Nevada is going to lose a game at some stage and it won't have bankable top-25 victories to counter a loss, so it's in more danger of a steep drop than most top-10 teams. But, ultimately, the rankings don't matter. The seedings matter. The margin for error is indeed slim, but if the Wolf Pack goes out and posts a 29-2, it's going to get a good seed. The problem comes if the loss total climbs to five or higher. Nevada's isn't getting a top-three seed with more than five losses.

No. I don't care if another member of the media wants to rip my rankings. That actually seems like a childish thing to do. And, as we know, my rankings are always correct anyway.

(With that being said, one AP voter, whose name I will withhold, has Duke at No. 1 and Gonzaga at No. 4 this week. Gonzaga beat Duke on a neutral site and is undefeated while the Blue Devils have that aforementioned loss to Gonzaga. I'm not sure how you explain that.)

We'd be naïve to ignore the impact shoe companies have on placing recruits at certain schools. The recent FBI investigation shows it happens. It's the ugly part of college basketball.

It was more a prediction than a dream of mine, and there are plenty of rumblings on this topic rather than me just throwing it out there. We do have to see what happens with the 2020 election cycle first, though. Couldn't you see a Kasich-Sandoval ballot?

The track, which was built in the 1980s, became unusable in the mid-2000s. Nevada last held a meet on it in 2005. I don't know where it physically is at this moment, but the dump would be an appropriate place.

Nevada Sports Net is not a Stadium network. NSN is owned by Sinclair, which also owns Stadium, so we do share content. To my knowledge, and I have limited knowledge on this stuff, Stadium has some Facebook-only games it wants to keep exclusive on the social media network, so we don't have access to those on our channel. But we do share some content.

UMass coach Matt McCall is not on my list, and I keep a list at all times. Just because he's short and yells (like Muss) doesn't mean he's a good fit in case Musselman does get lured away. And I'll take the turkey sandwich.

Entering the regional playoffs, I thought Damonte Ranch had the best chance among North teams of beating Bishop Gorman. Having a quarterback bound for Michigan helps. But I've come around to realize Manogue probably has the better chance of beating Gorman because the Gaels are always stacked in the trenches (we're talking about 260-315 pounds across the front) and Manogue is much better equipped from a size and depth perspective to withstand that challenge up front. This is the least imposing Gorman team in recent years -- it beat Liberty, 42-28, to reach the state title game -- so Manogue has a legit shot to win the state title. The Miners have the ground game to limit the possessions and will need to force a couple of turnovers. I'll pick Gorman 42, Manogue 32, but will give the Miners a 25 percent shot of winning, which is better than usual for the North rep in this matchup.

Wildcard question on Peyton Dixon, the record-setting Manogue running back with offers from Fresno State, UNLV and Nevada as well as a handful of FCS teams. I can't imagine he'd go to an FCS team over three Mountain West offers. I see Fresno State as the favorite and would guess at this stage he does not end up at Nevada. That being said, what does a running back from Northern Nevada have to do to get more buzz and offers? The dude has 2,961 rushing yards and 48 touchdowns this season. He's a legit 5-foot-11. And he placed third in the 100-meter dash in Nevada last year. Size, speed, production. He should have more than three FBS offers. Signing day is Dec. 19, so he will know his answer soon enough.

That's an interesting thought.

Las Vegas' metro area includes about 2.2 million people. Reno's metro area includes about 460,000 people. As such, Las Vegas should win everything in the Silver State. But Nevada still has basketball, which is a weird thing to say given the Runnin' Rebels have usually dominated that series. But when all else fails, In Muss Nevada Trusts.

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