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Murray's Mailbag: How would Nevada football fare against every Pac-12 school?

Carson Strong
Carson Strong and Nevada went 1-0 against the Pac-12 this season. But what if the Wolf Pack played a full season against the conference? (Nevada athletics)

No time for a witty comment to start this week's Monday Mailbag, so let's jump straight to your questions. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

I'll go in alphabetical order.

Arizona: Beat 35-17. Arizona lost to FCS school Northern Arizona and might be the worst Power 5 team in the nation. Nevada record: 1-0

Arizona State: Lose to 31-24. ASU did lose to BYU, which lost to Boise State, which lost to Nevada. But the Sun Devils are a solid Top 25 team. Nevada: 1-1

Cal: Beat 22-17. Considering this game already happened, I'll just use the actual score from the game. Nevada record: 2-1

Colorado: Beat 30-14. Colorado has averaged just 8.5 points per game against FBS competition this season. Nevada record: 3-1

Oregon: Lose to 42-24. Oregon is a top-10 program, and Nevada has beat only one top-10 program in its history (No. 3 Boise State in 2010). Nevada record: 3-2

Oregon State: Beat 30-28. The Beavers have a solid program that is 4-2 overall, 2-1 in the Pac-12, so this is a coin flip. Nevada record: 4-2

Stanford: Beat 28-27: Both teams lost to Kansas State by similar figures. This is another coin flip we will give to Nevada. Nevada record: 5-2

UCLA: Lose to 40-35: The Bruins have been up and down this season, but UCLA's offense would probably have a lot of success in this one. Nevada record: 5-3

Utah: Lose to 28-24: This is another coin-flip game, and I gave the first two coin flips to Nevada, so this one goes to the Pac-12 and the Utes. Nevada record: 5-4

USC: Lose to 35-31: The Trojans generally underachieve, but I think USC QB Kedon Slovis would have a big game against Nevada. Nevada record: 5-5

Washington: Beat 30-20: A preseason Top 25 team, Washington has been in disarray since a season-opening loss to Montana. Nevada record: 6-5

Washington State: Beat 35-31: Nick Rolovich's squad lost to Utah State to start the season, and Nevada is better than Utah State. Nevada record: 7-5

So I'm predicting a 7-5 record against Pac-12 schools, although I could be overestimating Nevada. The Wolf Pack squeezed out a close win at Cal, which is probably the second-worst team Pac-12 ahead of only Arizona. But I'm giving Nevada the benefit of the doubt since it was a season opener and the Wolf Pack had an unusual fall camp due to the wildfire smoke in Northern Nevada. I'm projecting Nevada as a slightly-above-average Pac-12 school.

1. Carson Strong, Nevada

2. Malik Willis, Liberty

3. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

4. Matt Corral, Mississippi

5. Sam Howell, North Carolina

It's a weak draft for quarterbacks, which should push Strong up draft boards (and I'm high on him to start with). I would not be surprised if Strong is the first quarterback off the board, although this could be a rare year without a quarterback going top 10 in the draft. It depends on which teams land where and whether they have a pressing quarterback need.

My No. 1 Halloween movie is, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," which scared me as a child and still freaks me out today. I'd also put "Casper," "The Addams Family," "Hocus Pocus" and "Ghostbusters" in the top five if those are Halloween movies. Is "Get Out" a Halloween movie? "A Quiet Place?" "Scream?" I don't exactly know what a "Halloween movie" is. I do know "The Witches," which is on some lists of Halloween movies, is the worst movie I've ever seen. Anne Hathaway is better than that.

Finally, while I do not like Candy Corn (I'll eat one or two and stop), it's far more popular than you'd think. More on that later in the Mailbag.

Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest 2022 draft position rankings at quarterback go as follows:

1. Malik Willis, Liberty

2. Matt Corral, Ole Miss

3. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma

4. Sam Howell, North Carolina

5. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

6. Kenny Pickett, Pitt

7. Carson Strong, Nevada

8. Tanner McKee, Stanford

9. Jayden Daniels, Arizona State

10a. Kedon Slovis, USC

10b. Phil Jurkovec, Boston College

I don't know how anybody could rank Rattler ahead of Strong at this stage. Rattler has taken a big step back this season. Kiper is lower on Strong than most analysts, but I think he'll rise in those rankings moving forward. Most of Strong's damage this season has come against Idaho State/New Mexico State (758 yards and 10 touchdowns in those two games compared to 837 yards and four touchdowns in the Wolf Pack's three other games), but he's had a number of fantastic throws against the stiffer competition. I believe I was the first to say Strong would be a first-round draft pick more than a year ago, and I'm not changing my opinion on that.

Nevada is currently getting zero AP Top 25 votes and has seven points in the coaches poll, so it's going to take at least two more weeks before there's a viable path for Nevada to get into the Top 25, and it will probably take longer than that. Maybe if the Wolf Pack beats Hawaii, Fresno State and UNLV in the next three weeks. That would put Nevada at 7-1, but it's worth noting the Wolf Pack's overall résumé isn't strong at this stage. Nevada has beaten Cal (1-4, including 0-4 against FBS schools), New Mexico State (1-6, including 0-6 against FBS schools), Idaho State (1-4, including 0-1 against FBS schools), Boise State (3-3) and Kansas State (3-2, including 2-2 against FBS schools). So from a ranking standpoint, you're looking at four wins for Nevada against teams that are a combined 6-17, including 3-14 against FBS foes. Obviously you can only play who is on the schedule, but as a Top 25 voter myself, I'd need to see a little more résumé before ranking a team like that. So it's probably early November before Nevada gets into the Top 25 even if it keeps ripping off wins.

It certainly doesn't hurt Nevada's résumé, and it makes the Wolf Pack's win on the blue turf more impressive, but the team got zero AP Top 25 votes this week, so voters want to see more before calling Nevada a Top 25 team.

Yes, and I don't think you can make an argument for any other set of receivers, although the 2010 team did have three pass-catchers reach the NFL (Rishard Matthews, Virgil Green and Zach Sudfeld in addition to Brandon Wimberly making training camp). This year's group has two guys who will for sure play in the NFL (Romeo Doubs, Cole Turner), two more who have a chance (Elijah Cooks, Tory Horton) and a cast of other solid college players (Melquan Stovall, Justin Lockhart, Harry Ballard III). Nevada's top two wideouts didn't play against New Mexico State, and the Wolf Pack still threw for 463 yards. Yes, you must account for quality of competition and the fact the Wolf Pack throws the ball a lot, but this is the Wolf Pack's best set of receivers/tight ends ever. (The Damond Wilkins, Geoff Noisy, Trevor Insley trio in 1996 was pretty nice, too).

Coach Norvell said at his weekly press conference that Romeo Doubs has a lower-body injury but he expects him to play this week against Hawaii, although that'd not a sure thing. He could have played against New Mexico State if needed, Norvell said, but he clearly was not needed as Nevada still threw for 463 yards and six touchdowns without him. I believe I even caught a touchdown pass in the win.

I had the same impression, that he was quicker than you'd expect from a quarterback who is 6-foot-9. In terms of the wildcat, you're looking for a few inches on those plays. It's more about getting the grimmy yards than explosive plays, so you want a fullback-like player in Devonte Lee or a more experienced runner to find the holes like Toa Taua. Cox is on the field in those situations, albeit lined up at receiver, and there are some plays designed to allow him (or others) to throw the ball out of the wildcat formation, although it's been a while since Nevada has done that. So I don't have an issue with Lee or Taua being the "wildcat quarterback."

In terms of Cox's eligibility, while he's listed as a senior, he has the option of returning next season because last year's COVID-19 season didn't count against eligibility. Cox spent two seasons at Louisiana Tech (only one counted toward eligibility), one year at junior college and now two seasons at Nevada (only one counted against eligibility). Cox technically has two years of eligibility left after this year, so he should be in the mix for Nevada's 2022 starting job, assuming Carson Strong turns pro, which is a fair assumption.

I've been able to watch them in practice over the last two months, and I think Nate Cox would be able to move the ball fine if he was pushing into full-time action. He'd be a solid quarterback. And I think Clay Millen will be All-Mountain West one day, if not better. I wouldn't be shocked if he made it to the NFL. He has huge potential, and Nevada being able to develop a little-known prospect like Carson Strong into a potential first-round pick enabled it to sign a quarterback the caliber of Millen, who was a four-star prospect and the highest-ranked player to ever sign with Nevada in football.

Nate Cox = 60 percent: The veteran backup usually gets first crack when the superstar leaves (see senior Tyler Lantrip over redshirt freshman Cody Fajardo in 2011 post-Colin Kaepernick).

Clay Millen = 39 percent: The talented freshman usually beats out the veteran backup over time (see Fajardo over Lantrip a few games in the 2011 season).

Carson Strong = 1 percent: Something would have to go terribly wrong.

ESPN's Football Power Index, which is not the end-all, be-all, ranks the Wolf Pack offense 36th in the nation, the Nevada defense 74th in the nation and the Wolf Pack's special teams 13th in the nation. Football Outsiders' advanced metrics also have the Nevada offense ranked far better than the defense. The Wolf Pack's defensive line has been outstanding in rushing the quarterback, but questions remain about the overall strength of the secondary against quality passing teams (see Fresno State) and its ability to stop good running teams (see San Diego State and Air Force). So I don't know about "sneaky suprize" — and, in fact, I have no idea what that means — but the Wolf Pack's MW title game hopes will hinge on how that defense plays in those three specific games outlined above. The unit must hold up against that kind of top-flight competition.

And I'll take baked beans over black beans and black-eyed peas. That's an easy one. I love baked beans despite the repercussions that result from a bowel standpoint.

The unit ranks 76th in the nation in team pass efficiency defense, and that's while only playing one above-average passing team (Boise State, which passed for 388 yards and four touchdowns). I believe the secondary is the weakest part of Nevada's team, but the Wolf Pack only plays one good passing team the rest of the season (Fresno State). I'd put Hawaii in that category if I knew Chevan Cordeiro was going to play this weekend, but the Rainbow Warriors have been mum on that after Cordeiro missed the team's last game two weeks ago (Hawaii was on a bye last week). It's a good thing Nevada leads the nation in sacks because one way to help cover for an iffy secondary is hassling the quarterback, which this defensive line seems more than capable of doing on a weekly basis.

And Nebraska is both average and unlucky, which is a bad combination that could get Scott Frost fired considering he's 15-24 overall and 10-20 in the Big Ten as the Cornhuskers' head coach. The season-opening loss to Illinois is hard to explain, but Nebraska's three other losses (Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma) are against teams that are a combined 18-0 and have come by just 13 points. Nebraska is certainly better than previous years but not good enough for a Cornhuskers fan base that expects more.

Almost no coach takes the ball on the opening possession if they win the coin flip because they want the ball to start the second half, and the rationale I've seen most is it comes down to teams getting the chance to score at the end of the first half and score again to start the second half. It's the only chance you get, barring an onside kick, to get two straight possessions in a football game. Barring something unusual, I would defer as well. I'd want the extra second-half possession. I would also like to point out I got a Mailbag question last week asking how Nevada fared on its first possession of the game. I broke that down here and noted on NSN Daily that Nevada had never had a turnover on its first possession on Jay Norvell. I then predicted Nevada would turn the ball over on its first possession against New Mexico State because I brought up that stat (proof here). As it turns out, Carson Strong threw an interception on Nevada's first possession of the game. So I'll take the bullet for that one. I jinxed the Pack.

Nevada's points by quarter this season:

First: 34

Second: 58

Third: 65

Fourth: 27

Part of that is the fact Nevada has had the game's first possession only twice this season, and it has scored a touchdown on that drive both times (against Idaho State and Boise State). But I would agree Nevada has started a little sluggish in the first half, on both sides of the ball. The Wolf Pack is plus-100 combined in the second and third quarters this season and minus-15 in the first quarter and minus-25 in the fourth quarter. If Nevada knew the reasoning behind the slow starts, it would fix it (I wrote about what Nevada was trying to do to fix that here). But a little more tempo out of the offense to start the game would be nice. The Wolf Pack had great tempo in the first quarter at Boise State.

Nevada pulled its starters in the second half to get backups some experience and to avoid injuries, and there's nothing wrong with that. Carson Strong only played 2.5 quarters. If Nevada wanted to keep pressing the gas with its starters, Strong probably could have thrown for 500-plus yards and eight touchdowns given how that game was going. But Nevada offensive coordinator Matt Mumme was New Mexico State's former OC and knows how difficult that job is, so I'm sure he and Jay Norvell didn't want to shove the Aggies' nose in it. You got a bad deal deal if you bet on Nevada, though, as the Wolf Pack allowed a back-door cover with 6 seconds remaining with NMSU covering the 28.5-point spread, which opened at 33 points.

I can't directly answer this question without some calls that would require more time than I can allot to a Mailbag, but I can offer some backstory on the Mackay Stadium sound system. In 2016, Nevada did an $11.5 million renovation of Mackay Stadium. That same year, the Wolf Pack requested authorization from the Nevada Board of Regents to take out a separate loan not to exceed $3.5 million for new video boards and sound systems at Mackay and Lawlor Events Center.

“Customers attending major sporting events, including intercollegiate football and basketball, have come to expect high-definition video scoreboards and adequate sound systems,” the Wolf Pack’s proposal stated at the time. “These projects will bring Mackay Stadium and Lawlor Events Center to industry standard and further enhance the customer/fan experience. The low quality video display and poor sound quality are two of the most common complaints from fans about the Mackay Stadium experience."

The Wolf Pack's plan was approved, and it completed the new sound system and videoboards at both venues in 2016. The new sound system was said to "employ a multiple location and directional speaker system," so I do think there are speakers on the east side of the stadium, although the poor speaker quality has been a constant complaint by Wolf Pack fans over the years, and if a lot of people are complaining about the situation, then it's a legitimate grip. If I get more time in the coming days, I can do a follow-up Mailbag leftover on this, but the Wolf Pack did sink a good chunk of money into the videoboard and sound system five years ago so these complaints would go away. It seems like it has fallen short in that regard.

I've written this before, but just because the Mountain West hasn't leaked stuff to the media (like the American Athletic Conference) about trying to poach schools from other conferences doesn't mean it isn't interested and/or attempting to do so. If the MW could add SMU and Memphis from the American Athletic Conference and Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference, I'm sure it would. But just like the AAC's inability to poach Air Force and Colorado State from the MW, it's not like the MW can go and grab whatever schools it wants. There has to be reciprocation, and there geographically speaking, the MW doesn't make much sense for Memphis or SMU (the rest of the AAC schools aren't worth poaching). The one time the MW did publicly try and float a poaching (of Gonzaga in basketball in 2018), it didn't work out and everybody ripped the MW for taking a public approach. I know MW fans don't like commissioner Craig Thompson, but he created a conference from scratch, built it into the top Group of 5 conference in the nation, launched The Mtn., which every Power 5 conference has since copied to huge revenue streams, killed the WAC in a battle for survival in the early 2010s and now appears to have the MW out-lasting the AAC, which is in rebuild mode. Thompson's not perfect, but he's done a solid job for 20-plus years.

My Mountain West protected rivalries would be:

Air Force — Wyoming, Colorado State, New Mexico

Boise State — Fresno State, Nevada, San Diego State

Colorado State — Wyoming, Air Force, Utah State

Fresno State — Boise State, Nevada, San Jose State

Hawaii — UNLV, San Jose State, New Mexico

Nevada — UNLV, Boise State, Fresno State

New Mexico — Utah State, Air Force, Hawaii

San Diego State — San Jose State, Boise State, UNLV

San Jose State — San Diego State, Fresno State, Hawaii

UNLV — Nevada, Hawaii, San Diego State

Utah State — Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado State

Wyoming — Air Force, Colorado State, Utah State

My full column on that is here, but the only rivalry game I couldn't squeeze in was Fresno State-San Diego State. Also, New Mexico has no true rivals in the MW, so that New Mexico-Hawaii game is weird. But I like protecting these games and having them played every year, even though that'd be a little unfair to Boise State to have to play Fresno State, Nevada and San Diego State each year.

No, although Turner's backup, freshman Carlton Brown III, has great hair, too. You can see some of it here, although it's tied into a man bun.

Ten years is a long time. I'd give Boise State an 80 percent chance of getting into the Big 12 in the next 10 years. San Diego State at 85 percent. UNLV at 40 percent. Nevada at 20 percent. The MW should not expand to 16 teams if it means adding FCS programs. That just waters down the product and cuts the television revenue, and overall distribution, into smaller pieces. You only add if you have home run additions like an SMU, Memphis or Gonzaga. As for UConn and UMass, I'm sure they'll stick it out at the FBS so they don't lose face, but those are FCS-level programs in an area (the Northeast) that doesn't care about college football, so a move down would be wise.

"Ride or Die" is the mantra of the Nevada special teams. Special teams coach Thomas Sheffield, who named his son "Cannon Wolf Sheffield" after the Fremont Cannon, has a "Ride or Die" tattoo on his chest, which he debuted to the team during training camp. You can watch the video below, which begins with him referencing an article I wrote this summer. Sheffield's Twitter bio reads, "PhD in #RideOrDie Philosophy. The Leader/Founder of the #RideOrDie culture."

Definitely championship rings over swag chains. I don't get everything right, but I did nail the Padres being frauds last offseason when I tweeted, "People raving about the Padres’ moves without realizing they’re just the Clippers of MLB, always doomed to play second fiddle to the Dodgers just like the Clippers do with the Lakers" and followed that up with a tweet in April that read "The Dodgers have as many World Series appearances in the last four years (three) as the Padres have playoff wins this century (three in the last 22 seasons). Cool it with the rivalry talk. It’s like comparing Alabama and New Mexico State in college football." Baseball people have been trying to promote the Padres like they were a superteam when the squad has proven nothing other than it has a swag chain.

I'd go regular-season top-four offense and regular-season top-four pitching staff, of which there was only one team this season (the Dodgers, which ranked fourth in the majors in runs scored per game and first in runs allowed per game). But if I had to pick between your two options, I'd go the good offense and bad pitching because you can shrink your staff/bullpen down to five pitchers to hide the imperfections due to the off days in the playoffs, which is basically what the Red Sox are trying to do.

If I didn't need a Facebook account to help run NSN's Facebook account, I would not have a personal page. Social media, while having some positives, has a negative and detrimental impact on society, with Facebook tops among that. Pretty crazy that a guy (Mark Zuckerberg) being desperate to find a date without actually having to talk to girls led to all this (and it's probable he stole the idea for Facebook from his Harvard classmates, too). Everybody should delete their Facebook accounts, but it's hard in news given how much traffic flows from Facebook to websites.

Fun Fact: One of David Neill's top receivers in high school at Hart High in Santa Clarita, Calif., was my cousin, Joey Aloisi. After his time at Nevada, Neill went back to Southern California. This story says Neill turned down pro opportunities to become a veterinarian. If memory serves, he left that field as well to join the family business, although I don't have any strong details on that.

Excel Christian High alum Jeshua Fixel played eight-man high school football and is in his third season on Nevada's roster, although he's yet to appear in a game for the Wolf Pack. Coleville High alum Emmi Sandoval, arguably the state's best eight-man player ever, played at Grinell College at the Division III level. Jason Peters went from Coleville to Grinell College as well. Tonopah plays in the 1A (eight-man football) these days but was at the 2A level (11 man) when Chance Kretschmer played there before walking on with the Wolf Pack and leading the nation in rushing as a freshman.

Update: A couple of readers sent in eight-man players who did reach the FBS level, including UNLV fullback/linebacker William Vea, a 2007 graduate of Pahranagat High, as well as three players from Eureka High's Class of 1993 who played for UNLV (Giovanni Minoletti, Charlie Crutchley, Tim Black). Brothers Andrew and Faauo Faga and David Olsen all played at Indian Springs High before joining UNLV in the early 2000s. And Ted Darnell from Beatty High also played for UNLV in the mid 1990s. So UNLV is a magnet for eight-man high school football players.

The Hamburg Sea Devils, based solely on team name. The franchise lasted only 30 games. But if I could pick a European-based football team that wasn't in NFL Europe, I'd go the Milano Rhinos, which Chris Ault coached for two seasons. The team reached the Italian Bowl championship game each year, winning in 2016 to cap a perfect regular season before losing to the rival Milano Seamen in 2017 (another great team name). In fact, I have a Milano Rhinos hat in my closet.

It has to be Miami's Turnover Chain because that's the item that started it all, and it apparently cost $98,456. Everybody since then has been a copycat. Boise State's Turnover Throne was legit, too.

The betting line will likely be in the 18- to 20-point range, but I'll probably pick UNLV to cover given the rivalry aspect of the contest and the fact Marcus Arroyo, who is 0-11, needs a good showing in the game. UNLV also could be coming off a win the week prior against San Jose State, which has looked really bad this season after last year's undefeated regular-season campaign. My early pick is Nevada 37, UNLV 20, but we've got two more games for each team before that contest.

If Jay Norvell gets a Power 5 offer (he's reportedly interviewed for three Power 5 head positions during his Nevada tenure), I expect him to take it, and I wouldn't blame him for that. He's making $625,000 a year at Nevada, lowest in the Mountain West. Basically any Power 5 job will guarantee you $10 million ($2 million per year over five years). And the gulf in facilities and budget between a mid-level Group of 5 school like Nevada and a Power 5 school is huge. Coach Norvell also is 58 because he had to wait so long to become a head coach, so he can't really wait too long if he does get an offer. I saw Coach Norvell's name circulating with the USC job, and while that might be unlikely, the job he's done at Nevada has definitely put him in the mix for good Power 5 jobs, and his experience in several conferences and at the NFL means he could be a fit in the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC. He's not limited to one or two conferences.

Candy Corn is just more popular than Circus Peanuts, and with great popularity comes great responsibility. I don't know anybody that actually likes Circus Peanuts whereas there is a strong split among pro- and anti-Candy Corn people (while it has a bad reputation, 58 percent of Generation X people admit they like Candy Corn and 79 percent of adults admit to stealing Candy Corn from their kids). And Candy Corn is the No. 1 Halloween food, so it's going to draw a lot of sharp responses one way or the other.

I'm definitely not a car guy. I just need a car to get me from Point A to Point B without breaking down. But if I had unlimited money, which unfortunately I do not, I'd buy a 1950s Rolls-Royce Dawn Drophead. Here is more on that car if you'd like to buy me one. OK, time to get make some more money so I can eventually buy my Rolls-Royce. 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 crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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