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Murray's Mailbag: Is Nevada-UNLV or Nevada-Boise State a bigger football rivalry?

Nevada-UNLV
Fans watch the Nevada-UNLV game on Friday at Mackay Stadium. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

I hope everybody had an excellent Halloween/Nevada Day Weekend. Let's jump straight into the questions for this week's Monday Mailbag. Thanks again for the inquiries.

Yes, I signed into the Nevada Sports Net Twitter account to ask myself this question because it drew a strong rebuke from UNLV fans and I thought it was worthy of further explanation. So here's my explanation for why I believe the Nevada-Boise State rivalry is better than the Nevada-UNLV rivalry.

Close games: In 47 Nevada-UNLV matchups, only two have been decided by a field goal or less/overtime; in 43 Nevada-Boise State matchups, six have been decided by a field goal or less/overtime with 14 being decided by a touchdown or less.

Classic games: I could argue Nevada and Boise State have played six games — 2014, 2010, 2007, 1990, 1979, 1973 — greater than any Nevada-UNLV contest in terms of on-field drama (Nevada-UNLV has the edge in brawls, though).

The stakes: Nevada and UNLV have played with a conference title on the line once (1994); Nevada and Boise State have played with a conference title on the line six times and played for a berth in the FCS title game once (1990).

The continuity: Nevada and Boise State basically played every season from 1971 to 2011, with the series only being broken up from its annual basis because the Mountain West put the teams in different divisions (dumb); Nevada and UNLV only played twice in a seven-year period from 1980-86 because the schools simply opted not to play each other. True rivals don't just stop playing each other for no good reason.

The history: Nevada and Boise State have spent much of their existence since 1970 in the same conference, jumping from the Big Sky to the Big West to the WAC to the Mountain West together. They're mirror programs. UNLV and Nevada spent four seasons in the same conference (the Big West from 1992-95) until the Wolf Pack joined the MW in 2012. It's a different rivalry when you're competing for the same conference title trophy like Nevada and Boise State have for most of its history.

The geography: Boise State is closer to Reno than Las Vegas; yes, you have to cross a state border to get there, but it's closer nonetheless, and the cities are almost identical. Las Vegas and Reno are nothing alike.

The aspiration: This one is the most important. The Nevada-Boise State rivalry is an aspirational one. The Nevada-UNLV rivalry is not. It's fair to call UNLV the worst FBS football program of all time. It has the most losses to FCS programs. It has three bowl appearances in its history (the 1984 California Bowl was wiped off the slate because of NCAA infractions). And it has one conference title ever (two if you include the 1984 title that was stripped). UNLV is the slowest kid in class. Boise State, with its winning history, is the fastest kid in class. Do you want to be the second-slowest kid in class, which is essentially what beating UNLV proves, or do you want to challenge the fastest kid? You want to be the best, no? Boise State offers that opportunity. I asked a bunch of Nevada players before the start of the 2010 season if Boise State or UNLV was the program's biggest rival. They almost all said the Broncos. I thought that was telling.

Yes, Nevada-UNLV has a super cool trophy, the best in college football. The Fremont Cannon and fact Nevada and UNLV are the only Division I athletic programs in the Silver State makes Nevada-UNLV a legit rivalry, one worth caring about. But it doesn't measure up to Nevada-Boise State, not in terms of close games, classic contests, the stakes typically on the line when these teams play, the annual history and the aspiration of becoming the flagship program in your conference. If you told me I could watch a Nevada-Boise State game or a Nevada-UNLV game, I'd pick Nevada-Boise State, and I believe most Wolf Pack fans would agree if they were being honest. The game just needs a trophy and for the MW to put Nevada and Boise State in the same division where they belong.

I see Carson Strong as a late first-round pick/early second-round pick, depending upon the pre-draft medical evaluation of his right knee. As I've noted before, the relative lack of mobility probably keeps him out of top-10 range (like Mac Jones), although Jones has been the best rookie quarterback despite being the fifth off the board last draft at No. 15 to the Patriots. Being a good pocket passer seems underrated at the moment. I could see Denver, Carolina, Pittsburgh, New Orleans or Detroit being in the mix for Strong based on my slotted projection.

Denver makes a lot of sense. John Elway, who still has some influence in that organization, likes tall pocket-passing quarterbacks, and the Broncos have a need after Drew Lock washed out. Teddy Bridgewater isn't the answers. Denver also has had a number of Wolf Pack alums in recent years, including Virgil Green, Brandon Marshall, Kyle Roberts and Malik Reed. So I'll say, "With the 19th pick in the 2022 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos select Carson Strong, quarterback, Nevada."

Here was my story from the day Carson Strong committed to Nevada on June 6, 2017.

“I knew that they had all of the confidence in me to lead the program, and that was my No. 1 thing when looking at schools," Strong told me in 2017. "I wanted a school that believed in me as much as I believed in them. We’re a great match, and I think great things are ahead for University of Nevada football.”

As for ranking the 2018 class, it's the second-best in Nevada history behind the 2006 class. The 2018 class included Strong, Romeo Doubs, Cole Turner, Aaron Frost, Toa Taua and Devonte Lee, which is a minimum of three NFL players and maybe five. Nevada's 2006 class included All-WAC players Colin Kaepernick, Vai Taua, Virgil Green, Donta Moch, Kevin Basped, Marko Mitchell and John Bender. When you add Jerome Johnson, that's five NFL players in that class, including perhaps the best quarterback, running back and defensive lineman in school history. The highest-rated player in the 2006 class? John Romero. The highest-rated player in the 2018 class? Josiah Bradley. Recruiting rankings are hard.

It's a combination of accuracy and leg strength. There's a lot of luck making it in the NFL as a kicker or punter since only 32 get jobs, but Brandon Talton certainly has the résumé to get into a camp, and then he has to kick well in that setting. Talton has made 82.8 percent of his career field goals and is 14-of-18 from 40-plus (77.8 percent), so he has leg strength, too. There's no reason he can't be an NFL kicker outside of the chips just not falling his way.

That is correct. If Nevada and Fresno State end up tied atop the West Division at 7-1, the Bulldogs would get the tiebreaker with the head-to-head win over the Wolf Pack. Nevada needs Fresno State to lose at least one more game, and that most likely needs to come this weekend against Boise State since the Bulldogs end the season with San Jose State and New Mexico, neither of which are good.

Two-way tiebreakers are more complicated, so if Nevada, Fresno State and San Diego State all end up 6-2 — which could happen, if, for example, Nevada beats SDSU, Boise State beats Fresno State and Air Force beats Nevada — the tiebreaker scenario goes as follows:

MW tiebreakers when three or more teams are tied

a) Winning percentage in games played among the tied teams, including forfeits.

b) Winning percentage in games played against division opponents, including forfeits.

c) Winning percentage against the next highestplaced team in the division (based upon the team’s record in all games played in the conference, including forfeits), proceeding through the division. (When comparing tied teams against positions lower in the standings that are also tied, those lowertied positions shall be considered a single position for the purposes of comparison.)

d) Winning percentage against common conference opponents, including forfeits.

e) Highest CFP ranking (or the composite of selected computer rankings if neither team is ranked in the CFP rankings) following the final week of conference regularseason games.

Here are the full tiebreaker rules, but Nevada versus Fresno State with both teams at 7-1 is simple because it's just head-to-head result, which goes to the Bulldogs.

Yeah, Fresno State is the big favorite now. The Bulldogs finish the season at home against Boise State, home versus New Mexico and at San Jose State. Fresno State isn't losing New Mexico. It almost certainly isn't losing to SJSU. So it comes down to this week's game with Boise State, and I don't think the Broncos have the dudes up front to win that game. ESPN's Football Power Index currently gives Fresno State a 73.5 percent chance of winning the West Division. Nevada is at 12.7 percent. San Diego State is at 12.6 percent. I'd probably go Fresno State at 65, Nevada at 20 and San Diego State at 15, but the Wolf Pack needs a big effort from Boise State on Saturday. Odds are Fresno State wins its final three.

It's still pretty simple: Nevada must win out and have Fresno State lose once. If both of those things happen, the Wolf Pack is in the Mountain West title game. Although Nevada beating San Diego State and Air Force in back-to-back weeks won't be easy. ESPN's Football Power Index gives the Wolf Pack a 13.1 percent chance of winning out. There are scenarios where Nevada gets into the MW title game while losing one more contest, but that'd necessitate Fresno State losing to Boise State this week most likely.

As for UNLV, its final four games are against New Mexico, Hawaii, San Diego State and Air Force. It's not winning those last two games. It could beat New Mexico. The Rebels are only a 2-point underdog. I'll pick UNLV to go 1-3 down the stretch.

I'd take 2021 Nevada over 2020 Nevada because of the improved pass rush, and the secondary looks better as well. The Wolf Pack offensive line has taken a step back, and the team's inability to run the ball at all is puzzling and a potential major issue. But with the additional year of maturation from Carson Strong, Cole Turner, Romeo Doubs and the rest of those offensive skill-position weapons plus the impact Tristan Nichols, Daiyan Henley and a healthier Sam Hammond and Dom Peterson have made makes me give the edge to the 2021 team, which also has proven it at a higher level with wins over Cal (albeit a bad Bears team) and Boise State (albeit a mediocre Broncos team). The 2020 Wolf Pack only faced two teams with winning records, and it lost to both of those teams.

To be in the top five, the unit must play well against San Diego State and Air Force to end the season. The big question mark with this group is the run defense, which struggled against Kansas State and Fresno State and excelled against Boise State and UNLV. If the defensive line plays well in wins over SDSU and Air Force, it could be a top-five line in school history. The pass-rushing numbers are certainly there, but that's only half the game.

In my AP Top 25 ballot this week, I had San Diego State at No. 21, Fresno State at No. 22, Houston at No. 23 and SMU at No. 24, so can't blame me for the bias. But I do find it odd those AAC schools are ranked ahead of the MW's duo. The overall AP Top 25 has Houston at 20, SMU at 23 and Fresno State at 25. SDSU is seventh among "others receiving votes." I do not get ranking Fresno State ahead of SDSU even with the Bulldogs' win over the Atzecs.

SDSU has one fewer loss than Fresno State, it has the best Pac-12 win of the two (Utah is better than UCLA, as we saw last week), and it doesn’t have a horrible loss on the schedule like Fresno State (at Hawaii). Head-to-head certainly matters, and I do think Fresno State is better than SDSU, but I rank based on résumé, and SDSU has the superior résumé (by one spot, and if you’re quibbling over one spot, you’re wasting your time). And if head-to-head is so important to voters, why is Ohio State ahead of Oregon when both have one loss and Oregon won on the road at Ohio State? Trying to make sense of the Top 25 ballots isn't worth the time. But I do think AAC schools get more benefit of the doubt than MW schools.

Nevada has played three top-60 ESPN Football Power Index teams this season and is 1-2 in those games, with losses to Kansas State (No. 42) and Fresno State (No. 54) and a win over Boise State (No. 46). You have to do more than lose to mid-level teams to get into the Top 25. Nevada's résumé simply doesn't stack up to be in the Top 25 at this stage. Only one voter (out of 63 in the AP poll and 64 in the coaches poll) put Nevada on its ballot this week (Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star at No. 24). The lack of votes is fair based on résumé, and I rank based on résumé rather than "eye test." The Wolf Pack will get a chance to prove it belongs in the Top 25 with upcoming games with San Diego State and Air Force. If it wins its next three, the Wolf Pack will most likely be ranked. Half of Nevada's six wins this season are basically against FCS teams (Idaho State, New Mexico State, UNLV).

Nick Starkel warmed up before San Jose State's last game but didn't suit up. Odds are he doesn't play Saturday at Nevada, but I wouldn't rule it out. He was really struggling when healthy earlier this year, with a quarterback rating of 118.3 compared to last year's 152.6. But he offers more upside than his backup, Nick Nash, who is the more mobile of the two. I'd bank on Nash, who has started the last five games, to get the call against Nevada.

SJSU head coach Brent Brennan was asked Monday if he believes Starkel will be available before the end of the regular season. He said:"I absolutely hope he's available sometime soon. You're going to see him before the season's over with."

I'd guess a decrease of 250-500 fans per game, which isn't nothing. But with an average attendance of around 8,500, a crowd of 8,000 maskless fans is better than a crowd of 8,500 fans wearing masks. Also, getting vaccinated saves lives, so if this causes a couple dozen more people in our community to get vaccinated, that's a good thing.

Nevada should be an above-average but not elite 3-point shooting team. The Wolf Pack made 35.4 percent of its threes last season, which ranked 97th in the nation. Nevada lost Kane Milling and Zane Meeks this offseason, and those two combined to make 40-of-110 threes (36.3 percent). Those threes must be replaced, but Desmond Cambridge Jr. and Grant Sherfield are good shooters who will get more open looks this year, and Tré Coleman and Daniel Foster can knock down threes. Improved shooting from transfer Kenan Blackshear and returner Alem Huseinovic would be big for Nevada, but this team should hit in the 35 to 37 percent range from three again. The offense shouldn't be a problem. The success of this team more heavily hinges on the defense making gains year over year.

Also, I don't eat at Taco Bell, but I don't think its existence will spin the world off its axis.

Steve Alford signed a 10-year, $11.6 million deal with Nevada (full details here). Mark Fox and Trent Johnson certainly would have agreed to that deal at the beginning of their tenures. Probably not at the end of them since that Power 5 money was on the other side. Eric Musselman would have signed that deal when first hired by Nevada, too. But once Muss got things rolling, he wouldn't have. He was begging for a head job when Nevada offered it. He couldn't even get the San Jose State job at the time. No way the Board of Regents would have approved a 10-year, $11.6 million deal for Musselman in 2015, however. That came on the heels of the Chris Beard fiasco. Fun Fact, which I've reported before: If Mark Fox didn't accept the Cal job a week before Musselman left for Arkansas, there's a good chance he would have replaced Musselman at Nevada. I believe the Wolf Pack got the better deal in landing Alford.

In no particular order, North Carolina in 2008, VCU in 2009, New Mexico State in 2010, Utah State in 2012, UNLV in 2014, Morehead State in 2016, UNLV in 2017, Rhode Island in 2017, Colorado State in 2017 and San Diego State in 2020.

Memphis wins the conference followed by Houston followed by Wichita State, with all three teams making the NCAA Tournament.

They'll continue to exist, but I don't know about "saved." I'd need a definition for that. I've long thought the printed edition of the newspaper needs to be more for investigations, long-form features and enterprise pieces, kind of like a magazine (Rolling Stone would be a good example of that). And then the online version is all about the breaking news. It's hard to thread that needle when resources, and the number of journalists in the newsroom, continue to dwindle. When I started at the RGJ in 2002, I could never find a parking spot in our huge lot. When I left in 2018, the lot was maybe 5 percent full each day. Newspapers are essential to democracy since they have the ability to do the best watchdog journalism. But who is going to invest in them? It's a dying business model. And you're certainly not getting game coverage from late kickoffs in the next day's paper. You'd probably need a 1 p.m. kickoff or earlier for that to happen. The decline of newspapers and the decline of civility/rise of disinformation in our society is no coincidence. It's sad. So buying a subscriptions to help fund newspapers isn't a bad idea. Just don't expect the previous day's news in that edition with the current deadline situation, which is exacerbated by newspapers being paginated in regional hubs off site, which was one of my beefs when leaving the RGJ.

Melquan Stovall's run-after-the-catch ability has been one of Nevada's pleasant surprises this season. The Wolf Pack hasn't gotten much explosiveness out of its slot receiver position since McLane Mannix transferred to Texas Tech following the 2018 season, but Stovall has been great, especially in YAC, since his breakout performance against New Mexico State last month. In Nevada's last four games, he has 25 catches for 319 yards and a touchdown in four contests. Not bad for the team's fourth or fifth receiving option.

At my son's "Trunk or Treat" event at his school on Saturday, two little girls were dressed as members of the Rockford Peaches from "A League of Their Own." The outfits were amazing. So I'm going with Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller.

According to a quick browsing of old MaxPreps schedules, North Valleys High football has never won a playoff game, so this marks the Panthers' first trip to the regional semifinals. Big game against Churchill County in the 3A bracket this week. North Valleys, at 8-0, is the highest-ranked Northern 3A team in the MaxPreps rankings, so it's the team to beat.

5A: Bishop Manogue over McQueen (upset!)

3A: North Valleys over Elko

Death, taxes and Kirk Cousins losing primetime games. Those are life's three guarantees.

I did the ghost one with the "Boo" below. We are running out of Halloween stencils, so we'll have to get some more in advance of next year. As for the Dodgers, I did do a Dodgers logo once, and I try not to repeat. So no Dodgers logos in my pumpkin for the rest of my life.

There's some luck involved — if the Astros weren't cheating in the 2017 World Series, the Dodgers would be 2017 and 2020 winners — but this is more a result of baseball's flukiness in the postseason, and it will only be more fluky the more rounds of postseason exist, and there's a good chance the playoffs expand with the new collective bargaining agreement, which will be in place for the 2022 season. It devalues the regular season and makes it more difficult for the best teams to win the World Series, but it increases revenue and should increase fan interest regionally since more teams will be in the mix to make the playoffs. I think the days of franchises winning three straight World Series and four in five years like the Yankees from 1996-2000 are over, in part because of the addition of the wild-card round —I'm aware the Yankees' run started shortly after the implementation of that — and in part because Dave Roberts manages the Dodgers and takes away that franchise's obvious roster advantages.

Nothing in baseball surprises me all that much. You could have put the Orioles in the World Series against the Astros, and I wouldn't have been shocked if Baltimore won the World Series. Baseball is unpredictable. I did bet on the Astros ($20) to win the World Series on Sunday morning, though. The odds were up to +475, so good value there. All Houston had to do was win three straight games. One down. And I almost feel myself rooting for the Houston, who I very much hate, simply because of Atlanta's racist tomahawk chop. Maybe I'll feel differently with the last two games (if necessary) in Houston, but that chop infuriates me.

After the low blow in the Hawaii game, I wrote Nevada offensive tackle Aaron Frost should be suspended for at least a half. I know the Mountain West looked into that play, but it didn't offer any public discipline. I'd be fine with a suspension in this case, too. As I've noted, Frost is an aggressive player who sometimes goes over the line. Nevada isn't going to suspend him, but he's crossed the line of player safety twice this season, and the MW shouldn't allow that to continue without some sort of repercussion. If an opponent headbutted one of Nevada's players who was without a helmet, Nevada head coach Jay Norvell would be livid. The MW must protect its players.

Here is a clip of what Noodles for President is asking about.

As for my take on this, I don't think anything should be compared to slavery except for slavery. I have similar thoughts on people being compared to "Nazis." Using those analogies lessens the perceived impact and severity of slavery and Nazism, two of the worst developments in human history. Yes, the NFL could do more to make the pre-draft process less like a meat market. No, going through the NFL pre-draft process and preparing to play in the league is not slavery. There are odious things about pro sports, the draft being one of them. Athletes should be free to pick where to take a job just like other people. They shouldn't be forced to play for bad teams simply because they get drafted by them. But comparing the pre-draft process to slavery is a bridge to far for me.

It looks like the longest losing streak in FBS history belongs to Northwestern, which lost 34 straight games from 1979-82, a skid of 1,106 days. UNLV is currently at 702 days, so it'd have to go winless again in 2022 to break that record. This current Rebels squad has the state of Nevada record locked up, though.

I'd go "Mike and Ikes" for multiple boxes of Mike and Ike. Kind of like multiple RBI becomes RBIs rather than RsBI.

UNLV would win the Mountain West within three years. Maybe in two. Imagine how many transfers Nick Saban would get to come to Las Vegas, and transfers aren't required to sit out a season anymore.

Nevada 30, UNLV 21. The Wolf Pack will lose a ton of talent this offseason, including Carson Strong, and the game will be played at UNLV, but I have little faith Marcus Arroyo is going to turn things around with the Rebels. His tenure at Oregon now looks underwhelming given how great Justin Herbert has been in the NFL, and his first two years at UNLV speaks for themselves. And the athletic director who hired Arroyo on a five-year, $7.7 million contract was recently hired by Missouri. She also misfired on the UNLV men's basketball hire. Amazing how some of these ADs keep moving up no matter what.

Yes. It's too ear.

That's the least likely day I'd buy candy because I always have a ton of candy in my house on that day. We have about four pumpkin buckets full of candy right now, so roughly 600 pieces. I'll be done with those in less than a week.

Candy doesn't go bad as long as you keep in the wrapper. If you do that, it will last forever. But since I don't want to test that theory, I'm going to go eat all of my kids' Halloween candy right now. 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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