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Murray's Mailbag: Should Nevada give Jay Norvell an extension?

Jay Norvell
Jay Norvell has turned around the Nevada football program. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Hello, friends. It is Monday, which means it is time to whip out my Mailbag. It's been a good couple of weeks for Wolf Pack fans as Nevada basketball is up to No. 6 in the AP Top 25 and Nevada football is bowl eligible for the first time since 2015 and could end the season on a six-game winning streak (if it captures a bowl victory). Your questions were pretty evenly split between Nevada football and Nevada basketball, so let's get to them. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

You could argue he has, but my question is this: Where does the money come from?

Nevada isn't exactly flooded with money and still carries major debt owned to the university ($5 million) and has to re-do Mackay Stadium again to make it ADA compliant (it could cost up to $2 million, which could be paid by the Wolf Pack). Nevada has to prepare to pay men's basketball coach Eric Musselman big time and it just gave a raise to women's basketball coach Amanda Levens. Again, you could argue Norvell, who ranks 11th out of 12 Mountain West coaches in salary, deserves an extension and a raise. I just don't know if Nevada is in a position to offer such a deal, especially given the fact the season-ticket base in football has fallen and overall attendance didn't budget much from last year.

Norvell still has three years left on his contract, which pays him $500,000 per season. Only Hawaii's Nick Rolovich, at $486,504 per year, is lower among MW coaches. Norvell's buyout both ways is really low. Just $300,000 per year for the remaining seasons left on his contract (so $900,000 if he were to leave for another school this offseason and $900,000 if he were to get fired, which obviously isn't happening). You could say Nevada should lock him up longer and with a stronger buyout to guard against Power 5 poaching, but the Wolf Pack should let it play out at least one more season at this price. Nevada has a bargain and should see if Wolf Pack football stays on this trajectory given how many key seniors are leaving.

If Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth is completely convinced, he could offer an extension, but there's no risk right now of Norvell leaving for a Power 5 job (typically you do want to get the extension in before interest percolates). There is risk associated with extending somebody too soon. We saw that on the other sidelines when Nevada beat Colorado State, which is in a sad state but is paying Mike Bobo $1.8 million per season and sees his deal run through 2022 when he's scheduled to make $2.2 million.

(Sidenote: Bobo was paid $150,000 to get drubbed by Nevada on Saturday).

Norvell has done an excellent job this season, taking the Wolf Pack from three wins in Year One to six and counting in Year Two, but I'd hold off one more season before offering an extension that includes a raise. Patience in this case is warranted.

Everybody at Nevada has tried to figure this one out, so it's not an easy question and I don't have the answer. But ...

1. Win more games, which Nevada has begun doing.

2. Fight for the MW's next TV deal to be one in which ESPN gets one late-night Friday game and one late-night Saturday game per week across the conference. That would allow the rest of the games to be digital only ESPN3 games and would give kickoff times back to the home schools.

3. Do everything possible to get students to go to games even if that means loosening tailgating restrictions.

4. Lower single-game ticket prices (season-ticket prices are fine).

5. Spend more money on marketing.

6. Rally the Group of 5 to start my G5 playoff idea so every game matters and you're actually building toward something.

7. Don't cancel home games with Oregon and UCLA (I still haven't let that go)

8. Let people take their purses into the stadium.

9. For the love of God, change the music so it's not all songs from the 1970s and 1980s.

10. And pray.

Next year's season-ticket number for football will tell us a lot. It's hard to build a fan base within a season. It's easier to add people to the bandwagon between seasons. If Nevada football's season-ticket base doesn't increase this offseason, it might not be a solvable issue. People might have just shifted all of their attention and money to basketball and won't come back.

It's a fair question, and it really comes down to defense. Nevada's offense ranks 98th in offensive efficiency in ESPN's FPI. That's a not a perfect metric, but it is the most accurate (in my opinion). Nevada placed 78th in offense in Brian Polian's last season and 92nd, 72nd and 54th in his three other seasons. That's an average of 74, which is better than this year's 98.

On defense, Nevada ranks 47th in ESPN's FPI. Polian's years were 108, 73, 97 and 121. That's an average of 100. That's not even close to 47. And while basically all of the big playmakers on defense (Malik Reed, Korey Rush, Asauni Rufus, Dameon Baber, Lucas Weber) were recruited by Polian, I don't think Nevada's defense would be this good under that old staff. Norvell's ability to create a run-stuffing defense has been huge, and Polian was focused on smaller defensive linemen who would have struggled more against the run.

That being said, a Polian-led 2018 team most likely wins around seven games. The Wolf Pack's success this season is due in part to the schedule. Nevada could end playing just three bowl teams this season (Fresno State, Boise State, San Diego State). The number could swell to six (Toledo, Hawaii and Air Force could reach a bowl). Most likely that number sits at four, maybe five. The last time Nevada played fewer than four bowl teams in a season was 2007 when it played three. This will end up being a super light schedule.

Nevada is in a much better place under Norvell than it was under Polian (the Wolf Pack played only four bowl teams in 2016 as well and went 5-7), but a Polian-led Wolf Pack still puts ups seven wins or so while not being quite as good as this year's version under Norvell. This Wolf Pack defense is really good. Really, really good.

I'll have more on this later in the week, but a three-way tie between Nevada, San Diego State and Fresno State would deliver the Bulldogs into the MW championship game. SDSU would be eliminated under the second subhead of the three-way tiebreaker ("Winning percentage in games played against division opponents"), leaving Nevada and Fresno State in a two-way tie, at which point the Bulldogs' win over the Wolf Pack is the trump card. At least that'd how I read the tie-breaker rules. Nevada needs Fresno State to lose to San Diego State and San Jose State to reach the MW title game. Good luck with that.

I believe this would put Nevada into the national title game against Alabama, with the Wolf Pack getting a bye in the first round of the College Football Playoff.

The New Mexico Bowl. I've been told it's enchanting territory.

The only MW bowl game against a Power 5 opponent is the Las Vegas Bowl, and Nevada is not getting in that. The MW has a secondary tie-in with the Cheez-It Bowl (Pac-12 vs. Big 12), so a MW team could find a postseason spot against a second Power 5 foe, but I don't see that spot going to Nevada, which is behind Utah State, Boise State and Fresno State in the conference pecking order in terms of being placed in a good bowl.

A vote? Yes, I think Nevada gets a vote. I don't think Nevada gets in the Top 25, though. Under this scenario, Nevada would go 9-4 overall, 6-2 in the MW and end the season on a six-game winning streak. That probably gets Nevada a vote, considering the losses to Fresno State and Boise State were not "bad losses" and the losses to Vanderbilt and Toledo came in September, which is a long time ago.

It appears as if Nevada will win eight games in the regular season and potentially nine if it takes home a bowl victory. It will be hard for Nevada to go above that win total next season especially given the uncertainty at quarterback, but this should be a bowl team for the foreseeable future. Really, the next level to reach in Nevada's ascension isn't so much about the win total but about winning the West Division and getting to the MW title game for the first time. That is doable next season, if only because SJSU, Hawaii and UNLV are still bad and San Diego State has taken a step backward. All you really have to do is take care of Fresno State, which also loses its starting quarterback in advance of the 2019 season. I think you'll see Nevada settle into a seven-win or eight-win program next year, but can it finally get to a MW title game? That's the big question, and Fresno State is standing in the way.

I thought we would see that against Colorado State, and while Norvell did sub out Ty Gangi, he subbed in his backup Cristian Solano, a junior, rather than Carson Strong (a true freshman) or Kaymen Cureton (a sophomore who is redshirting). I'd like to see Strong as I see him as the leader to win the job next year among those young guys. I assume Solano will start spring camp as the starter since he has the experience.

Nevada almost beat Boise State, a ranked team, and could have beaten Fresno State, a formerly ranked team, if Gangi had been available at quarterback, so it's fair to say this team is good enough to beat any team in the Mountain West (Utah State could be the exception; it's hard to tell how good the Aggies are given their schedule but they've looked fabulous). The team's confidence is definitely high, but that only comes after you string some wins together and play well against good teams, as Nevada has done this year.

Nothing shocking so far. Nevada has beaten two teams it is way better than by lopsided margins. We'll see a lot of those kinds of games this season since the Wolf Pack is pretty darn good.

They're still in my AP top 10 and the overall AP top 10 after the first week of the season, so most people still see them as a top-10 team. That being said, Nevada isn't going to play very many top-50 teams this season, so it will be hard to tell just how good this squad is until March. The only top-50 KenPom team Nevada will play this season is Arizona State (which is No. 50). Even if you look at the top 100, Nevada only plays ASU (50), USC (61), San Diego State (65) and Loyola Chicago (66), which just lost to Furman (132), and South Dakota State (80). Until Nevada plays and beats good teams, there will always be a little hesitancy in knowing just how good the team is, and the Wolf Pack doesn't have many "prove it" opportunities. But, on paper, the team is excellent and worthy of its lofty ranking.

We must caution it's too early to draw conclusions, but Loyola losing to Furman; Boise State losing to Idaho State: UNLV losing to Loyola Marymount; Wyoming losing to UCSB; Air Force losing to Texas State; SJSU losing to Southern Utah; and New Mexico struggling with Cal State Northridge was not encouraging. If Nevada goes out and loses zero, one or two games this season, it's going to get a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But, given the lack of tier one games (and even tier two games) on the schedule, the margin for error in grabbing a good NCAA Tournament seed will probably be slim if Nevada wants a protected (top four) seed. Like five losses or less.

I assume you mean the regular season. There is a zero percent chance Nevada goes 40-0 this season en route to a national title if you're talking postseason, too.

ESPN's advanced metrics have Nevada going 24-6, with those six losses being the third fewest in the nation behind Gonzaga (4.5 losses) and North Carolina (5.5 losses). It's worth noting Nevada is playing 31 regular-season games, so ESPN is missing a game in there. But it's incredibly tough to go unbeaten over 31 games. I'll give Nevada a 1.2 percent chance of doing that.

Nevada trapped for a couple of possessions against Pacific, but it could stand to do more of that. As I noted in my Three Keys and Prediction for the Pacific game, one of the few things Nevada has not excelled at under Musselman is create turnovers. Here are the numbers for the last four seasons.

* 2018-19: 9.0 turnovers forced per game (312th in the nation)

* 2017-18: 12.81 per game (191st)

* 2016-17: 11.34 (306th)

*2015-16: 12.89 (154th)

And that's playing at a pretty fast tempo with more possessions per game than most schools. I'm in favor of Nevada using its depth, length and athleticism to press more often to speed the game up and create turnovers (it did so in the second half comeback to beat Cincinnati). Whether Nevada does that is an open question. You're going to give up some easy baskets with this strategy, but the Wolf Pack has the personnel to employ a more pressing defenses to create more havoc on defense. I hope we see it.

The needle is unimpressed. I have no issue with the series, although I would have preferred it be set up against the American Athletic Conference (in all sports). The A-10 has some good teams (Davidson, Rhode Island, St. Bonny, VCU), but the travel for these games will be even worse than it was in the MW-MVC Challenge. It will help Nevada land one solid game per season at zero price (the Wolf Pack has to pay $80,000-$90,000 to get mid-level teams to play at Lawlor Events Center, yet these Challenge games don't include a payment) and Nevada should always draw good teams in this series given its stature, but these won't be tier one (or even tier two) games. And, yes, I hope Nevada plays at Rhode Island next season in the first MW-A10 Challenge.

I send the Nevada sports information director three names at the four-and-under media timeout and they're supposed to bring those three players back to the press conference room, although in both of the Wolf Pack's first two games this year they have only brought two of those requested players back while adding a wildcard in the third slot. For the Mountain West and NCAA Tournament, the locker rooms are open, so we have access to everybody. That used to be the way Nevada did it before Trent Johnson/Mark Fox changed that in exchange for the press conference format.

Nevada should blow out Little Rock and Cal Baptist, so there should be ample time to get some minutes for freshmen K.J. Hymes and Vincent Lee if the Wolf Pack wants to play them. But Nevada also just blew out Pacific and didn't play anybody beyond the regular nine, not even walk-ons, so there's a solid chance Hymes, Lee and the walk-ons don't see the court (Musselman doesn't usually put walk-ons in for big minutes in blowouts). If we don't see Hymes or Lee in the next two games, there is a good chance they're going to redshirt, but I would not say that's a cinch.

Zero points for Caleb Martin in the first half this season and 43 in the second half. How long can he keep this up?

It's obviously just a quirk. He got in foul trouble against BYU and barely played in the first half. Against Pacific, he had five shot attempts in the first half and missed them all. He's taking a bit of a backseat in the first half, but it's not like he's completely deferring. He's 0-of-9 shooting in 21 minutes in the first half. That's on pace for a 16-shot game (roughly), so he's still being plenty aggressive in the number of shots taken. The big difference is aggressiveness toward the basket. Five of his nine first-half attempts are threes and he has zero free throw attempts. In the second half, Martin has 17 free throw attempts. He's going toward the basket more often. Worth noting Martin scored more in the second half last year, too. He can get his whenever, so getting others involved early isn't a bad move.

As for Cody Martin, he could very well be the NCAA assist leader this season (he has 21 through two games). I'll say his high for the year is 15 and he averages 8.9 per game. The Wolf Pack record is 8.6 assists a night by Billy Allen in 1981-82. It will be threatened.

Nevada isn't going to have a first-round draft pick. There's the potential is doesn't have anybody drafted at all. The NBA likes to project and the Martin twins will both be 24 at the start of the next NBA season and Jordan Caroline will almost be 24. I remember hearing Rockets GM Daryl Morey say on the Dan Patrick Show you know how good an NBA player will be by the time he's 23. Players don't really get better after that age. It's weird to think in those terms, but if that's how the NBA views older prospects, it's hard to move your stock up as a 23-year-old college senior. Doesn't mean they can't be NBA players, but that doesn't limit their draft potential.

While Jordan Brown was transparent with his desire to go one-and-done when he committed to Nevada, his name has basically been impossible to find on mock drafts, so I don't see it happening unless Brown is willing to try his hand as a late second round/undrafted pick, and I don't think he wants to do that. He should return for his sophomore season when he'll be more of a focal point of the Nevada offense, which will give him the ability to boost his stock. I think you'll see him in silver and blue next year, although, like you said, it's early. If he blows up as Nevada makes a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, his stock could change, which would change his decision.

It looks the same to me. He's always had an excellent release, perhaps the best on the team. The form is fine. He's put more work into his 3-point shot this summer, but I don't think he made any drastic changes to technique or form. He hasn't shot many 3-pointers (he's made 2-of-3), so it's hard to tell if his distance numbers will improve. His free throw shooting has taken a step back. He's 11-of-17 (64.7 percent), down from 70.9 percent last year, but it's so early these numbers mean nothing.

The Mountain West sent out a 200-word or so press release saying this call (a Boise State first down) was correct. This picture is worth 1,000 words and says the opposite. That said, barring a blocked punt or big punt return, Fresno State was going to get the ball back with 10 seconds left at its 20-yard line needing a touchdown to tie the game. It just wasn't going to happen for the Bulldogs.

It's actually in good shape. I think it was put in before the 2010 season and they're supposed to last a decade at minimum. The cost for a new field is somewhere between $600,000 to $1 million. It cost $500,000 to put in new turf at Wolf Pack Park in 2014 (that surface was horrible when the change was made). That was funded by the $1.5 million guarantee to play at Texas A&M. It's expensive to put in new turf. I don't see it happening in the next five years.

I don't know. Some people like ticket stubs as momentos, and I assume Nevada gets some money from the ads on the back of those things. The Wolf Pack also need something to scan to keep track of the attendance and I'm assuming each game has a unique scan label. Ultimately, this is not something I care enough about to check in on.

12.5. I think we're at five right now (through two regular-season games). Two different jerseys for the team picture, the throwback jersey, the jersey worn for the season opener and the camo jersey.

Yes. That would be absurd. Nevada beat Pacific in similar fashion (on the road) last season with five players reaching double-figures (as it did Friday). It was a mirror imagine of that game.

I'll take Nevada's win over Cincinnati in last year's NCAA Tournament as the best all-around team effort in the Musselman era. Nevada shot nearly 50 percent from the field against one of the five best defensive teams in the nation; held the Bearcats to 40.9 percent shooting; had just two turnovers (two!); and put five players in double-figures, so it wasn't just one guy who went out and won the game. And it did so on one of the biggest stages in sports.

I doubt that has ever happened at Nevada, and we won't see that this year. It's pretty hard to play the 30 minutes required to get 10 assists and 10 rebounds without scoring a single point.

This year's team is cohesive, too. The Martin twins run the show, Caroline is so unselfish he'll do whatever is asked of him and everybody else gets in where they can fit in. Jazz Johnson and Tre'Shawn Thurman, in particular, are heralded as ultimate team-first guys. The chemistry is solid, and there's depth on top of that.

That could happen if Washington State wins out; Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC title game; Clemson wins out; West Virginia and Oklahoma split their final two games of the season (the regular-season finale and Big 12 title game); Notre Dame loses to Syracuse or USC; and Ohio State beats Michigan and wins the Big 10 title game. That scenario probably delivers us a College Football Playoff of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington State. Probably. You never know what the committee might do.

No. That's just bringing back the old WAC model that crumbled and eventually turned into the MW. The geography on that would be horrible, and you never know which programs will be good at the revenue sports and which ones will be bad at a given time. Nevada basketball was horrible four years ago and wouldn't have been a part of this AAC-MW merger. Now, it'd be vital. Your scenario above leaves out UConn, which not too long ago won a NCAA basketball title and has great basketball heritage. You can't shift teams in and out based on how they're doing in the last couple of years. But, most importantly, the Power 5 conferences are never letting a sixth conference join their party. The MW needs to build from within (and probably kick out SJSU).

It's a moot point because the MW isn't going to kick SJSU out of the league even though I wrote it should do just that. I also don't see the MW expanding unless BYU wants to come back (it doesn't) or it adds a non-full-time member like a Gonzaga (which also isn't happening). These 12 schools are the 12 schools you'll see in the future.

Nobody who is redshirting this season played in the win over Colorado State. Also, Lucas Weber still has his mustache.

5 percent against San Jose State. 5 percent against UNLV. Both are bad teams, but it's hard to shut any FBS team out, especially on the road.

I don't even know what a PackFetti stick is. And you have to buy such sticks? If so, I would buy zero of them. Buy a vuvuzela instead.

That's out of my jurisdiction, but I'll pass that info along. It's not the first time I've heard that complaint.

Unfortunately, I do not command the student section, so I do not have the power to make this happen.

I don't know. I would guess they're not counted. They come in through the Lawlor Events Center ramp and there's no turnstyle or scanner back there, so unless Nevada just adds a blanket number to the figure for "band, there's no way to know how many people came in. I also don't have a ticket (I have a badge), so I wonder if I am included in the count. We'll tackle that issue in the next week's episode of Unsolved Mysteries featuring Robert Stack.

I lean toward Cristian Solano as the starter for Nevada's 2019 season opener against Purdue. I would guess the Wolf Pack has more than one quarterback start a game next season, though. I've been pretty firm in my belief Carson Strong is the next long-term starter for the Wolf Pack. I just don't know if he'll start the 2019 opener.

I didn't think UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez was getting fired before the win over San Diego State, and I don't think he's getting fired after it. The boosters are behind him.

And I think I'll keep San Diego State above Nevada in the MW football rankings. Here's why:

* SDSU is 7-3; Nevada is 6-4

* SDSU beat a bowl-eligible Pac-12 team (Arizona State) by a touchdown; Nevada beat the worst team in the Pac-12 (Oregon State) when said team missed a field goal at the buzzer.

* SDSU beat Boise State on the road; Nevada lost to Boise State at home

Both ESPN's FPI and the Sagarin Ratings have SDSU one spot ahead of Nevada. They're basically even in strength. SDSU just has a slightly better résumé despite the head-to-head results as it has fewer losses, beat a better Power 5 team and has beaten a Top 25 team (Boise State). But don't worry, SDSU will lose to Fresno State next week, which will slide Nevada up to No. 4 on my rankings.

I've never had Yoo-Hoo. I've always had Nesquik because of the bunny. I think the kind of animal that is on the bottle is more important than the kind of can the chocolate milk comes out of. And I like cartoon bunnies, notably Bugs Bunny and the fetching Lola Bunny.

Only in my mind and in your heart.

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