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Murray's Mailbag: Is the 2020 team one of the best in Nevada football history?

Carson Strong
Carson Strong and the 2020 Wolf Pack have the makings of one of the best teams in school history. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Jay Norvell picked up the biggest win of his Wolf Pack tenure Saturday with a 26-21 victory over San Diego State that keeps Nevada in prime position to reach the Mountain West championship game (this was the only bad thing to come from the win). Most of our questions this week are about Nevada football, but he got a potpourri of inquires. Unfortunately, we have to start with COVID. But we'll get to sports shortly after. Thanks, as always, for the questions.

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

We'll get to sports questions in a second, but my math is not wrong. On Sunday, when I tweeted this, there were 6,944 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Washoe County, which has a population of 471,519 (you got that part right). Divide Washoe County's population by active COVID-19 cases and you get 68. One out of every 68 people has a confirmed active COVID case. The number is now one out of every 63 after Sunday's numbers were posted. And that's confirmed cases. If you include people who have COVID-19 but haven't tested positive, you're probably looking at one in 55 Washoe County residents currently having COVID. It's bad, and it's bad because people: (a) are denying the seriousness of the pandemic or (b) are selfish. According to Governor Steve Sisolak, 10 percent of Nevada's COVID-19 cases have come in the last seven days, and a Nevadan has become COVID-19 positive every minute for the last 14 days. You can look at these numbers and shrug, "Who cares if I kill grandma?" I won't. I've basically sat in my house for the last eight months, and I've been fine with it. But it's annoying so many other people opt to live their life without caring about the risk they're putting on others.

Two-thirds of my house was exposed to COVID-19 in the last week because they simply went to school and to work. My brother, an elementary teacher, puts himself at risk every day. My wife, a nurse, puts herself at risk every day. I won't spend Thanksgiving with my parents, who live in Northern Nevada, for the first time in my life. But go ahead and try and deny the numbers and the severity of the issue. If you're young, you'll probably be fine. I'm confident I'd be fine if I got COVID-19. But it's not about me. It's about those who I could infect and essentially kill. And I'm not willing to take that risk. I'm one of the lucky ones who hasn't known somebody who's gotten seriously ill. I haven't lost my job. But we're eight months into a pandemic with no end in sight because of selfish behavior and denial of facts.

I'm sorry you're going through this, Denise. Much love to you and your family. Be well.

Yes. Without a doubt. The 2017 (3-9) and 2019 (out-scored by 138 points) Wolf Pack were not very good, although the 2019 team did get to a bowl. The 2018 team had an excellent defense, a top-five unit in school history, but its offense was so-so. Despite some questions about its strength of schedule, the 2020 team is by far the best under Coach Norvell. It has balance on offense, defense and special teams. It has future NFL players at important play-making positions. It has good experience. It's better along the lines. It could become the third team in Nevada history to reach the Top 25 along with the 2010 and 1948 teams. At this point, I'd rank Nevada's best teams in its Division I era as follows:

1. 2010: This is the only team on the list the 2020 team can't catch, unless it goes 10-0 with a win over Boise State for the MW title and a win over a top-10 team in a New Year's Six bowl.

2. 1948: This Stan Heath-led team went 9-2 and peaked at No. 10 in the nation, the highest ranking in school history (FBS era). Heath finished a program-best fifth in the Heisman vote.

3. 2005: The Pistol offense was created this season, and Nevada went 9-3 with a win over No. 16 Fresno State, won a WAC title and beat a loaded UCF team in the Hawaii Bowl.

4. 2020: If Nevada reaches the MW title game, it'll likely jump the 2005 team, which had a bad defense. The 2020 team has a legit passing offense, and the defense has been good so far.

5. 1994: Nevada went 9-2 this season but didn't reach a bowl game and didn't win the Fremont Cannon. Its only two losses were to Boise State and UNLV. Fun fact: Bobby Petrino was the team's offensive coordinator.

If you include FCS teams, the 1990 and 1991 Wolf Pack teams jump over 2020 for the time being, but this is easily a top-10 team in program history and potentially a top-three teams if it finishes strong as the competition ramps up.

Yes, that's one of the only downsides of this season. The Wolf Pack badly needed an increase to its fan base and a increase in attendance at Mackay Stadium after several years of the season-ticket base declining. Saturday's game against San Diego State could have been a sellout given the trajectory of the team and the fact it was a day game with solid weather. There's still a decent chance Nevada ends up hosting the Mountain West championship game, which definitely would have been a sellout, especially if the Wolf Pack would have played Boise State. Not being able to capitalize on that extra revenue (or any revenue at all) is just bad timing and bad luck as Nevada has done what's required to keep its COVID-19 numbers down as one of only three Mountain West schools to not have a game canceled this season due to the pandemic (the others are Hawaii and Boise State). Unfortunately, the country and our community has not done the same, with the recent spike ending any hope of fans at Mackay Stadium (and probably Lawlor Events Center) this season. It will be interesting to see if season-ticket sales rise next season if we are post-pandemic given the momentum of this season.

That's a great question because the odds seem fairly even.

The Dodgers enter the season with a roughly 20 percent of winning the World Series. Romeo Doubs is boosting his stock a ton, although there's plenty of room to get better. Most of his production is coming from deep bombs, and while that's great in college it's unlikely he's just going to run past cornerbacks in the NFL, so continuing to improve his route running and impact in the short- and medium-pass game could be a consideration for returning to school. And while Coach Norvell's work at Nevada has put his name in Power 5 discussions, I feel like there will be fewer Power 5 openings this season due to the financial situation (buying out big deals might be more burdensome) and the fact ADs seem less likely to draw conclusions from such a weird season.

So, I'll go Doubs in the NFL being the most likely, the Dodgers winning the the 2021 World Series as second most likely and Coach Norvell being at a Power 5 school the third most likely, although all are real possibilities. Considering Norvell got his first head-coaching job so late in his career, he probably can't be as choosy when evaluating a potential jump to the Power 5. Plus, he remains the lowest-paid coach in the Mountain West despite his offseason extension. Nevada is definitely getting good bang for the buck there. And while I'm sure Doubs would love to return to school, he might not get a better springboard season than the one he's currently having, especially if Elijah Cooks returns to the team to get some of the targets going Doubs way this season.

No. It would be $2.5 million paid in one lump sum within 60 days of his departure. The details are spelled out here.

They've played each other 13 times. That's not enough for a rivalry trophy. The Nevada-Boise State and Nevada-Fresno State games deserve trophies long before Nevada-SDSU. But Nevada is one of only five Mountain West schools with less than two rivalry trophies along with SDSU, SJSU, New Mexico and UNLV. Seems like Nevada should have at least two trophy games if not three.

The game that sticks out to me is Nevada's 37-0 win over UNLV in 2011. During that game, the Wolf Pack held the Rebels to 110 yards on 53 plays (2.08 yards per play). UNLV completed 1-of-14 passes for eight yards with an interception and five sacks. Thirteen of the Rebels' drives went four plays or fewer. Only one drive went more than 24 yards. No drive lasted more than 3 minutes, 26 seconds. UNLV had just seven first downs, one of them due to a Nevada penalty. While Nevada's second-half effort against SDSU was excellent (41 yards allowed on 32 plays), it got carved up pretty good in the first half. So that 2011 game against UNLV is the most impressive defensive effort I've seen out of the Wolf Pack, although it's worth pointing out that Rebels team was nowhere near as good as this SDSU team.

San Jose State is still eligible. The Mountain West will take the average number of games played in conference by its members this season and subtract that number by two. If you play whatever that number ends up being, you're eligible for the MW championship game. So every team will be eligible except for maybe Air Force. But really we're down to four contenders for a MW title berth (Boise State, SJSU, Nevada, Fresno State). I actually think SJSU benefitted from having its game against Fresno State canceled. It avoids a potential loss without any downside.

So San Jose State is 6-1, Nevada is 7-1 and Boise State is 6-1. SJSU gets in thanks to its head-to-head wins over Nevada and Boise State. The Nevada and Boise State tiebreaker in this situation would be "record against the next highest-placed team in the MW standings," so we can't determine that at this moment. But Nevada would almost certainly get the edge thanks to its win over San Diego State (or hypothetical win over Fresno State) since they should rank higher than any team Boise State will play in the MW. I'd also watch out for Fresno State in the MW title race. The Bulldogs having games canceled against SDSU and SJSU boosts their chances of getting into the title game. If they win their last two games against Nevada and New Mexico), they have a solid shot of getting in (Fresno State would hold the tiebreaker over Nevada thanks to the head-to-head win).

Here are the full MW tiebreakers this year, which are complicated.

San Jose State plays Boise State and Hawaii before its game with Nevada, so you're asking whether SJSU has a better chance of beating both of those teams or losing to both of those teams (with Nevada also beating Fresno State and Hawaii). The better odds are losing to both (and Nevada sweeping) because Boise State is a heavy favorite over SJSU (11 points). But the best odds (by far) are splitting those games, which would set up a potential Nevada-SJSU regular-season finale with the winner advancing to the championship game. Again, you can not rule out Fresno State, but it seems like a three-team race for the MW title game between Boise State, Nevada and SJSU. The other eight MW teams have basically been eliminated.

And here's the Fremont Cannon-Presidential Election story if anybody missed it.

The rules are already laid out. Under your scenario, Nevada hosting the MW title game would basically require the Wolf Pack to be in the College Football Playoff committee rankings because the next tiebreaker is computer rankings, and Nevada isn't winning that one over Boise State.

The Damonte Ranch High alum's five-touchdown effort in a triple-overtime win over Rutgers on Saturday was a top-five headline on ESPN.com and the ESPN app on Sunday morning, so the answer is no. Michigan football is a big-ass deal, and Cade McNamara has played great so far. I'm looking forward to him playing against Ohio State in the regular-season finale. If he leads Michigan to a win over the Buckeyes, he not only could save Jim Harbaugh's job, but he could deliver a top-10 moment in Northern Nevada sports history. And his old home in Reno is only 12 houses down the street from my house, so I feel an extra connection. Here's the feature I wrote about him in high school.

Jalen Harris being drafted was huge for him. This is such an unusual year. There's no NBA summer league. There's no traditional training camp. It's going to be a lot harder for an undrafted free agent to make a team this season. So Harris being selected with the penultimate pick in the draft was monumental. Toronto (or Tampa Bay) has some skin in the game now, some investment in Harris. It doesn't guarantee that he'll make the 15-man roster, but a two-way contract seems like a worse-case scenario. Toronto is deep at guard and trying to win now, which doesn't help his odds of playing time this season. But draft night was a huge plus for Harris.

And my rookie of the year is Anthony Edwards, the No. 1 pick. He's going to get a lot of playing time. I don't see many stars coming out of this draft. It's a pretty rough group.

I'll go 85 percent. Second-rounders usually get at least one season. He should get a two-way contract at minimum, so he might spend most of his time in the G League like Caleb Martin last season, but I don't see an outright waiver situation. Toronto is at 11 guaranteed contracts with three more than could be guaranteed this week. And two draft picks, including Harris, on top of that. That'd put Toronto at 16 players. The NBA max is 15 before the two two-way guys. So two-way is probably the route, but there are no guarantees.

The Hornets picked LaMelo Ball, Vernon Carey Jr. and Grant Riller, none of which play the Martin twins' position of small forward. But then they signed Gordon Hayward to a ridiculous four-year, $120 million contract, and what position does he play? Small forward. Not ideal for the Martin twins, although wing player Nic Batum is going to be waived so Charlotte can stretch his contract, which is good. I wouldn't be surprised if the Hornets worked out a sign-and-trade with Hayward with one of the twins going back to the Boston Celtics. The move hurts Caleb Martin more than Cody Martin. Cody has a guaranteed contract. Caleb's contract must be guaranteed later this week, so we'll find out soon if he'll remain with Charlotte. But the Hornets are pretty deep on the wing with Hayward, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk and the Martin twins, who could be fighting for one roster spot. Charlotte's brass has spoken positively about the twins, but I'm a little worried post-Hayward signing.

I'm not sure. I last talked to him in July 2019 at the Tristan Hill Clue Chip Basketball Camp in Reno. I believe (but am not sure) he lives in Portland, where he began his NBA career. When we last checked in, he was a father of two, so I'm sure that's keeping him busy. But it has to be weird to be "retired" at age 31. Where do you go from there? What do you do with your life? I know he wanted to be an NBA executive when he was at Nevada, but I'm not sure if that's still a desire. I have his number in my phone. Should I give him a call for an update story? He's a pretty introverted guy. But also my favorite player I've covered at Nevada, and that might be because I covered him in high school and started on the Wolf Pack beat his first season with the Wolf Pack. The first game he played was the first game I covered. It was at Montana State. Babbitt had 20 points and 12 rebounds; in retrospect, my lede to my game story was clichéd. He was better in his debut than I was!

The latest update has Nevada opening the season against North Dakota State rather than Western Kentucky or Chadron State, which had both previously been scheduled. And then Nevada would play Nebraska on Thursday. North Dakota State became joined the decaying Golden Window Classic after Milwaukee had COVID issues and had to pause its program and cancel its season-opening tournament, which NDSU was scheduled to play in. Everything seems to be going fine so far. We should definitely be playing college sports during a pandemic. Please ignore the fact that 15 FBS football games have been canceled/postponed in each of the last two weeks and basketball season openers are being rescheduled after teams fly to the location of the tournament. We need to get to this television money! Get out of our way!

The Wolf Pack is in Nebraska right now, and I don't think they traveled there to see Chimney Rock (a great stop in the Oregon Trail game, by the way), so, yes, I think they'll play.

The Golden Window Classic is going the way of the Vegas 16. One and done.

If it helps to serve as motivation for the players, then sure. The Wolf Pack is ranked 26th in the nation in the coaches Top 25 and 28th in the AP Top 25. The advanced metrics aren't nearly as bullish (91st in the Sagarin ratings; 79th in ESPN’s FPI; 78th in F+; 53rd in SP+), so if the Wolf Pack feels disrespected by anybody, it'll be the computers. But multiple Wolf Pack players have said this season their coaches are telling them "not to listen to the media" about how good they are, so it's really a no-win situation for media. If a team is playing poorly and the media writes that, they're being mean. If a team is playing well and the media writes that, they're trying to inflate your ego and pull you into a trap. If a media ranking gives a player extra motivation, that's good, I guess. But I generally think "motivation factors" are overrated.

The rating for the Nevada-San Diego State game hasn't posted yet (here is a page with all the ratings this season). The only ratings from Nevada games that have posted so far are the wins over UNLV (293,000 viewers) and Utah State (257,0000 viewers). The last game in that CBS time slot (between LSU and Auburn) had 3.45 million viewers. The game before that was Alabama-Tennessee (4.36 million). Others include Alabama-Georgia (9.61 million), Tennessee-Georgia (5.77 million), Texas A&M-Alabama (4.76 million), Mississippi State-LSU (4.44 million) and Appalachian State-Marshall (1.25 million). The Nevada-SDSU game should be in that App. State-Marshall range, which would make it one of the most watched games in Nevada football history.

As far as why people care about the opinions of others, it's because everybody deep down wants to be liked and not hated. As a journalist, you have to have a thick skin because you get a lot of criticism, so I get why people do care about others' opinions when you constantly get negativity directed your way, especially on social media. People want to be appreciated. But the more you get used to criticism, the less you care about it. At least in my case. The people most secure in themselves don't care nearly as much. Kobe Bryant is a good example of that on a national level. Chris Ault is a good example on a local level.

Governor Steve Sisolak lowering the maximum gathering limit from 250 people to 50 people should not impact the Wolf Pack's ability to host sports events. I wrote about this last week, but the Wolf Pack is citing the October state directive that reads, "Capacity limitations at venues and events shall not include staff, workers, performers, broadcast personnel, or other personnel necessary to conduct business, perform services, or host events." Players and coaches are included "staff, workers, performers," so they don't count toward that 50. I will obviously double-check this, but I don't think the Wolf Pack will be impacted for its home basketball opener Monday against Pacific or football game the following Saturday against Fresno State. As Wayne and Garth would say, "Game on."

While I like research, that one would be impossible for me to complete because I don't have play-by-play logs for all of Nevada's games, and the Wolf Pack's top passing duos were all from 1992-2002. Nevada might have access to that stuff, but I don't, so I'd be guessing. But I doubt any duo has had more than the seven 50-plus-yard passes Carson Strong and Romeo Doubs have posted this season, and we're only five games into the year.

ESPN's updated odds today gives Cincinnati a 35.3 percent chance and BYU a 14.1 percent chance of making the College Football Playoff, so add them up and it's basically 50-50. But I'll believe it when I see it. ESPN's odds currently have Cincinnati above Clemson, and there's no way the committee is putting an undefeated Bearcats in before a one-loss Tigers, with that loss coming in overtime to a top-five team without Trevor Lawrence on the road.

The Hawaii Bowl is the only Mountain West bowl to be canceled this season, which leaves the LA Bowl, the New Mexico Bowl, the Arizona Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the Frisco Bowl (partial tie-in). I don't see how the New Mexico Bowl justifies playing when it won't let its college teams practice. So you're probably looking at three or four bowls (depending on Frisco, which has multiple conference tie-ins). If you want to secure a bowl out of the MW, you better finish top three in the league.

I've been working on a "Three Amigos" story this whole season and then CBS goes and spoils it by letting the nation know Carson Strong, Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner are roommates who are called the "Three Amigos" by Nevada's coaches. And they got a photo of them with a dog, which I have not procured. You got me good Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson (who could use some help pronouncing Jay Norvell's last name and learning WAC football disappeared several years ago).

A combination of stacking the box, the defensive line playing much better and SDSU quarterback Lucas Johnson getting cramps, which broke the unit's rhythm and forced Carson Baker into the game for two series. Nevada's defensive line has dominated San Diego State's offensive line each of the last two years, and that's saying something considering the Aztecs' program is built from the lines out. But the Wolf Pack simply outplayed SDSU up front on both sides of the ball. That's a huge step in the right direction for Nevada as a program.

I'll start by saying first-year Nevada defensive coordinator Brian Ward (and his two new defensive back coaches, Freddie Banks and Ronnie Wheat) have done a great job, especially given how hard it is to install a new scheme during a pandemic with limited contact with players. If the Mountain West named a coordinator of the year, he should get heavy consideration. With that said, it's still too early to judge the Wolf Pack defense for me. The five teams Nevada has played have the following national rank in pass efficiency offense: 91, 100, 101. 110 and 126. And the team they play Saturday is 89. The Wolf Pack has yet to play a good quarterback. SDSU's Lucas Johnson has been the best yet, and he was doing pretty well until he cramped up in the second half. You can only play who you're scheduled to play, but I would like to see this defense play San Jose State (14th in pass efficiency), Fresno State (23rd) and Boise State (25th) before completely believing in it given the secondary was the biggest question mark. But Ward and the defense deserve a lot of credit. In three of Nevada's five wins, the Wolf Pack needed a defensive stop on the final series for a win. And the defense delivered in all three cases, against Wyoming, New Mexico and SDSU.

Nevada has put in a waiver so he's eligible at the start of next season. As is, he would have to sit not only this season but for the first semester of the 2021-22 season. And your guess is as good as mine with NCAA waivers. There's no rhyme or reason to those.

In this specific case, it was a major mistake not to take timeouts after San Diego State got a goal-to-go situation. Nevada should have tried to preserve time in case the Aztecs scored the go-ahead touchdown, which it would have done if SDSU could have completed an easy 5-yard pass to an open Jesse Matthews for a touchdown on third down with less than 45 seconds to play. That would have been second guessed for a long time. The CBS announcers were "first-guessing" it as it happened. But Nevada got the stop, so it ended up being no deal rather than a big deal.

Easy. From left, Steve Beuerlein, Lou Holtz, Rob Lowe, Ed Norton and Marshall Faulk. I got all five!

Can't go wrong with Home Alone, although our friend Gabe (below) apparently disagrees.

What is there not to like about Home Alone 2 except for the 10-minute part with The Bird Lady in the middle of the movie? It's basically Home Alone 1 with a better and longer fight scene. In fact, I'd argue Home Alone 2 is slightly better than Home Alone 1, although not as emotionally impactful because it lacks the Old Man Marley story line, which is far better than The Bird Lady story line. On the flip side, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is one of the worst movies ever made. I'm not surprised you're a Giants fan with that kind of taste.

I haven't seen the movie, but it's the most famous film shot in Reno. It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 97, so I should probably give it a shot. I've actually never seen a movie with Marilyn Monroe or Clark Gable.

I was rooting for Drago. Does that make me a bad person? I never rooted for Rocky. I rooted for Creed, Clubber Lang and Drago (I didn't see Rocky 5, so don't know much about Tommy Gunn). So I guess the bigger win goes to Nevada. CBS did have some cool video shots in the broadcast, but it looked a little weird in a stadium with no fans and in a stadium that doesn't wrap all the way around with its stands. It made Mackay look like a high school stadium, but I'm sure it was a great experience for Nevada to play on CBS. That will probably never happen again.

New York by a lot. Chicago style is just a pie with marinara sauce as its filling. It's gross. New York-style pizza is the best.

I'd bet a good amount of money it will return to the last weekend of the regular season in 2021.

1. Dodgers

2. Option A. I don't see the Dodgers trading for Nolan Arenado. They easily have the prospect capital and could get Arenado to waive his opt-out. But the Dodgers already have to sign Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler to long-term deals on top of Mookie Betts' $1 trillion contract. As rich as the Dodgers are, they're not going to have four $200 million-plus players, so I see them resigning Justin Turner to a one-year, $14 million deal or two-year, $26 million deal.

1. Home Alone 1

2. Home Alone 2

3. Christmas Vacation

4. Jingle All the Way

5. Just Friends

Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. Yippee Ki Yay Mother-----. I hope everybody has a stellar Thanksgiving. Stay safe. See y'all next week!

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. He writes a weekly Monday Mailbag despite it giving him a headache and it taking several hours to write. But people seem to like it, so he does it anyway. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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