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Murray's Mailbag: Will Nevada football or basketball be ranked higher this year?

Kameron Toomer
Kameron Toomer and the Wolf Pack have a challenging start to the season that could lift the team into the Top 25 or crush those aspirations. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

I've come to the realization I'm a professional (and unpaid) youth soccer coach. After The Teal Pirates' season came to a close Saturday with its end-of-the-year pizza party, another team I coach, the Red Lava Cobras, began its season on Sunday. No rest for the weary. But it's all in good fun seeing my 7U teams run around and get some good exercise in while hopefully improving their soccer skills. So we'll power through this season with Lava Cobras and hopefully finish with an above-.500 record for the second straight season. I got a couple of Monday Mailbag questions this week on the Lava Cobras, but we start with a hypothetical on the Nevada football and men's basketball teams. Let's get to your questions. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

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While neither team is guaranteed a spot in the Top 25 at any stage this season, I do expect the Nevada football and basketball teams to each get limited votes in the preseason Top 25 polls, which would officially put them in the "rankings" among the "others receiving votes" category. And they should both start around the same spot (45th or so in the nation) in that regard, so it should be a fair fight in terms of a starting point.

We should have the answer to your question one month after the start of the football season as Nevada opens the year at Cal, vs. Idaho State, at Kansas State and at Boise State. You can toss out that Idaho State game — although the Wolf Pack did lose to the Bengals in 2017 — but the three other games (at Cal, at Kansas State, at Boise State) are Nevada's three most difficult in 2021. ESPN's SP+ gives Nevada a 23 percent chance of winning at Boise State, a 31 percent chance of winning at Cal and a 36 percent chance of winning at Kansas State. Those are the three lowest-odds win percentages of the season for Nevada. If the Wolf Pack gets through that gauntlet undefeated, it will be ranked. If it gets through at 3-1, it has a good chance of reeling off a series of wins (Nevada plays New Mexico State, Hawaii, Fresno State, UNLV after its first four contests) and pushing into the Top 25 at 7-1. A lot hinges on that initial four-game stretch because those are Nevada's marquee games in terms of getting into the Top 25 given two are against Power 5 opponents and three are on the road.

In terms of Nevada basketball, I'd like to see a full schedule before weighing on the Wolf Pack's odds of getting into the Top 25. Obviously a lot depends on the team's record, but having some meaty non-league games to make some noise helps, too. Given where I expect the Wolf Pack to start the season (around 45th in the nation in the preseason poll), it's probably going to take a 10-0 start or something similar to get Nevada into the Top 25. For example, Boise State started 13-1 last season and that only got the Broncos to first among "others receiving votes," ostensibly No. 26 in the nation. Nevada might start a little higher in the preseason rankings than Boise State did last year, but it must be close to flawless for the first seven or eight weeks of the season to get into the Top 25.

Given the difference in what will be required by both to reach the Top 25 — Nevada football just has to start 3-0, maybe 4-0 while Nevada basketball might have to go 10-0 — I'll put my money on the Wolf Pack football team being ranked higher that Nevada basketball during the 2021-22 season. But that could go out the window quickly based on how the team's first month plays out. It will be sink-or-swim time right out of the gate for Nevada football. Also, Wolf Pack football has more NFL talent than Nevada basketball has NBA talent on its roster, so I'll take the upside play and put my (hypothetical) money on the football team.

I don't profess to be a global expert on the 3-meter women's dive, but Krysta Palmer and her partner, Alison Gibson, are doing a 3.4 degree of difficulty dive that no other female synchro team has on their list. So that pair has an exceptionally high scoring ceiling. They finished 10th at the 2019 world championships but have improved since then, so they'll be favorites to reach the medal stand. Individually, Palmer was excellent at the U.S. Olympic trials, so she could be a medalist there as well, although it will be easier to bring home a gold in the synchro. A Chinese diver has won the last eight gold medals in the 3-meter dive, a streak that dates to 1984. Shi Tingmao, who won gold in 2016, is the favorite in Tokyo. Tingmao has won 45 World Series and World Cup titles and is undefeated in major international competition since 2013 at the individual level (her and synchro partner Wang Han did lose two Chinese Olympic trial events). Tingmao is the huge favorite to win the 3-meter individual gold, but I could see Palmer winning gold in the synchro.

Ranked from the Mountain West mascots I'd most want to fight to those I'd least want to fight.

1. Bulldogs (But I'd prefer not to hurt a dog)

2. Aggies (I've never been cow tipping before, but this is better than fighting wolves)

3. Rebels (As long as he/she doesn't have a gun)

4. Broncos (I just have to avoid getting directly behind the bucking bronco)

5. Cowboys (Cowboys are tough, but not as tough as rabid animals)

6. Aztecs (I'd lose this fight quickly)

7. Spartans (I'd lose this fight even quicker)

8. Rams (I've always wanted to see a bighorn sheep, so I guess I'd accomplish that if one killed me)

9. Falcons (A peregrine falcon can fly 240 miles per hour, so basically it could punch a hole through my stomach)

10. Lobos (If Liam Neeson can defeat a pack of wolves, maybe I could, too)

11. Wolf Pack (On second thought, no I could not defeat a pack of wolves)

So, if players had infinite eligibility, could never leave for the NFL and you could cut the non-productive players for their roster spots? Nevada should be able to build a national title contender within a decade. I mean, you'd have a 30-year-old Carson Strong leading your team against a bunch of teenagers on the other side of the ball. Plus, the continuity of that group playing together year in and year out would be big, too. So I'd say less than 10 years until Nevada won the national title.

Don't blame me. I picked the A's to win the AL West in my preseason MLB predictions, writing, "The Astros have largely run this division but their pitching staff is weak, and I've learned over the years to never underestimate the A's." I'm a big believer in the A's, although there are far more Giants and Dodgers fans in Reno/Sparks than A's fans, which is probably why they get so little pub compared to the other two.

I'd take the American League East, which has four playoff-caliber teams in the Rays, Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays as well as the sad-sack Orioles. The National League West might have the NL's three best teams (Dodgers, Padres, Giants), but the Rockies are horrendous and the Diamondbacks are on pace to win 44 games (with 118 losses). Just 44 wins! Those anchors have to count (negatively) for something.

They'd be even worse than the Diamondbacks. If the D'Backs are on pace for a 44-118 season, the Aces would be, like, 30-132. There's a reason they're a Triple-A version of the Diamondbacks. If those players could win big-league games right now, they're be on the big-league roster. Kevin Cron hit .331 with a 1.226 OPS and 38 homers in 82 games in Reno in 2019 and was a .170 hitter in 47 games in the big leagues. It's a big jump in talent level.

They would dominate. Nevada went 25-20 this season. The Aces, playing the same schedule, would go something like 43-2 with an average margin of victory being 10-plus runs per game. It would win the national title easily. Vanderbilt is loaded and has two aces in Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, but they're not stopping a Triple-A team from destroying the college level. Imagine giving Triple-A hitters an aluminum bat. The damage would be immense.

You being able to purchase NCAA Tournament tickets before the Carano family under the current Wolf Pack points system is more likely. Nevada could run the table this season, going 13-0 with road wins over Boise State, Cal, Kansas State, San Diego State and Fresno State. The SEC champion could be 10-3. And that SEC team would still be higher ranked in the College Football Playoffs. And Alabama isn't ever going 10-3 under Nick Saban. That's only happened once in the last 13 years, and it came way back in 2010 when Saban was just building the program.

It depends what you mean by "best baseball player." On pure baseball ability, Mike Trout is better than Babe Ruth. If you dropped Ruth into the modern game, he wouldn't have a career 1.002 OPS (like Trout) while playing above-average defense against the current level of competition. Pitchers regularly throw upper-90s now. Ruth was probably facing guys topping out at 85 miles per hour who were forced to pitch the entire game. There were no bullpens back then. But if you're comparing them against league average during their careers, I could still see the argument for Trout as the best player since Ruth. Trout has a career OPS+ of 176. That ranks seventh in MLB history behind Ruth (206), Ted Williams (191), Oscar Charleston (184), Barry Bonds (182), Lou Gehrig (179) and Turkey Stearnes (177). So you could pick Williams, but he was a poor defender, or Bonds (that's who I'd pick despite the steroids), but Trout is a reasonable answer. It's also worth mentioning what Shohei Ohtani is doing right now is insane. He has a 166 OPS+ and 169 ERA+. That's unprecedented. Ruth didn't even do that. His ERA+ topped out at 158 in his best season.

A soccer team.

I'm guessing (a) You were the one doing the heckling and (b) the person who picked Greg Bird as a prospect in a fantasy baseball keeper league doesn't win the title very often.

My top-five Antoine Fuqua projects are:

5. Shooter

4. Music video for All 4 One's "Someday"

3. Pirelli Tires commercial titled "The Call" featuring Naomi Campbell and John Malkovich

2. Music video for Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise"

1. Training Day

Training Day was great, but Fuqua's films have mostly been so-so. And The Magnificent Seven is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. He deserves much blame for that. But I haven't seen Southpaw, so maybe I should check that out.

I don't think the A's are moving to Las Vegas. I think that's a bluff to get a better deal in Oakland. Vegas just had its taxpayers foot the bill for an unpopular stadium. Would it do that again less than five years later to land an MLB team? Probably because politicians do whatever they want with no consequences. But I'm not sure there's the appetite for another $750 million taxpayer handout with such a short turnaround. My money is on the A's staying in Oakland even though that city has staunchly and smartly rebuked paying for playhouses for billionaires.

Why is Reno in the "Truckee Meadows" — shouldn't it be called Truckee? — and why is Truckee in "Nevada County" even though it's in California? Nobody has answers for any of these things. These are all artificial names made up by humans, and humans rarely make sense.

Good guess because the Red Lava Cobras' post-game snacks Sunday did include an orange and a Capri Sun, among other items. I'm in charge of snacks this weekend and typically go Gatorade, some kind of fruit, Oreos, Gushers/fruit snacks and Otter Pops, so as unhealthy as I can possibly make it.

My coaching style is to tell all of the players to bunch around the ball and wildly kick at it since that's what they're going to do regardless of what I tell them. So far, it's been an OK strategy. But I admit I could probably improve upon that style of play.

I didn't get to pick the team color of team name (we're technically the Cobras but my son wanted to add Lava to the name), so perhaps shifting from teal to red is the reason we lost our season opener, 9-5 (against a team that was teal, which I didn't realize until just now). I blame the loss on myself as I tried to sub out my goalie with the game tied 2-2 but the referee let the opposing team (the Wildcats) start from the center circle as one goalie was taking off his jersey to give to his replacement. As they were making the jersey switch, a ball slowly trickled between them into the net. We went down 3-2 and never led again.

Our star offensive player Sunday, Juda, gave me an invoice after the game for $4 since he scored four goals. Apparently, his last coach paid him $1 per goal. I notified Juda that I am cheap and will not be paying him for goals this season. Instead, I told him I will throw an end-of-the-season party replete with free pizzas, root beer floats and a water balloon fight. He excitedly said that will suffice as payment for his copious goals scored this season. So it's a win-win — I get goals, he gets pizza, root beer and water balloons and hopefully we get some wins along the way as long as I don't choose to switch my goalies in the middle of play moving forward.

See y'all next week!

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

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