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Murray's Mailbag: Will Nevada football ever return to its 2010 form?

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The 2010 Nevada football team remains the gold standard. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

On Saturday, I took my 4-year-old son to get a haircut. The barber butchered his hair so badly, I had shave his head afterwards. (And I paid $18 for that). But that wasn't the worst butchering of the day for me. On Saturday night, my family saw the remake of Aladdin, and Will Smith butchered the genie role worse than that barber butchered my son's hair. Other than Will Smith, the movie was fine. It was always going to be an impossible task to fill Robin Williams' shoes in the genie role, but Disney could have done better than it did. Now, on to your Monday Mailbag questions, but this time on a Tuesday since I was off on Memorial Day. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

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

I do believe it is realistic for Nevada to become a Top 25 team again. I do not believe it is realistic for Nevada to be as good as it was in 2010, which to me is "national level" That's a top-10 kind of team (technically, Nevada was 11th in the final AP Top 25 of 2010).

Let's take a look at what was required for that 2010 season to happen:

* A Hesiman Trophy-caliber, all-time great quarterback in Colin Kaepernick (dude came within a couple yards of winning a Super Bowl)

* A College Football Hall of Fame head coach (Chris Ault)

* A Kyle Brotzman missing 26- and 29-yard field goals late in the game to help Nevada pull off the signature win in program history (over No. 3-ranked Boise State) to validate the season

* A super soft schedule outside of that Boise State game (Nevada played just five bowl teams that season: a bad BYU team, Hawaii, Fresno State, Boise State and Boston College, and Nevada lost to Hawaii while beating Fresno State, Boise State and BC by a combined 11 points)

* A team loaded with future NFL players (Nevada had 13 future NFL players on that team, an absurd amount for a Group of 5 school)

* An exceptionally veteran team hardened over previous failures (the Wolf Pack had five first-team All-WAC players who were seniors that season)

I don't see all of those things lining up again. Football is the hardest sport to win at in college athletics. There's just so much money in football it's nearly impossible for Group of 5 schools to become top-10 teams in the nation. It's much more realistic in basketball or baseball. That being said, another Top 25 season is not out of the question. Utah State just did that for the second time in seven seasons, and if they can do it in Logan, they can do it in Reno. Hell, San Jose State finished in the Top 25 in 2012. It's possible. It still takes a confluence of things. Excellent coaching, great quarterback play, a favorable schedule, a veteran roster, some luck. But it's possible.

It's probably not fair to expect Nevada to be a Top 25 team given its budget and facilities. After all, it's happened just twice in program history, in 2010 and 1948. But it's not impossible, either, and if other Mountain West schools like Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State, Utah State and Fresno State can post Top 25 seasons (each has done so in the last five years), I understand Wolf Pack fans wanting to get in on the action, too.

No, although I have offered the Battle For Elko game for Nevada versus Boise State as Reno and Boise are both exactly 4 hours, 9 minutes away from Elko, per Google. Incredible. But that'd be tough considering Nevada and Boise State don't play each other every year, and it'd also be tough because Nevada never beats Boise State (the Wolf Pack is 1-16 in the last 17 games between the two). Oddly, Boise State and Fresno State play for the Milk Can, created in 2005, even though those teams have met just 22 times. Nevada and Boise State have played 43 times, nearly twice as many.

A Fresno State-Nevada trophy game would be worth considering since those schools have played 49 times with the first matchup in 1923. They've played every season since 1998 and are in the same division in the Mountain West, so they'll face off every year moving forward. It's also been a fairly even battle, with Fresno State leading 29-20-1 overall and the matchup being 13-8 in favor of Fresno State during the current streak of 21 straight years with a game. What would they play for? Since both Reno and Fresno State are known as less-than-great cities (I disagree with that statement, of course; I love both cities), they could play for a golden toilet. The Golden Throne Game.

The offensive line is more of a concern than the defensive line, which returns three-year starter Hausia Sekona and Dom Peterson, one of the best D-linemen in the league. Toss in Chris Green, Kaleb Meder, Sam Hammond, Tristan Nichols and Jaden Lewis and that group should be fine in terms of run-stopping even if it loses something from the pass rush.

The offensive line returns only two starters in Jake Nelson (left tackle) and Nate Brown (guard), with center being a big position of concern. Miles Beach (guard), Aaron Frost (right tackle) and Nathan Edwards (center) are slotted as the other starters, but depth is an issue. This group has overachieved its talent level the last two years, so it will probably do so again, but Nevada's offensive line play is the biggest difference from those great 2008-12 offenses and the post-2012 offenses.

The X factor on the offensive line is Frost, a converted defensive lineman who played as a true freshman last year and has a high ceiling. My defensive line X factors are Breylon Garcia and Javasia Brunson, two class of 2019 signees who could play big roles as pass-rushers as true freshmen. They're high school teammates from Lufkin, Texas.

The fact is has drug on this long is not a positive for Nevada since he's no longer on campus seeing the staff and his teammates every day. That being said, the negative of having to sit out a season is strong enough I still think he'll end up back at Nevada. Here's a look at the contenders:

* Saint Mary's: A solid program close to home, but Nevada is the same thing ... and he wouldn't have to sit out a season.

* Arizona State: A mid-tier Pac-12 program that will guarantee you a spot in the NCAA Tournament's First Four.

* Arizona: A Top 25 program, but one that has been under the microscope of the FBI and NCAA. Things could blow up at anytime.

* Kentucky: If they eventually offer, you can't begrudge Brown for going to that NBA factory, although it's easy to get over-recruited at Kentucky.

* Texas A&M: This is another school you can't argue with if Brown bolts for College Station. Buzz Williams is an excellent coach.

Nevada didn't give Brown a real chance at minutes this season, so you can't blame him if he leaves, but ultimately staying with the Wolf Pack, playing this season and being a for-sure focal point of the offense -- something that's not guaranteed at Arizona, Kentucky or Texas A&M -- seems like the wisest decision. I'll keep my money on Nevada despite the recent official visits and the fact he's off campus. He'd get 25-plus minutes and 10-15 shots per game with the Wolf Pack. He likes the school, community and campus. And he doesn't have to sit out a season. A return makes sense.

Here's what Alford said today on Jon Rothstein's podcast about whether Nevada is planning for a season with or without Jordan Brown:

"Right now it's still with him. We're in contact. They're obviously home right now on break. We start summer school June 10, and we hope JB is with us. We've had great talks with the family, and I know his teammates love him. He's a great teammate. I think this is a perfect spot for him when he looks at how we've used T.J. Leaf and Kevon Looney and the Weir twins and those type of players who have played for me at that position. They've had a lot of success. They've developed and played in a position that's a lot of fun because they get to do things like rebound and bring the ball up, play in the post, play on the wings, shoot threes, and this is all, I think, what JB wants to do, and he'd be in a really great system with really good guards, and if you're a big you need good guards around you. And I think he's got all of those things here and has a fan base that I think understands he didn't get to play a lot last year, and it was an old team he was playing on and around and now it's his turn. And right or wrong, we've told him this is his team, he's going to be marketed that way and he's going to be one of the main guys on our team that we're going to go to."

Well, it'd be a better sign if he wasn't taking visits. That's for sure. But him taking visits doesn't mean he's gone.

I was actually thinking about this last week: Could a player put his name in the transfer portal after every season and take some free official visits before returning to his original school every time? It'd be a nice way to get some free family vacations. Maybe set up an official visit with Hawaii. And then Miami. And maybe Pepperdine. Spend the summer getting some sun.

There's a lot of talk about Jordan Brown because he's a McDonald's All-American who is currently in the transfer portal. K.J. Hymes has already recommitted to Nevada. Also, he was a three-star recruit, not a four-star recruit. Hymes was in the mix for being a five-star prospect early in his high school tenure (freshman year or so) and was the No. 203 prospect in the 2018 class when he committed to Nevada (September 2017). By the time the 2018 class closed, Hymes was listed as the No. 315 recruit in the 247Sports composite. So, he lost some of his recruiting bloom as time passed. Had Eric Musselman remained Nevada's head coach, Hymes wouldn't have gotten into the Wolf Pack's rotation, so the coaching change gives him a second life at Nevada.

He has excellent height (6-10) and length, but has to add strength and prove he can defend to get regular minutes. He does have good touch around the rim and has solid post moves, although he's not somebody who is going to stretch the defense to the 3-point line right now. Given Nevada's lack of frontcourt pieces right now (Hymes and Zane Meeks are the only traditional power forward/centers on the roster), he's going to play minutes unless Brown returns to school and Nevada is able to add more depth up front, which it is trying to do. Hymes, who redshirted at Nevada last season, is a solid prospect, but he's not in the class of Brown, which is why there's more buzz about one over the other right now. But if Nevada is unable to add any more front-court depth, Hymes will play a big role in 2019-20.

Just big guys. Nevada's backcourt trio of Jazz Johnson, Lindsey Drew and Jalen Harris is really solid. The wings are set with Harris and Eric Parrish. It's the frontcourt that is the big question mark. The Wolf Pack has Meeks and Hymes and that's about it. That's two freshmen who still need to physically mature. Right now, Nevada would have to play a lot of small ball whether it wants to or not. Nevada could use some size, strength and rebounding up front, and that's the case even if Jordan Brown returns. Jaume Sorolla, the 7-foot transfer from Valpo currently on a visit, and/or Mahamadou Diawara, a 6-10, 240-pound prep kid, would be nice additions to round out the roster. I wouldn't be opposed to Nevada keeping one scholarship for a mid-year transfer, either.

Con: He has to sit out a season under NCAA transfer rules.

Pros: Everything else.

Washington is the kind of player good mid-majors are built with. At 6-foot-11, he has excellent length. Despite being a big guy, he has solid guard skills in terms of his passing and shooting ability. He has some developed post moves and a high basketball IQ. He does need to add strength and will have to cut down on the turnovers, but he's the highest-ceiling prospect Steve Alford has added to Nevada's roster so far. He's a potential all-conference player down the road if he continues to develop. There's nothing to dislike about this addition. Washington just needs a chance to get on the court, which he didn't get at Oregon State because of the Beavers' veteran frontcourt last season. There's a lot of rawness to his game, as is usual with young bigs, and he might never touch his ceiling, but all of the tools you want to work with are there.

Arkansas, but Nevada's roster isn't done yet. Jordan Brown's decision is a four- or five-win swing either way. The Razorbacks had a solid roster to start and Musselman has added fives transfers, including three graduate transfers. There isn't a lot of size on that roster, but Arkansas has more depth of talent right now. Arkansas returned six of its top seven scorers from last year and added three veteran rotation players. Nevada lost five of its top six scorers (and seven of its top eight if it loses Brown). Even if Brown returns, I'd probably pick Arkansas' roster. That being said, I don't think Arkansas' roster is better than the Wolf Pack roster that made the Sweet 16. That was a reach, but Musselman was trying to pump up his new players. Nothing wrong with that. But that same roster went 18-16 last year, and that was with first-team All-SEC big man Daniel Gafford, who turned pro this offseason.

If Musselman signs 80 percent transfers, I don't think he's going to win the SEC or get to the Sweet 16. That being said, we don't know for sure that's the model he's going to use, although his first five signees with the Razorbacks have been transfers. As I said with Steve Alford, you can't judge too much off a first class. I don't mind adding a good number of transfers, but you need high-level prep kids to win in the SEC, so Musselman's original model at Nevada (50 percent transfers and 50 percent prep kids) could work. But I don't think 80 percent transfers will work.

Kentucky had 10 top-100 prep recruits on its roster last year. Florida had eight. Mississippi State had eight. LSU had five. Alabama had four. Auburn had four. Tennessee was largely built without top-100 kids, but it's hard to win in the SEC and in the NCAA Tournament without future NBA players, and most future NBA players come from the high school ranks and not from the transfer market.

I'll offer my team-by-team Wolf Pack grades as soon as the athletic season is over (just waiting on track and field to wrap up at nationals), but I'm guessing Nevada baseball will get a C+. The Wolf Pack was picked to finish second in the preseason poll and needed late help to get the No. 4 seed in the MW Tournament. Interestingly, when Nevada has been a favorite under T.J. Bruce, it has struggled. And when it has been an underdog, it has over-performed. The preseason talk was about getting back to an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2000, so that goal wasn't met.

“It’s like 1A and 1B,” Bruce said in September of the goals of winning a regular-season title and getting a Regional berth. “1B is to get into June. I think it’s a really unsuccessful season so to speak – I don’t want to take anything away from a regular-season title – but you want to play in June and give these guys a chance to compete and be one of those 64 teams.”

So, was it a "successful" season? I don't know if we should say that. It was another year extending the NCAA Regional drought. Nevada went 30-26 overall, 14-16 in the MW, 15-14 at home, 15-12 away from home. It had an RPI of 118, down from 66 the season prior. It was an average season outside of that great 24 hours where Nevada beat No. 2-ranked Oregon State in back-to-back walk-offs.

As for next season, lets see what happens in the MLB draft first with juniors Jaylon McLaughlin, Grant Ford, Ryan Anderson, Dillan Shrum and Shane Gustafson all potential draft picks. Nevada's bullpen was great this season, but it must improve its starting pitching and overall hitting.

If I had to bet my life on it, I'd bet "No." It's really hard to get picked in the NBA draft. There are only 60 slots and 7-12 go to international players each year. So you're looking at 50 or so spots, and it's rare to see those spent on seniors. I thought Deonte Burton and Cameron Oliver were going to get drafted, but they didn't. So odds are Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline go unpicked. But Cody Martin did raise his stock at the NBA draft combine, so he might have worked his way into the second round. Both Martins should get to training camps and all three will play in the NBA summer league, so they'll have a chance.

I'll take the Warriors in seven, which means Golden State would have to win in Toronto in a decisive Game 7. Kevin Durant's injury status is the big question mark. If he's healthy and plays from Game 3 on, the Warriors should win. Kawhi Leonard is playing at a ridiculous level, but I don't trust Kyle Lowry enough to pick the Raptors.

The Bruins in six games. Two really good teams. It helps that I am answering after Boston won game one. I'll take Tuukka Rask over Jordan Binnington, and it often comes down to the goalies.

Martin Jones, former Los Angeles Kings great!

While Jones was not good in the playoffs this year, he did goaltend the Sharks to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, allowing just 14 goals (2.33 per game) while stopping 93.2 percent of the shots against versus a stacked Penguins offense. The Sharks' offense (held to 11 goals in six games) lost that series, not Jones. So, yes, I think the Sharks can win a Stanley Cup with Jones in net as long as he rediscovers that 2015-17 form when he was easily a top-10 goalie in the league.

(And, yes, two hockey questions in one chat is a Murray Mailbag record).

They are named after Jake Lawlor (Lawlor Events Center), John Mackay (Mackay Stadium) and William Peccole (Peccole Park). If Nevada ever gets an offer worth considering (I'd set the mark at $400,000 per year), it will be interesting to see how the Wolf Pack finagles things considering the locations are already named after people, two of whom put financial backing behind the creation of those stadiums. I've had a family member of one of those three families already contact me to say they would not be in favor of such a move, but money does talk.

I'd buy Fred Gatlin a spot in the Nevada athletics Hall of Fame.

Probably not, but I do understand it from Stewart's perspective. According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, Stewart has agreed to a six-year, $7 million contract with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Stewart was initially drafted by the Braves last season as the No. 8 pick in the draft, but he failed to sign after Atlanta was concerned with his medicals. He reportedly wanted $4.5 million (his draft slot position was $4,980,700), while the Braves' offer was closer to $2 million. He went to a junior college and was eligible for this year's draft, where he probably would have received around a $2 million bonus.

Even if he ended up being healthy and moved through the system quickly, Stewart would have made $3 million or $4 million over his first six years. He's getting $7 million from Fukuoka during that period and will be eligible for free agency at age 25 (whereas his likely best-case scenario for free agency if he stayed in this year's draft was age 29, and that's if he got to the big leagues in less than three seasons, which is unlikely for a prep arm).

So, financially, it makes a lot of sense to go to Japan. The issue here is do teenagers really want to go to Japan for a few extra million guaranteed rather than play in the American minor leagues? I'm sure a couple of players will follow his lead, but I doubt it will become a popular trend. You have to take into effective the quality of life, quality of coaching, etc. But minor-league players are paid squat (it's ridiculous), so I have no issue with this tactic.

Just today, five-star basketball recruit R.J. Hampton decided to sign a pro deal in New Zealand rather than take a college scholarship from Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Memphis, etc. So you're seeing a few athletes trying to disrupt the system, which I'm fine with. The draft is un-American. Forcing a kid to go to an organization just because it loses lots of games and gets the first pick is stupid. I'm all for free agency upon turning pro. Zion Williamson should be able to sign with whoever he wants.

Virginia is the most populous state without a big-league team, so Virginia Beach is on the list. But I'd put Louisville, Ky., first with Austin, Texas second and Omaha, Neb., third. Austin probably has the most chance of success given its size, but Texas has enough pro teams, so Louisville is first for me.

The only Mountain West baseball park I've been to is Peccole Park, so I can't accurately rank all of them, but Nevada's park is on the lower end of the MW. The seating at the field is just weird. You can't walk from the left-field seats to the right-field seats without exiting the stands. But the playing surface is new and high level. The clubhouse could use an upgrade. A new scoreboard will be in before next season. I don't think the facility is a major issue when competing against other MW schools in recruiting, but it is when you're talking about Pac-12/Big West schools.

After Nevada's 82-49 win at Wyoming on Feb. 16, the Wolf Pack sat down as a team and read the scientific literature on global warming and the future of our planet. They were so disheartened by those trends and Congress' inaction on the topic they decided they would no longer put 100 percent into the season because even if they did make it to the Final Four, the banner hung at Lawlor Events Center would be disintegrated as part of a world-wide weather apocalypse within the next 150 years anyway. As a result, the team finished the season 5-4 with a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament.

1. A solution for world peace.

2. An end to world hunger.

3. A cure for cancer.

And if I get a fourth, a room full of golden coins ala Scrooge McDuck.

Nah. I know it's a popular theory, but I doubt he's going to do something like that without knowing if he'll even get a job at a Power 5 school. He clearly wanted to jump to a bigger school, as I said all along, but I don't think he would undercut his chances at a five-star recruit in hopes of possibly getting a bigger gig. I don't even think Kyree Walker has taken any official visits yet. That being said, Arkansas does look like the favorite for Walker if he does reclassify to this season, which hasn't happened yet.

I would attend Lollapalooza because I like Chicago.

My three headliners would be Pearl Jam, OutKast and Rage Against the Machine (reunited). My "Little Font Bands" would be Local Natives, Nappy Roots, alt-J, Milky Chance, Vance Joy, Yellowcard, Glass Animals, Joywave and Ray Parker Jr. just so he can play the Ghostbusters song 10 straight times.

Nothing major from a facility standpoint, to my knowledge. There have been significant changes over the last three years with the addition of the club level, the chairbacks, the new video board, Jensen Plaza, upgrades to the suite levels, ADA compliance measures and new restrooms and concessions. Since 2016, the Wolf Pack has put around $16 million into the stadium. That's probably it for the big changes for a while. They are going to do a "Running of the Wolves" for the students before every game to try and pump up student attendance. But the facility is pretty well set.

I was surprised he didn't make the cut after ranking 26th in the nation in punting last season at 43.6 yards per game, although that ranked fifth in the conference with three players ahead of him returning for another season of eligibility. The MW tends to be deep at punter because you're punting at altitude for most of the season, which helps the numbers, but I have Nevada's Quinton Conaway on my preseason All-MW second team behind Colorado State's Ryan Stonehouse, who was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award last year. So I'm hiring on him than Athlon. Conaway had a really good spring. Much more length strength. He's more than a guy with a fun van.

Going to Japan is not on my current to-do list, but getting two free beers might change that.

A gigantic slice. The biggest slice you've ever seen. I literally line up 40-50 yards left of my target so I end up in the middle of the fairway. But it works. Shot an 88 at RedHawk over the weekend in my first round of the year. I'm usually in the 84-89 range, which I don't think I'll ever really improve upon unless I totally rework my swing to take the slice out. But 84-89 is better than most golfers shoot, so I just play the slice and live with the scores.

I don't know who has taken the lead on scheduling like Anthony Ruta did under Musselman (he's the one who scheduled the Saint Mary's game in the Warriors' new arena Nevada will play this season), but ultimately it comes down to the head coach, as it did with Musselman, giving it a final stamp of approval and shaping the kind of schedule he wants. I received two game contracts today (the Santa Clara and Texas-Arlington ones) and Alford is the guy who signed both, so the buck stops with him. At a lot of places, including at Nevada, all of the assistants pitch in a little with the connections they have to get quality games.

I believe he would be saving his present for Valentine's Day.

The only one of those four movies I've seen is Under Siege (remember it's "I before E, except after C"), so I'll go with Steven Seagal's Casey Ryback.

I've never watched a WWE event on television before, so I'm unqualified to answer this question. I'm more of an arm-wrestling kind of guy, so put me down for The Lincoln Hawk Era.

I'm stealing this idea and going with Vin Scully, the voice of Los Angeles. He'd be 100 if he's still alive for those Olympic Games. With other top names like Jackie Robinson, John Wooden and Chick Hearn no longer around, my list after Scully would be Magic Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Wayne Gretzky, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout. You also could argue Tiger Woods, who is from Cypress, Calif., in Orange County, or the Williams sisters, although their stay in Southern California was relatively brief. I think it will end up being Magic Johnson or Serena Williams.

Jiminy?

The Dodgers are going to be in the World Series, but the Twins are third on my list of American League teams (at best). The Astros and Yankees are both better, so it will take some Kirby Puckett-level luck for the Twins to get to the World Series. Minnesota is legitimately good. I just don't think the rotation is good enough to get to the World Series. Jake Odorizzi and Martin Perez will revert to their typical form soon enough.

Bryan Samudio: Hall of Famer

Alex Marguiles: Can drink beer quickly

Shannon Kelly: Midwestern Nice (even though she's not from the Midwest)

Julian Del Gaudio: Looks like Mark Consuelos

Anthony Resnick: Born leader

Kenzie Bales: Versatile in her skills

Jenna Holland: Social media master

Brian Kulpa: Kicks ass, takes names

Chris Murray: Bald

Pour some sugar on me.

And I believe you mean "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Grobin, but this did make me think of "Build Me Up Buttercup" by The Foundations, which is an awesome song to end this Mailbag on. See y'all next week.


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