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Murray's Mailbag: Will Nevada or UNLV win more football games in next five years?

Marcus Arroyo
Marcus Arroyo, right, has taken over as UNLV's head football coach. (UNLV athletics)

Sad times for San Francisco 49er fans as the team was seemingly cruising to a Super Bowl title Sunday before the Chiefs became the first team in NFL history to score 21 points in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl en route to the win (and Kansas City did that in the game's final 6 minutes, 16 seconds, showing how explosive the unit can be). We'll get to the Super Bowl at the end of this week's Monday Mailbag, but first we start with some Nevada football and basketball. 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.)

That's a fun bet! And an interesting one. I like a lot of what new Rebels coach Marcus Arroyo has done so far at UNLV. Plus, the Rebels just got a commitment from TCU transfer Justin Rogers, who was the No. 43 national recruit (and No. four dual-threat quarterback) in the 2018 recruiting class. UNLV also has a new football facility and will be playing in Boondoggle Stadium for the majority of its games, which should help recruiting. That being said, you can go all the way back to 1978 and UNLV has only had more wins than Nevada in two five-year periods: from 1999-2003 when UNLV had 26 wins to Nevada's 19 and from 2000-04 when UNLV had 25 wins to Nevada's 21. So there are 38 different five-year periods from 1978-2019, and UNLV had more wins than Nevada in two of them. That's 5.3 percent of the time. I'll go with the odds and bet against UNLV having more wins in football than Nevada over the next five years (2020-24). At minimum, Jay Norvell should keep Nevada at the six- to eight-win level over the next five seasons as long as the Mountain West's West Division stays at its current level (mediocre), which means Arroyo would have to get UNLV to a six- to eight-win level as well, which won't be easy to do because the Rebels have literally never sustained that level. The last time UNLV had back-to-back seasons with at least six wins was 1983-84, and the Rebels' victories from those years were vacated by the NCAA, so UNLV was technically 0-24 from 1983-84. Toss in UNLV probably needing at least one rebuilding year to start the Arroyo era and my money is on Nevada.

The premise here isn't accurate, in my opinion. I don't think the Mountain West is better than the West Coast Conference in basketball. Since BYU moved to the WCC in 2011-12, the WCC has put multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament in seven of the last nine seasons and will get three teams into the Big Dance this year (Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU). So the WCC has been a multi-bid league in eight of the last 10 years. The WCC has had a better RPI than the MW in five of the last seven seasons. The WCC's average RPI in that period is 10.1; the MW's is 11.1. If Gonzaga were to leave the WCC for the MW, it would have to give up millions of dollars in NCAA Tournament units it has earned for the conference. Plus, how much of the MW's television deal, which is largely a football contract, would Gonzaga get? Would it get a full share even though it doesn't have a football team? The other MW schools wouldn't like that. Plus, Gonzaga can dictate what the WCC does. It got a number of concessions from the WCC the last time it flirted with the MW, including a larger cut of its future NCAA Tournament units. I doubt the MW would allow that. I don't think Gonzaga will be joining the MW, although it would be huge for the conference to land the Bulldogs.

I've been on the record from the start of the season saying this year's Nevada basketball team will be better than next year's team, although I don't expect a massive step down next season. A lot depends on Jalen Harris's future. Does he grad transfer? Does he go pro? Does he return to Nevada? Even if he stays for his senior season, you're losing three starters in Jazz Johnson, Lindsey Drew and Johncarlos Reyes. The Wolf Pack should be better in the frontcourt with Oregon State transfer Warren Washington becoming eligible, with youngsters Zane Meeks, K.J. Hymes and Robby Robinson being a year older and with the addition to DeAndre Henry. But the backcourt isn't going to be as good without Johnson and Drew, who are super vets as a productive fifth-year seniors. Brown transfer Desmond Cambridge will give Nevada a boost with his athleticism and competitiveness, but the rest of the backcourt/wings will be young. Nevada should be a roughly 18- to 20-win team again next season, depending on Harris' future and the difficulty of the non-conference season (it was pretty tough this year). In terms of getting to "San Diego State levels of success," I don't expect the Wolf Pack to be a top-five team in the nation under Coach Alford. That's a lot to ask for. But I do expect Nevada to win some MW titles and earn some NCAA Tournament berths in the next half decade. Coach Alford has largely gone with high school players (seven of his 11 signees so far have been prep kids), so it's more of a long-term build rather than a quick turnaround build on transfer ala Eric Musselman.

That Kane Milling caught me by surprise. It came out of nowhere. As for Nevada's coaching staff, I have touched bases with the team and graduate assistant Roman Martinez is the only person on staff who is a verified dunker, which makes sense because he's 6-foot-6 and was playing for New Mexico as recently as 2010. Assistant coach Bil Duany, who is 6-7, could dunk if not for a balky knee. That's it. The more interesting contest would be a 3-point shootout, which would probably come down to Steve Alford against his son, Kory. We should do a video segment on that in the offseason.

People put way too much stock into silly things like this. The assumption is Coach Alford only cares about the result if he throws a tantrum on the sideline? Former Nevada football coach Brian Polian was criticized for such displays. Now Alford draws some heat for not doing so? I can tell you Coach Alford is as competitive as they come and wants to win. Does he have a different personality than Coach Musselman? Yes, he does. Everybody is different. But I wouldn't draw a correlation between commitment to team and sideline behavior. Maybe he's more worried about coaching than getting red faced on the bench.

Jazz Johnson, who missed Saturday's game with a shoulder injury, is scheduled to get some tests done Monday, which will give Nevada more information. He tweaked his shoulder, which has been surgical repaired twice, by swiping down on a block against Colorado State on Wednesday and it didn't feel right leading into the Boise State contest, so Nevada took the precautionary path. I don't think it will be a long-term issue. Johnson missed one game last season (against South Dakota State) after tweaking his shoulder against Grand Canyon after running into a screen. It's worth noting Johnson was shooting 55.6 percent from three prior to missing that game and 41.1 percent from three after, so he clearly didn't get back to 100 percent (he had surgery after the season). For Nevada's sake, hopefully this latest tweak doesn't impact him as much as last year's tweak. Nevada needs a 100 percent Jazz Johnson to win the Mountain West Tournament. I imagine Johnson will be back for Saturday's San Jose State game if not for the Air Force game Tuesday. It shouldn't be a long-term thing.

Yep. It is Johnson's left shoulder. He had surgery on it his first season at Nevada (his redshirt year) and again last offseason.

If Nevada plays UNLV in the Mountain West Tournament at Thomas & Mack, it is technically considered a road game. That's happened twice so far since the Wolf Pack moved to the conference in 2012. Nevada has definitely had its issues on the road this season (it is 1-7 there), but I don't believe that will have much of an impact on how the Wolf Pack plays in the MW Tournament. If Nevada hits its threes, it will play great. If it doesn't, it will play poorly. That's just how this team is constructed this year. It must hit threes to win games. Nevada is shooting 41.8 percent from three in wins and 34.5 percent from three in losses.

Make a lot of 3-pointers. That's it. That's the answer.

Nevada getting swept last week on the road at Colorado State and Boise State was not ideal for the Wolf Pack's Mountain West Tournament seeding, but the team is still in good shape. The losses dropped Nevada into a tie for fifth in the standings, although the Wolf Pack would be the tournament's sixth seed (so no bye). But Nevada should win both of its games this week: at home against Air Force and San Jose State. If it doesn't, then it would be time to panic in terms of seeding. There are six teams fighting for the last four tournament byes, and as I said last week, I think New Mexico and UNLV will come up short. The fifth bye will likely go to a 10-8 MW team that wins the tiebreaker. An 11-7 record should easily get you a bye. A 12-6 record should get you a top-three seed, thus avoiding San Diego State until a potential MW championship game. Nevada would have to go 6-1 in its final seven games to finish 12-6, which isn't impossible given it gets to play San Jose State, Wyoming, Air Force and Fresno State once each. But Nevada also could go 5-2 over its final seven and get a top-three seed thanks to tiebreakers. Bottom line is Nevada needs to win some games on the road (it has three remaining at Wyoming, UNLV and New Mexico) if it is going to get a top-three seed. I'd be surprised if Nevada doesn't, at minimum, get a first-round bye given how light its final seven games are (only one game left against SDSU, Colorado State, Boise State and Utah State).

The full recap:

* Defensive coordinator: Jeff Casteel (fired) to Brian Ward

* Cornerbacks: David Lockwood (fired) to Freddie Banks

* Safeties: Mike Chamoures (fired) to Ronnie Wheat

* Offensive line: Angus McClure (left for Cal) to Bill Best

* Special teams: Tommy Perry (left for UTSA) to Thomas Sheffield

The biggest thing that stands out to me is experience. Nevada's five departed coaches have a combined 70 years of experience as full-time FBS assistant coaches. Nevada's five new coaches have a combined seven years of experience as full-time FBS assistant coaches. That's a gigantic difference. I'm not saying it's good or bad. Sometimes fresh blood is good. Sometimes getting younger coaches who are more relatable to college-aged kids is good. Sometimes getting a more modern-thinking group of assistants is good. But that's a massive difference, and I can't imagine it's an upgrade for the 2020 season, especially with some scheme changes being required after the moves. Money obviously is a factor here, and I do like when coaches try and find talented up-and-comers rather than "retreads," but experience also matters.


Our friend, Gabe, has a lot of recruiting questions, so I will talk generally about Nevada's recruiting rather than break down the recruitment of a high school freshman like Isaac Hymes (brother of K.J.), who is a class of 2023 recruit (I have no idea what will be going on in 2023). And Makur Maker is a top-15 recruit, so I doubt he's coming to Nevada, and I don't really care where he goes if not the Wolf Pack. But, as I wrote last month, Nevada is interested in Shareef O'Neal. And while landing him would be a positive development, it also would limit Nevada's 2021 and 2022 recruiting classes. If the Wolf Pack uses its last 2020 scholarship on O'Neal, it would leave Nevada with just one scholarship to use in 2021 and two to use in 2022. That's not a lot of flexibility. Using the last 2020 scholarship on a graduate transfer makes more sense so you have some instant impact on the 2020-21 roster plus two scholarship in 2021 and two more in 2022, those two classes being ones Nevada has spent a lot of time on. The Wolf Pack could "part ways" with players to free up more scholarships (it's not illegal but is kind of shady), but Nevada's future roster is pretty set after signing seven high school players in the last two classes.

My Mount Rushmore of NBA players is as follows:

* LeBron James (best basketball player ever)

* Michael Jordan

* Wilt Chamberlain

* Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Honorable mentions for Magic Johnson (fifth on my list), Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, Oscar Robertson and Kobe Bryant. And Giannis is coming.

As for the greatest Laker ever, it'd not Abdul-Jabbar or Chamberlain even though they're on my Mt. Rushmore. I only consider their play while on the Lakers, so it's either Magic or Kobe. I'll take Kobe because of longevity. For my Mt. Rushmore, I'm simply considering how good they were at basketball. For greatest Laker ever, I'm considering everything they did in a Lakers uniform. Kobe played 1,346 games to Magic's 906. Kobe played 440 more games. That's nearly 33 percent more games. They both won five titles, so push there. And as much as people in L.A. love Magic, the city's love for Kobe is even greater and the tragic manner in which he and his daughter died will lift him into an even high stratosphere. But it's pretty crazy eight of the top-15 players in NBA history played for the Lakers at some point (Wilt, Magic, Kareem, Kobe, Shaq, West, Baylor, LeBron).

1. 100-meter dash (not as fun with Usain Bolt)

2. Table tennis (damn they're good)

3. Women's gymnastics (the figure skating for the Summer Games)

4. 400-meter IM swimming (most fun swimming event)

5. Diving (ballet in air)

6. Archery (so many bulls-eyes)

7. Cyclocross (gritty event)

8. Handball (seems like a made-up game you'd play in P.E. during middle school so your P.E. teacher could sleep off a bender)

9. Water polo (much more ruthless than you'd expect)

10. Beach volleyball (I like volleyball)

I'll start with the second question first. Lamar Jackson is the ninth player to win the Heisman Trophy and NFL MVP. The others are Frank Sinkwich (won MVP in 1944), Paul Hornung (1961), Roger Staubach (1971), O.J. Simpson (1973), Earl Campbell (1979), Marcus Allen (1985), Barry Sanders (1997) and Cam Newton (2015). Sinkwich won the Heisman Trophy in 1942 and the MVP in 1944 and Campbell won the Heisman Trophy in 1977 and the MVP in 1979, so their two-year turnarounds are one year better than Jackson's three-year turnaround (2016 to 2019). But this is the first time an NFL MVP has been younger than the Heisman Trophy winner (Jackson is one month younger than LSU's Joe Burrow). So Jackson goes 50-50 on these honors.

I'd put good money on him staying with New England. Feels like Brady just wants to soak in some love and adulation before returning to the Patriots. Ultimately, New England owner Robert Kraft runs the show you know he's always looking for a happy ending, so he's not going to let Brady leave town to end his career. If Brady were to head elsewhere, the Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans make way more sense than the Las Vegas Raiders. But it is my belief Brady retires a Patriot, as it should be.

I was thinking about recruiting and college football the other day and came to the conclusion player development is more important than recruiting at the Group of 5 level whereas recruiting is more important than player development at the Power 5 level. Look at Chris Ault's teams at Nevada. This is from something I wrote in 2016:

Former Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault had nine recruiting classes in his third tenure. Those classes produced 19 NFL players. He had at least one pro every recruiting class from 2005-2010. His 2006-09 classes produced 17 NFL players. Here’s where those classes were ranked nationally: 82nd, 105th, 109th and 108th. Their average ranking in the WAC was sixth out of nine teams. During Ault’s nine classes from 2004-12, he landed 24 three-star recruits. Only two reached the NFL. The rest of those future pros (17 of them) were two-star recruits (or worse) who basically nobody wanted.

This was before every prospect was listed at three stars, which is what happens now. But the only three-star recruits who became NFL players under Ault were Colin Kaepernick (who literally had one FBS scholarship offer) and Josh Mauga, a local kid who decided to stay at home. At the Group of 5 level, it is so much more about player development and scheme than recruiting over the top of your competition. Boise State will always have an edge there because of its tradition, fan base, facilities, etc. But look at high-end draft-pick quarterbacks like Kaepernick, Josh Allen (Wyoming) and Jordan Love (Utah State). They had a combined four FBS offers. I don't put much stock into ranking recruiting classes or prospects on or around signing day.

Nate Burleson was the keynote speaker at the 2017 Governor's Dinner, he spoke to the Nevada football team after a win in 2016 and he came back to Reno in 2012 when he was inducted into the Wolf Pack's Hall of Fame. Among former Nevada athletes, Burleson has one of the stronger connections to the current administration. He met his wife at the school (she ran track for Nevada) and his younger brother, Lyndale, played basketball for the Wolf Pack, so the ties run deep. He gives Nevada mentions on his social media and on television pretty regularly. He had a great NFL career (top five among Nevada alums) and has had a successful clothing line (Lionblood) and media career (on CBS' pre-game show) since he retired. I wouldn't be shocked if he gave Nevada a big donation at some point.

Ken Rosenthal, who knows the inside workings of baseball better than anybody, said Mookie Betts will most likely be traded Monday or Tuesday, and it sounds like it will be to the Dodgers because the Padres want to drop Wil Myers' crap contract on Boston, and that makes no sense. It just depends on whether the deal will be for Betts alone or if he will come with David Price. My guess is the Dodgers give up Alex Verdugo, Keibert Ruiz and a lower-level prospect for Betts and Price with Boston eating $25 million of his remaining deal. Rosenthal has been strong in his belief Betts is getting dealt. "This going to happen," he said. "Mookie Betts is going to be traded. It just depends when and where." Shame on Boston's owners for being so cheap.

The Associated Press puts the names of all the sports writers in the nation on pieces of paper and picks 65 out of a hat to vote in the college football and basketball polls. Just so happens my name has been picked for both sports every year since 2012. I'm lucky, I guess.

(Actually, the AP tries to have at least one voter from every state, so I have received the Silver State vote each of the last eight seasons, edging writers from the Elko Free Press, Pahrump Valley Times and Tonopah Times-Bonanza and Goldfield News).

Bobbleheads. There are few things better than a good bobblehead.

This year's show was pretty ideal. If Shakira was a U.S. citizen, I would vote for her as president.

The Reno Events Center, which opened in 2005, definitely stripped Lawlor Events Center of most of its concerts. I have noticed Boise tends to get better concerts than Reno, but I'm not sure it's because of the quality of Reno Events Center. I've seen a few shows there and it seems fine, if not great. I would guess the location of Reno has more to do with it. With Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose all within close proximity to Reno and with bigger populations, they get the bigger acts. There's nothing close to Boise, so it makes sense to have tour stops there. That being said, the GSR has gotten much better acts since renovating the Grand Theatre and also has lured some big names to LEX, so the gap in quality of acts coming to Boise and Reno has narrowed. The Nugget's new amphitheater should improve the caliber of act coming to Northern Nevada, too, although it hasn't done much on that front yet.

I'll take seven-layer bean dip with some Fritos.

If Clark Hunt doesn't have the ear plugs in for medical issues, there is no excuse for that. The Super Bowl is not known for its raucous environments, so I'd agree that's weak. But there are plenty of reasons to hate the Chiefs already, namely the presence of Tyreek Hill and Frank Clark, not to mention the fans' tomahawk chop, which is insensitive at beast and outright racist at worst.

It makes more sense to simply move it to Saturday, but that won't happen because of competition from college basketball and the NBA. It has to be awful to live on the East Coast and have the game start at 6:30 p.m. Why not at least kick it off earlier in the day? It all comes down to eyes on the screen, so I don't expect any changes, but wouldn't a 3 p.m. Eastern time (noon Pacific) make more sense if we're keeping the game on Sunday? I've seen suggestions of moving President's Day up to the Monday after the Super Bowl, but do people who don't work for the government/state actually get that day off to start?

Besides being very nice, the thing that separates Joe from your average anchor is he also does a lot of good and important reporting. That's not true of most anchors, who have a lot of responsibilities outside of reporting. But Joe is different because he does double duty in terms of being an anchor (the best in Northern Nevada) and doing his own reporting work on top of that. He could easily take the easier path and just anchor, but he puts in the extra hours. There's a reason he's the most trusted news voice in Northern Nevada.

I'm not a big commerical guy, but I'll take McDonald's Jordan vs. Bird commercial from 1993. Here's that commercial. (The "Jordan vs. Bird: One on One" Nintendo game released in 1988 is pretty sweet, too).


My pre-game prediction wasn't too far off.


I honestly feel a little bad for 49ers fans. It must sting to be up double-digits with 8 minutes to play and then lose by double-digits. I can relate given the Dodgers' latest playoff collapse. So I will not be rubbing it in here.

How did we get to this place where people think the Kansas City Chiefs play their games in Kansas? Also, I though the Superbowl was a homerun this year. Great game and great halftime show.

As for My Friend Hugh Tomasello, he has had a rough start to 2020 with his Clemson Tigers and San Francisco 49ers losing the big game. But My Friend Hugh also accepted my bet last week on this year's Super Bowl and is a man of his word, so he must change his Twitter profile picture to himself wearing a Dodgers hat while holding one of my Dodgers bobbleheads (he has chosen Matt Kemp). I am throwing in my autographed Matt Kemp jersey for him to wear in the picture. And My Friend Hugh must keep that as his Twitter profile picture from this year's MLB regular-season opener until the Dodgers are eliminated from the playoffs, so we're talking seven months of a Giants fan having a Twitter pic in a Dodger hat holding a Dodger bobblehead wearing a Dodger jersey. I hope to hear from him a lot over the next several months so I get to see that picture often. Thank you, Patrick Mahomes! And see y'all next week!

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