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Murray's Mailbag: What must Nevada's Carson Strong do to become first-round draft pick?

Carson Strong
Another strong season from{ }Carson Strong could push the Wolf Pack gun-slinger into the first round of the NFL draft. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

This Monday Mailbag might not be quite as long as previous editions because I was notified this morning somebody tried to put in a fraudulent unemployment claim using my information. Not a great way to start a Monday. Don't do that! It's bad! So I'll be dealing with that this week, which led to slightly shorter answers to our weekly questions. But don't worry. We still went over 4,300 words in this week's Mailbag. Let's get to the questions. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

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

I wanted to start with this question because I'm more interested in the 2022 draft rankings Todd McShay and Mel Kiper will put out the day after the draft than I am in the draft itself. Nevada isn't going to have anybody drafted in 2021 (the draft is April 29-May 1). In fact, it will be a down year for the Mountain West. But McShay and Kiper always put out their next year's draft rankings the Monday after the draft. That's when Josh Allen's name first got some buzz. McShay had Allen as the No. 2 overall prospect in the draft in his initial draft rankings, writing, "Allen is the best quarterback most college football fans have never heard of, and he can do everything on the field." I'll be curious to see if Carson Strong (and to a lesser degree Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner) are on McShay's initial 2022 draft list. Strong has NFL size and arm strength, great accuracy, an excellent deep ball, a strong work ethic and love of the game and ideal intangibles. The only knocks would be overall athleticism, medical history and level of competition, but he's going to play at Cal and at Kansas State (not to mention at Boise State) this season. And after being limited athletically last season due to a knee issue that required surgery in January, he could be more nimble in 2021.

If Strong replicates his 2020 numbers in 2021, that'd put him at roughly 4,100 yards with 40 touchdowns (against just six interceptions) with a 70 percent completion rate. Those seem like crazy numbers, but with Doubs, Turner, Elijah Cooks, an improving offensive line and pass-favorable play calling, it's not unrealistic. That would give Strong two years of elite play (he had even numbers this season as Trevor Lawrence, albeit against lower competition). That combined with his measurables should make Strong a first- or second-day draft pick as long as his medicals are good (he's now had two surgeries on the same knee, including one in high school that was fairly major).

But the biggest thing to becoming a first- or second-round draft pick at quarterback will be winning. Lots of quarterbacks put up huge numbers in college. You have to win, too. If Nevada gets into the Top 25, that'd be huge for Strong's draft stock, especially if he doesn't get as much buzz this offseason as others at his position. But look at the top quarterback prospects in this year's draft. It's Trevor Lawrence (national title), Josh Fields (national title game appearance), Mac Jones (national title), Trey Lance (national title in the FCS) and Zach Wilson (BYU went 11-1 last season). You have to win. If Nevada reaches double-digit wins and Strong repeats his per-game numbers from last season, I'd put my money on him being a first-round draft pick. The two times Nevada has been ranked in the Top 25 (1948 and 2010), their quarterbacks were drafted the next season (Stan Heath and Colin Kaepernick).

ProFootballNetwork.com already has Strong as a first-round draft pick in 2022 (No. 31 overall to the Tampa Bay Bucs), writing: "Tom Brady may well want to play until he’s 50 years old. However, the reality is he probably won’t. Not that I will be the one to tell him that. The succession plan isn’t currently on the roster, and it feels unlikely that quarterback will be addressed in this year’s draft. So, in this 2022 First Round NFL Mock Draft, the Buccaneers grab his successor in Nevada quarterback Carson Strong. Strong has all the physical attributes to succeed in the NFL, and his arm strength makes him a fit in Tampa Bay’s vertical passing offense." He's on the right path. Another dynamite season could lock him into the first round.

That was the other game in my mind for "Greatest College Basketball Game Ever." I was only 9 when that game was played and all I remember is watching Christian Laettner's buzzer beater from a casino floor (I have no idea why I was on a casino floor at age 9). But that game had it all, including incredible offense (a 104-103 Duke win in overtime), great future NBA players (Grant Hill, Jamal Mashburn), amazing skill (the teams combined to shoot 60.7 percent from the field), huge stakes (it was in the Elite 8), a buzzer-beater and the eventual champion that season (Duke went on to win the title, which was key in elevating the game even more). I have no qualms if you pick 1992 Duke-Kentucky at No. 1.

Also a great option as it had all of the ingredients of the Duke-Villanova game with great offense (the teams combined to shoot 49.5 percent from the field), sold future pros, a buzzer-beater (Kris Jenkins drains the tournament-winning three as time expires) and the biggest stakes of all (the national championship game). That game qualifies in the discussion of best ever, too.

And that's the point. We probably shouldn't compare "best ever" and should just enjoy the game for what it was, which was amazing. If Gonzaga wins the national championship Monday night, you could call the Zags-UCLA game the best ever because it preserved a perfect season, which the two games above did not. Gonzaga and UCLA combined to shoot 58.2 percent from the field with only 20 turnovers. It had huge stakes (played in the Final Four). It went to overtime. It included one of the game's most famous shots, a 40-foot banked-in three to win it. It no doubt featured several future pros. And it could determine who wins the national title. If Gonzaga finishes this thing off against Baylor, the game will be elevated since it will give us the first undefeated champion since 1976, a span of 45 years. Even if Gonzaga loses in the title game, it's an all-time great. But a Bulldogs win puts it No. 1 on my list. I just love that this wasn't some defensive slop fest. This was great offensive basketball for 45 minutes.

If we're just talking games of my adulthood that I remember watching, it's:

* 2021 Gonzaga-UCLA (outlined above)

* 2016 Villanova-North Carolina (Kris Jenkins' tournament-winning three)

* 2010 Duke-Butler (Gordon Hayward halfcourt shot just misses)

* 2008 Kansas-Memphis (Mario Chalmers' three sends game to OT)

* 1999 UConn-Duke (Huskies stun Duke, which had won 32 straight and was a 9.5-point favorite)

And then if we add six more games that were a little before my time, we're adding.

* 1993 North Carolina-Michigan (Chris Webber calls timeout)

* 1992 Duke-Kentucky (outlined above)

* 1991 Duke-UNLV (mighty Rebels go down)

* 1987 Indiana-Syracuse (featuring Steve Alford)

* 1985 Villanova-Georgetown (a No. 8 seed wins the NCAA Tournament!)

* 1983 North Carolina State-Houston (Jim Valvano runs all over the court)

If you add the two lists above into one, that's my top 11. Nevada-New Mexico doesn't make it. I'm sorry, but the game has to be in the NCAA Tournament (and probably Elite Eight or later) or it doesn't qualify. The stakes are just at a different level in the Big Dance. But Nevada's comeback win at New Mexico in 2017 is one of the best regular-season games ever. Ranks up there with Duke and Jason Williams' "Miracle Minute" against Maryland.

I don't think San Diego State will be doing much rebuilding. I'd bank on the Aztecs being really good next season, even if it's a step below what we've seen the last two years when the program went 53-7). I'd agree Utah State is entering a rebuilding year with a new coach (UMBC's Ryan Odom) while losing a player to the NBA for the second straight season (Neemias Queta turned pro). But Colorado State should be elite and SDSU will be tough, too, so I'm not predicting Nevada to win the regular season and conference tournament. That's really hard to do. SDSU became only the fourth team in MW history this season to win an outright regular-season title and tournament championship in the same year (the MW has been around for 22 seasons). So it's been extremely difficult even for the conference's best teams. Eric Musselman's teams only did it once. Nevada should be in the mix for both titles, as well as an NCAA Tournament spot. But the double dip? There's a low percentage of any team doing that.

Nevada sweeping Gonzaga over two games (in 2004 and 2006) was cool, but it's not fair to say the Wolf Pack was on par with the Bulldogs in the mid-2000s. That's just a two-game sample size. If you look at the 2000s (2000-10), Gonzaga reached the NCAA Tournament 10 times and went 12-10 with four Sweet 16s (twice as many as Nevada has had in its entire history). In the same time span, the Wolf Pack reached the NCAA Tournament four times and went 4-4 with one Sweet 16. Gonzaga was clearly the better program. But the thing that differentiated the two is Gonzaga was able to keep its coach (Mark Few) and continue to invest into the program. Nevada was unable to keep either of its coaches (Trent Johnson, Mark Fox) during that period, and was falling off at the end of the Fox era, anyway (back-to-back CBIs in year four and five of his tenure). The Wolf Pack also didn't invest back into its program with a new practice facility or chartered flights or major increased salaries for coaches or anything else during that period. It has done more of that in this latest spell of success, which should keep the winning going, but still wasn't able to retain Eric Musselman. Continuity and investment are huge. Gonzaga had that from the early 2000s until now, more than 20 years later. Nevada hasn't and missed on a couple of coaching hires.

That one came down to the wire, too. Exactly how you want a championship game to end. That game, however, was too sloppy to be an all-time great with 27 combined turnovers to 41 made baskets. The teams combined to shoot 35 percent from the field. But credit the defenses for making things tough. Arizona's crusade through the NCAA Tournament (which included a middle finger by the coach!) was inspiring. And, yes, women should be permitted to turn pro early like the men even though it's not as financially lucrative. The WNBA rules mandate American-born players have to (a) graduate, (b) be on track to graduate the year of the draft, (c) turn 22 the year of the draft or (d) be four years removed from high school to be draft eligible. While some college players have wiggled into the draft early, talented freshman like Paige Bueckers, from UConn, and Caitlin Clark, from Iowa, should be eligible to turn pro when they want to. They aren't eligible this year.. I hope the WNBA players union takes up this issue after the CBA expires following the 2027 season. Bueckers is good friends with Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs. Both are freshmen this year. Why should Suggs be able to turn pro after one college season and Bueckers not? Doesn't make sense.

I put out my top-10 coaches on the West Coast list in February and had Mick Cronin at No. 5 and Steve Alford at No. 4. After UCLA's run to the Final Four, I'd move Cronin up to No. 4. The big knock on Cronin was his lack of NCAA Tournament success. He entered March with a 6-11 record in the Big Dance and just one Sweet 16 appearance. Now he's 11-12 with two Sweet 16s and a Final Four. He almost doubled his NCAA Tournament wins in one month. That's huge. It's funny how often we judge coaches based on NCAA Tournament success or lack thereof. I mean, UCLA should have lost in the First Four to Michigan State, which went 3-of-14 with four turnovers in the final eight minutes/overtime of its game with the Bruins. But a miracle run from the First Four to the Final Four pushes Cronin up one spot over Alford, although he does owe Alford some kudos for recruiting a good chunk of the team that just reached the Final Four.

There's no Cronin Curse. If he was cursed, his team wouldn't have come back against Michigan State in the First Four. While UCLA suffered a painful loss, you couldn't have asked for more out of the Bruins against Gonzaga. UCLA played an A+ game. The Zags are simply an amazing offensive team. There wasn't any more UCLA could have given in that contest.

UCLA is always going to get top-100 recruits. That program will get the best kids from Los Angeles. The entire deal will revolve around making NCAA Tournament runs. If Jaime Jaquez, Johnny Juzang and Tyger Campbell come back next season (they're all sophomores), UCLA should be Final Four good again next season. I don't think this will be Cronin's only Final Four team with the Bruins. He's an excellent coach.

I answered this question in last week's Monday Mailbag, but Coach Alford recruited three starters (Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Tyger Campbell), two reserves (David Singleton, Kenneth Nwuba) and a walk-on (Russell Stong), plus two guys who aren't playing due to injury/personal reasons (Chris Smith, Jalen Hill). So his fingerprints are all over the roster. And Johnny Juzang, the team's best player, likely would have signed with UCLA if Coach Alford wasn't fired. Instead, he went to Kentucky for a year before transferring to UCLA. All of the players listed above except for Juzang and Campbell (who tore his ACL in his first year at UCLA) logged minutes under Alford.

Add it all up and seven of the team's 13 scholarship spots were signed under Coach Alford. And it's worth noting Nevada's Grant Sherfield also signed with UCLA when Alford was there, so if he stayed after Alford was fired, he would have been on this Final Four team. It'd be interesting to see if he would have gotten into the starting lineup as Tyger Campbell is a good point guard, too. There are plusses to going to mid-major schools. Sherfield is the man at Nevada. He most likely would not have had the same role at UCLA.

Easy. Go back to the original nickname, the Nevada Sagebrushers.

As for beasts of burden, does a camel count? It should count. I'm counting it. Camels are key in transporting heavy equipment through difficult arid terrain thanks to their ability to traverse long distances sans water. The camel is one of the world's most underrated animals. Plus they have humps, which are cool.

I'm sure they're reaching out to tons of guys with almost 1,200 Division I players in the portal. It's being played close to the vest, so I'm sorry I don't have any names at the moment. The name I threw out last week, Kaiden Rice, from Citadel, has a final eight, and Nevada is not on the list. I didn't mention on Twitter last week former Nevada recruit Josaphat Bilau, from Wichita State, has entered the portal. He's a 6-foot-10 big guy who played a year with Grant Sherfield for the Shockers. Nevada was among his four finalists. Bilau doesn't fit a huge need for Nevada, but I wouldn't be shocked if the Wolf Pack got in on him. He has a big ceiling if his next school can get him 100 percent healthy. The Wolf Pack also has reached out to Wichita State forward Trey Wade, a 6-foot-6 forward who began his career at UTEP. He averaged 6.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game last season on 42.6 percent shooting, including 33.3 percent from three. I still think a shooting wing player is the best fit, but I wouldn't rule out Nevada adding more than one scholarship player despite being at 12 scholarships right now (13 is the NCAA max).

I assume this is about Nevada football, but, yes, the Wolf Pack has full non-league slates in 2021 and 2022 and one game open in 2023. The future schedule looks as follows.

2022: at New Mexico State, vs. Texas State, vs. Incarnate Word, at Iowa

2023: at USC, vs. Idaho, at Texas State

2024: at Minnesota

2026: at UCLA

TBD: at Penn State

Personally, I'd like to see some games with the American Athletic Conference. The lack of games between the Mountain West and AAC is a joke (I've written about it before). If those are the top two Group of 5 conferences, they should be playing more than once per season. Nevada has its money game for 2023 lined up ($1.6 million to play at USC) and its FBS game (Idaho). It has another low-level road game, so it would make sense for the final slot to be a home game against a similar opponent (like somebody from the AAC) with Nevada repaying a road game in 2024. Let's go with SMU or Tulsa, which might be a benefit to Nevada's recruiting in the Texas area. Hopefully it's an attractive opponent. It's hard for Nevada to complain about a lack of fan support via attendance when your non-conference home games are against Idaho State and New Mexico State (2021), Texas State and Incarnate Word (2022) and Idaho (2023). That's just not appealing.

Yes, there is that chance. In last year's Sagarin Ratings, the Sun Belt ranked 11th (East Division) and 17th (West Division) in the nation. The MW was 13th (West) and 14th (Mountain), so pretty even. It was an odd year with limited non-conference games, so those numbers aren't foolproof. In 2019, the MW was 11th and 13th and the Sun Belt 14th and 18th. The year prior, the MW was 10th and 15th to the Sun Belt's 14th and 21st. So there's no doubt the MW has been better, but the Sun Belt appears to be closing the gap. Like you mentioned, the geography is hugely in favor of the Sun Belt (lots of players in the south). If the Sun Belt continues to invest in its programs, it will continue to gain traction. But we did just see a Sun Belt coach leave for a MW job (Blake Anderson from Arkansas State to Utah State). I don't think you'll see a MW coach leave for the Sun Belt. The MW has more prestige right now. But it comes down to wins and losses, and the Sun Belt has made some smart adds in recent years in Coastal Carolina, App State and Georgia Southern, none of which were playing FBS football a decade ago.

It has never happened before. Nevada football has only been ranked in the Top 25 at the FBS level twice, in 1948 and 2010. Nevada basketball wasn't ranked in either of those years. I was asked this same question in January and put it at a 10 percent chance both teams are in the Top 25 next season, so I'll stick with that.

Spanish Springs vs. Damonte Ranch is the equivalent of the Rose Bowl. Locally, we could call it the 2000s Bowl since both schools were created in the early 2000s.

Reed vs. Bishop Manogue is the equivalent of the Cotton Bowl. Locally, we could call it the Booty Bowl since Raiders and Miners both look for valuable booty as part of their profession.

McQueen vs. Douglas is the equivalent of the Duke's Mayo Bowl. Locally, we could call it the Legends Bowl since both had long-time legendary coaches (Ken Dalton and Mike Rippee).

And Reno-Carson is the equivalent of the LendingTree Bowl. Locally, we could call it the Old School Bowl since it features two of Northern Nevada's oldest high schools.

It went poorly because the SCOTUS judges repeatedly pointed out the NCAA's hypocrisy of paying coaches fortunes and paying players nothing. But I doubt SCOTUS rules in favor of the players because the judges don't want to responsible for blowing up college athletics' model. I just find it funny when I read a headline that says, "ADs say compensating athletes would make it harder to comply with Title IX rules." ADs always try and pit paying revenue sport athletes against the health and wellbeing of women's sports as if they couldn't stop paying coaches tens of millions of dollars to help aid women's sports. That same article linked above reads, "only 25 schools' athletic departments pulled in more money than they spent in 2018-19." If that's true, why are ADs being paid half-a-million dollars a year? They're basically the CEOs of their athletic departments. Do most CEOs of businesses that lose money every year get salaries in the $500,000-plus range (while also being heavily subsidized with public money)? I'm genuinely asking because I don't know. But I doubt that's the case.

They're almost certainly getting dumped into the trash can. They're cheap plastic. But this at least gives me an angle to tell a Four Loco story. Several years ago during an in-person fantasy baseball draft, I was challenged: If I drank four Four Locos from the time our draft started to the time our draft ended, my annual dues ($80) would be paid for me. The only stipulation was I could not throw up during the draft. I had the horrible idea of pouring all four of the Four Locos into a big container and using a straw. That decision doomed me. Four Locos are already disgusting. Mixing four flavors together made it even worse. I did my best but fell a few ounces short of finishing all four during our 3-hour draft. I did not sleep that night. But the good news is my heart did not explode. I survived somehow. And my head felt like it was going to burst for the next 48 hours. I couldn't focus at all from the head rush that remained. I vividly remember trying to write a story the next day and I couldn't focus enough to write a complete sentence. The sugar rush from hell. I do not know if I answered your question. But I have not had a Four Loco since then. Pretty sure they're outlawed.

This is a great question, and unfortunately I couldn't find an answer in the given time I have (I allot no more than 10 minutes of research per question or else we'd have a Wednesday Mailbag as I try and figure all this stuff out). But I imagine the payout was puny. Why? The NCAA units mostly trickle down from the television contract. The current contract is a 14-year agreement worth $10.8 billion (so $771.4 million a season). The television contract in the early 1990s? It was three years for $166 million ($55.3 million per season) before expanding to a seven-year, $1 billion deal (or $142.9 million a season). You're talking about 7 percent of the current value in the early 1990s and 18.5 percent later in the decade. So the money just wasn't the same. If the tournament units were split like they are now, a single game played in the 2021 tournament was roughly the same as UNLV winning the national title. And this is why I am in favor of players getting paid. The money in college sports has exploded the last 20 years. A college scholarship is not longer equal value for the revenue being generated. But the only people making more money are the coaches and administrators.

I'm in favor of voluntary euthanasia for terminal patients if they are of sane mind. I don't see why the government should be allowed to tell people whether they have the right to live or die. We're all about "freedoms" in America, right? I think this decision falls under personal choice.

Probably the same way I manage trades as commissioner of our keeper fantasy baseball league — via an Excel sheet. In that league, we draft three minor-league prospects every year. I literally have this trade written down in our league manifesto: "In 2023, Chris Murray gets swap rights on Chris Gabel's 2023 second- or third-round pick. If Chris Murray exercises second-round swap rights, then they also swap 2023 third-round picks automatically. If Chris Murray exercises third-round swap rights in 2023, nothing else is owed." We have more convoluted trades in our dumb fantasy baseball league as those that exist in the NBA!

One-of-a-kind. The bigger cities like San Francisco have NBC Sports Bay Area. There are a lot of regional sports networks in major-league towns, most of them currently being called "Bally Sports Regional Networks." Those are owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which also owns KRNV, KRXI and KNSN (our station). Additionally, Sinclair owns Stadium and the Tennis Channel as part of its sports portfolio. NSN is kind of a guinea pig to see if sports-only stations would work in mid-sized markets. So Sinclair turned Reno's My21Network into Nevada Sports Net. If we're successful, the thought is more of these MyTV or CW channels would be turned into sports stations. So your support, either by visiting our website and reading our articles or watching our station, will not only dictate how long we stay on the air but will also help dictate whether other markets our size get channels like Nevada Sports Net. Hopefully viewers and readers don't take NSN for granted because it's unprecedented for a market our size to have a local sports station and accompanying website.

So thanks for reading! And 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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