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Murray's Mailbag: Why aren't Pack fans heading out to Mackay Stadium?

Fans
Nevada students came to the season opener to do the Running of the Wolves, but has disappeared since then. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada football picked up its biggest win in several years when it beat San Diego State on Saturday, Nevada basketball looked average for 30 minutes before smoking San Francisco State late in its final exhibition on Friday and the Dodgers let me down in the World Series again. Pobrecita. Let's get to your Monday Mailbag questions, which focused on those three topics. 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).

I'm assuming this is for Nevada football. In two words: "Not. Great." The 14,545 fans for the Nevada-San Diego State game were the fewest since Brian Polian's curtain call as the Wolf Pack's head coach. Despite playing what the university termed "the best home schedule in school history," Nevada is drawing just 17,866 fans per game with one home contest left against Colorado State, which is unlikely to be a big draw. That is up from 16,722 fans per home game last season, but it is still the second lowest since Nevada began announcing tickets distributed rather than actual attendance in 2012.

Nevada barely cracked 20,000 for games against a Pac-12 team (20,462 for Oregon State) and Boise State (21,431 in a game that averaged 31,019 the three previous times the Broncos came to town). And both of those games were boosted because of Beavers and Broncos fans in attendance. It appears the ceiling for Wolf Pack supporters at a game at Mackay Stadium is 15,000 or so. Now, I don't need to tell people how to spend their free time or where to spend their money, but if Nevada wants to keep good coaches and have a financially strong athletic department, it can't draw 14,545 fans for home games against teams like SDSU, especially when Nevada is playing well, like it is now.

I would caution that it takes time to rebuild a fan base, especially at a place like Nevada. You don't just win one season and all of the fans show up again. It takes three or four years for that to happen. Look at the Nevada basketball team. Those crowds didn't return overnight. If Nevada football can consistently win eight or nine games, it can push its average attendance above 20,000 on a regular basis, but the national trend is heading away from fans actually going to games considering they're all on TV and on the West Coast largely plays at night. It's a tough battle, especially for Group of 5 schools.

Nevada football has done a lot of good things this season, but it had to be disheartening to see less than 10,000 people show up for the SDSU game (the announced attendance was 14,545 but the actual attendance was well below that). The Wolf Pack can rebuild that fan base, but it will take time and I'm not sure we'll ever see 30,000 fans at Mackay Stadium again barring something crazy.

They did send out a questionnaire for students to see why they aren't attending games and what could be done to change that. Will that lead to massive changes? Probably not. They've sent out questionnaires to fans before, and some of the things added in the Mackay Stadium renovation were based on those results. Yet, attendance has fallen steeply since the renovation, which was intended to get more fans into the stadium.

Anecdotally, I heard Nevada sent out renewals for its basketball and football season tickets within a 10-day period. Given the price for basketball tickets continues to increase, that wasn't wise. Some fans probably had to pick between the sports, and basketball was the easy pick. Also, Nevada's sales team almost certainly focused on basketball rather than football since that was an easier sell (you're judged by how many tickets you sell, after all, so push the top-10 team not the rebuilding one).

There has been a clearer and stronger push from the department to promote Nevada basketball first and foremost, and with limited personnel, you can see why. The Wolf Pack can't make massive changes to a lot of things: kickoff times, games being easily available on TV and parking being the top three. It can make gains elsewhere and Jay Norvell and staff have put a product on the field that is easier to sell than what Nevada was running out there prior to his hiring. If attendance does not climb in the coming years, it's on the department and not on Norvell. He's doing his job, and fans should be excited about having a bowl-caliber team again.

Still a third-tier bowl, the New Mexico Bowl or the Arizona Bowl. Even if the Mountain West champion gets the Group of 5's spot in a New Year's Six Bowl, I don't see how the Wolf Pack gets into the Las Vegas Bowl or Cheez-It Bowl, which are both against Power 5 opponents. That would be ideal, of course, but Fresno State, Utah State and Boise State are all ahead of Nevada in the pecking order there (and fans traveling are a big things for bowls, which you can't bank on with Nevada).

No. Nevada does not have any say over kickoff time unless the game is not on CBS Sports Network or the ESPN family of networks, and that's basically every game it plays, so it rarely gets to dictate a kickoff time. Even when it has played during the day, the attendance has been bad (it drew 17,525 for the season opener and that was an afternoon kickoff). The MW is negotiating a new TV deal and has kicked around the idea of going digital and thus being able to dictate its kickoff times, but I doubt that happens. Each school gets more than $1 million via TV money a year, and you're not making that up with earlier kickoff times.

As for the uniforms, it might be able to. Technically the road team wears white and the home team wears colored jerseys. If the MW determines the silvers are white enough, Nevada could wear those as the road team at UNLV next month. I'd like to see all blue versus all red. Traditional colors.

The next step from a program growth standpoint is to compete for a MW West Division title. Nevada hasn't been eliminated from such a feat this season, but it would require (a) Fresno State to lose two of its final four regular-season games, including to SDSU; (b) SDSU to beat Fresno State but also lose one more game (but not lose three conference games in total); and (c) Nevada winning the combined tie-breaker between those three schools. It's possible, but highly unlikely. Nevada has not won a MW divisional title since moving to the conference in 2012, so doing so in 2019 would be an excellent show of growth.

As far as personnel goes, Nevada needs to find a successor to Ty Gangi. Cristian Solano and Kaymen Cureton have both essentially had one-game auditions, and neither went well. Carson Strong is a true freshman this season with what appears to be a solid future, but you never know on a quarterback until you see him facing live bullets. The Wolf Pack also needs to build an elite offensive line, something it has been lacking since the 2012 season, which featured three future NFL players on the line and three more who got into NFL camps. I like the young position players Nevada has on its roster, so they're good there.

On defense, Nevada needs to replace the pass-rushing skills of Malik Reed and Korey Rush, two holdovers from the Brian Polian era who have been excellent this season. Is there a defensive lineman with their disruption skills on the roster right now? I'm not sure there is. Nevada has recruited heavily to linebacker and defensive backfield and I think those positions will be fine.

Nevada has shown this year it is on the rise, but jumping from bowl team to divisional title team will be tough, especially given Nevada's more difficult schedule in 2019. But given how this year has gone, there's plenty of reason to be optimistic.

Sure. Why not? You could nitpick the 5-4 record. Nevada's five wins have come against teams that rank 79, 81, 114, 122 and 181 in the Sagarin ratings, so not exactly a murderer's row, but that 2010 team beat a lot of bad teams, too. Also, Nevada was very competitive against Fresno State (16 in Sagarin) and Boise State (37 in Sagarin). This defense is pretty darn good. It could be Nevada's best in the last 20 years. Those 2010 and 2011 defenses had a lot of future NFL players, but the advanced metrics support the 2018 team as being better than the 2010 and 2011 defenses. Again, making the jump from where Nevada is now to divisional champ will be difficult, but Norvell has proven he has the program in a better place than Polian had it. That alone should make fans optimistic.

1) The Martins, Jordan Caroline and Trey Porter for sure. I'll go with Corey Henson for the fifth spot. The staff appears to like him. (I'd start two bigs with Jordan Brown out there).

2) Those were the two big question marks heading into the season. I wouldn't call them the Achilles' heel right now, but if Nevada fails to live up to the hype, those are likely to be the two reasons why. Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua and Henson were proven shooters at their last school, but there's obviously some rust there and it's different being a spot-up shooter rather than a guy who has the ball in his hands for much of the game. We'll see how that transition goes. I'd be more worried about the defense, frankly.

3) I'm sure they feel a little extra pressure given how much they have elevated that hype with their social media accounts, but if Nevada has a "bad season" (this team is still going to win 25 games, but the year will largely be judged by if Nevada wins the MW and how far it goes in the NCAA Tournament), I don't think it will be because of the heat of lofty expectations.

Yep. I see all three of those guys playing 32-35 minutes per game. No reason not to do so. And Coach Musselman's current circle of trust includes Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline and Trey Porter, although that is fluid.

Is that what rumor has? Well, here are some quotes about Jordan Brown from his teammates I got on media day.

From Jazz Johnson: “He has a really high motor. I’ve seen a lot of five stars go to college and they do well because of their talent. He genuinely works hard. He genuinely works on the court and his finishing around the rim is elite. He just comes out and does what you think a freshman should do. Come out and play hard every day."

From Trey Porter: "I love how mature he is for his age and how hard he goes. His work ethic is phenomenal. He works hard. He's going to challenge you every possession. They say he's 205, 207, something like that, but he plays bigger than that every play. He comes in and works. You can tell he walks with that swag, but when it comes to inside the lines, he knows how to work."

From Jordan Caroline: “He’s young but he’s very talented. He’s so good but there are so many areas of improvement, which is good because it shows he has a super high ceiling and he can be a really special player. He does a lot of things well. He has good hands around the post. He’s done a lot of things that have impressed me so far and he's working hard.”

I could continue with quotes like this but I will stop there.

Here is what Coach Musselman said when I asked that after the San Francisco State game: “He has to defensive rebound and he’s got to learn all of our plays and know what we’re doing defensively. I think maybe we’re a little more complicated for a young player. It’s our job to try and keep bringing him along. There’s a five star at Washington and I don’t know if he got off the bench. There are a couple of four stars. It’s a learning curve. We have great confidence in him, he’s a great kid, but he just has to get in the lab and keep working and keep understanding what our identity is. The bottom line is we’re going to play whoever we think will win us a game. That’s our job as a coaching staff.”

I would point out Brown has played 44 minutes to Trey Porter's 25 minutes in the first two exhibitions. That's nearly twice the amount of minutes. It is an open question if Nevada is willing and able to incorporate two bigs (if even one) into its rotation. This is not something it has really done in Musselman's first three seasons. He appears more comfortable playing a small-ball lineup. We've all made a big deal about Nevada having size this season, but how does Musselman get Brown and Porter 25-plus minutes? That's something to track during the season. There's going to be an adjustment period as Nevada did not play with two bigs in Musselman's first three seasons, and you could argue it play with none since Cameron Oliver was at the 3-point line a lot during his two years in Reno. This is different. It will take time. We'll see if Nevada is committed to playing two bigs or reverts to what it's done in the past.

Obviously this is super premature. That being said, how Nevada uses/gets the most out of/showcases Jordan Brown is being tracked by the four- and five-star recruits Nevada is recruiting in the 2020 class. There's an adjustment period for every freshmen, even the best of them. Nevada must show patience with its young players and let them play through mistakes rather than just rely on veterans, which has been the makeup of their teams the last three years.

Considering Jordan Brown started the first exhibition game, that question has already been answered.

Nope. If Lindsey plays a game, he's burned his redshirt (unless he were to suffer a season-ending injury shortly thereafter, at which point Nevada could petition to get him another season of eligibility).

Looks like you want me to say South Dakota's State Mike Daum. I think that'd be a Daum good answer.

Nevada is shooting much higher in the 2020 class than the 2019 class, so there's more social media buzz about the 2020 prospects the Wolf Pack is pursuing. As for the 2019 class, not a lot of momentum there. The Wolf Pack does have a commitment from former Akron player Eric Parrish, but that's it (and it could have up to seven scholarships to hand out in 2019 if it doles all of them out). Presumably, Nevada will land some more commitments, likely for the April signing period, but it looks like this has the potential of being a transfer-heavy class. It is odd the Wolf Pack has not landed more players in the 2019 class given it is coming off a Sweet 16 season with preseason top-10 hype entering this year, but there's a lot way to go before the 2019 class is completed (like seven months).

If only it were that simple. No, they just need to make 3-pointers and stop the other team from scoring. Nevada made 5-of-27 threes against San Francisco State. If it makes 10 of those, it wins the game by 40 points. It's two exhibition games. I wouldn't freak out over that. There's rust associated with the transfers who sat out last season as well as the returning players from a summer off from real games. Throw in the fact Nevada is trying to play with a bigger lineup and there are adjustments that need to be made, and that will take time.

Not that I know of. But it's not great that Nevada has to put another $2 million into Mackay Stadium to make it ADA compliant after already putting $690,000 into it post-renovation. That renovation was done with the best intentions, but it has not worked out as planned. I would not put the ADA issues completely on the Wolf Pack. The architect of the project as well as the Nevada Department of Public Works, which approved the plans, also bear some of that burden. But losing a future $2 million is not good for a department that is already cash-strapped and that is in the red basically every year.

Vai Taua told me this about a month ago: "I hope it takes him all four years to break my records instead of just two or three." That being said, it will be a stretch for Toa to break his brother's records. He should, however, end up as one of the best backs in school history and in the same tier as his brother along with Frank Hawkins, Chance Kretschmer, Chris Lemon and Charvez Foger. Oddly, we are answering this question after Taua rushed for seven yards on 13 carries against SDSU (although he did have five catches for 76 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown). (Inside info on Toa Taua: He actually committed to Nevada during 2017 spring camp before any other player in the 2018 class. He just kept it under wraps for about 10 months).

He needs 418 yards to get to 1,000 this season and will have four games as long as Nevada makes a bowl. Odds are probably 30 percent, although I think he gets there. With games against Colorado State, San Jose State and UNLV upcoming, he'll post one 200-yardish game against one of those teams to make things easy.

I went back to 2002 and it hasn't happened since then (I'm using the team's record at the end of the season). There are three occurrences in which Nevada beat back-to-back teams with .500 records or better during that stretch, but never two teams in a row with a winning record. Also, I don't think this year's Hawaii team will have a winning record at the end of the year. They're actually kind of bad.

It will happen one day, although McLane Mannix's pace has fallen off considerably since the start of the season. In his first three games this year, he averaged five catches for 101 yards per game and scored four times. In the last six, he's averaged 3.2 catches, 58 yards per game and has scored twice. Defenses are doing a better job of containing him.

I have no idea. I hate that thing anyway. It always comes out of nowhere and scares the crap out of me.

I voted in the MW's preseason women's basketball poll and believe I placed Nevada fifth (maybe it was fourth) in the conference. Nevada has three proven returners and a lot of young talent. It really depends on how much the Wolf Pack can get out of its freshman class to fill in around Jade Redmon, Camariah King and Terae Briggs. It's basically those three and six freshmen. The schedule isn't easy, either. Maybe 17 wins and a 10-8 record in the MW? Amanda Levens is an excellent coach, so Nevada could definitely overachieve those marks, but it's hard to trust a team that is depending on so many young players.

Nevada vs. UNLV. The Carson and Douglas football programs have fallen on hard times of late.

Restaurant: I'll take the Cajun Pasta at Zozo's

Steak: Medium

Wild Kratts: Don't watch it. (We've been watching "Beethoven's Christmas Adventure" on Netflix basically every day for the last three weeks. My son calls it "Ripley Christmas" because that is the name of our St. Bernard. Unlike Beethoven in that movie, our dog can't talk).

Sky diving: No, but my work neighbor, Kim Burrows, goes a lot. (Sidenote: She just published a special on Alzheimer's you can watch here.)

Oxford comma: Should not exist

Ride: An elephant

Joke: The Dodgers trying to the World Series is the biggest joke in my life

I do not know the inner workings of the Nevada Day Parade but I would assume anybody who pays to have a float in the parade can have said float in the parade. The Wolf Pack let Governor Brian Sandoval lead the team out on the field before its game against San Diego State. Maybe they can do some trade agreement where the Governor gets to do that in exchange for a free float to pub up its game later that night.

Those are both available if you call 1-800-BIG-HORN.

Nathan Peterman's career with the Bills: 44 percent completions, three touchdowns, 10 interceptions. He has a job in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick does not. America.

Yes, I was watching the Dodgers versus the Red Sox via Hulu during Nevada basketball's exhibition game on Friday and Nevada football's game against SDSU on Saturday. I am good at multi-tasking. The Dodgers are not good at winning the World Series.

If the World Series began tonight and the Dodgers played the Red Sox again, they'd have a 40 percent chance of winning the World Series. That's how baseball goes. Boston was the better team in the regular season and the better team in the first two rounds of the playoffs, so they deserved the World Series title more than any team in MLB. But, the Dodgers were killed by Steven Pearce and Eduardo Nunez. What are the odds that happens again? Dodgers would have been roughly 40-60 underdogs against Boston, Houston and New York. Each of those teams were better than Los Angeles this season, but not by a wide margin.

Bryce Harper isn't getting $400 million, and he's probably not signing with the Dodgers, either.

The Dodgers will tack a couple of seasons onto Kershaw's contract, essentially giving him a four- or five-year deal at $25 million per season.

"No" on the first question. Snapping turtle on the second.

Clayton Kershaw was not one of the top five reasons the Dodgers lost the World Series. Dave Roberts was. (And I've met Roberts and he's a very nice guy. He just made some bad pitching decisions, just as he did last season against the Astros). Also, the biggest reason the Dodgers didn't win the World Series was because it couldn't hit the ball. That is a tough issue to overcome.

It's on Dave Roberts. Everybody wants to blame Andrew Friedman and "analytics." How many World Series did the Dodgers appear in during the 26 years before Friedman took over? Zero. How many since? Two. Don't blame analytics for Roberts making some bad moves.

I'll say the Yankees, so the Dodgers can lose three straight World Series to three different opponents. The Holy Trinity.

On second thought, let's be optimistic for once and say the Dodgers beat the Yankees in next year's World Series.

I'm saving the champagne for the Dodgers' 2019 World Series championship over the Yankees.

(Let's be real: I'm going to make mimosas out of them before the end of the month, if not the end of the week).

And I'm a Bills fans, so good for me being able to live through this twice.

Because #PuigMyFriend.

True story: I was threatened to be kicked out of the Nevada football press box because I cheered when Yasiel Puig hit that three-run home run in game four of the World Series because "there is no cheering the press box." The no cheering in the press box thing is obviously true, but I figured that was no cheering for the actual game being played that you're covering and not no cheering for a game being watched on TV in a different sport 20 minutes before the kickoff of the game you're actually covering.

But, anyway #PuigMyFriend. While the World Series did not go as I would have liked, I'll always have the Puig butt wiggle followed by his titanic homer followed by Eduardo Rodriguez throwing his glove on the mound (followed by me screaming and then being told I might be kicked out of the press box). Between games 2 and 5 in the 2017 World Series and games 3 and 4 of the 2018 World Series, the Dodgers have given me some fun memories the last two years. Better than fighting to avoid the worst record in baseball like the Giants have the last two seasons.

/Seacrest out

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