UNLV's football program missed a postseason bowl game last season. That could happen this time around, but it certainly won't happen in future seasons under first-year head coach Barry Odom, who led the SEC's Missouri Tigers to two bowl games in four seasons as head coach. Recruiting is going well, and key transfers like the idea of playing in Las Vegas. Good things are happening here.
UNLV 2023 PREVIEW
THE CONF.: Mountain West Conference (NOTE: MWC dropped divisions this spring)
2022 RECORD: 5-7 (no postseason)
CONF. FINISH: 3-5 (4th in the old West Division)
HEAD COACH: Barry Odom (First year; Fifth year overall, 25-25 record)
FIVE ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Ricky White, Jr./WR. (51 receptions, 619 yds, 4 TDs); Jalen St. John, Soph./OL (Arkansas transfer); Doug Brumfield, Soph./QB (1,898 yards passing, 10 TDs; 261 yards rushing, 6 TDs); Marcus Miller, Soph./OL (expected to be a big contributor); Jalen Dixon, Soph./DT (30 tackles, 6.5 TFLs)
THE NEWCOMER: Vincent Davis, Sr./RB (short of 2,000 career rushing yards at Pitt).
With 13 starters remaining and an accomplished Power Five conference level coach (Odom — Missouri), things are looking up in Las Vegas. The Runnin' Rebels have a near 2,000-yard passing quarterback returning in Doug Brumfield, and he's only a sophomore (and he rushed for 6 TDs too). It's always a good sign to have a stout QB back.
UNLV hasn't had a winning season since 2013 (7-6, bowl game), so the program wants to buck that trend, obviously. The defense would love to reverse last year's trend of nearly 29 points per game given up and maybe knock that average down 10 points or so. Darius Johnson, Sr./DT, is a top returnee and is the leading returning tackler with 47.
UNLV needs to reverse course in its trends, but with Odom at the helm, this could happen.
THE TOUGHEST GAME AND WHY
Tough call. Trips to the Big House in Michigan and to the SEC's Vanderbilt obviously won't be cakewalks. When you take a look at the conference slate, this is what is key in UNLV making the postseason or not. The road game at Air Force on Nov. 18 appears to be its toughest matchup in Mountain West play.
The Falcons love to suck the oxygen out of the clock and put pressure on young quarterbacks (like Brumfield) to maintain possession — because otherwise? He may have to wait nine minutes on the clock before he gets another chance to put points on the board. Now that's a challenge.
THE CHANCES OF MAKING CONF. TITLE GAME
None. Boise State, Air Force, Fresno State and maybe San Diego State/San Jose State have the best chances to get here, and maybe a couple of others if all goes right. UNLV is rebuilding somewhat, but still a solid side.
UNLV is a perfect example of a program that defines how tough the middle of the pack in the Mountain West Conference is going to be. Where's the easy game for the Runnin' Rebels? Aside from the game with FCS opponent Bryant, there are no guaranteed non-conference wins. Our guess is that after that Bryant win, the team needs to win five league games to lock in a bowl game, obviously.
That seems unlikely, but the road trips to Nevada and New Mexico could certainly be two wins. Home games against Colorado State, Wyoming, and San Jose State are the pivotal ones, and if UNLV can go to El Paso and beat UTEP in non-conference action? OK, this could be a bowl game. These teams are all very close.
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