A place where it can feel like your luck has immediately changed. A place where you can suddenly feel like you’re on top of the world.
And in UNLV’s case, that’s probably what it feels like. The Runnin’ Rebels are suddenly on top.
The rise comes after entering the season at 80/1 odds to win the Mountain West (college football betting odds via BetMGM). It’s been nearly a decade since UNLV’s last winning season — a 7-6 finish during the 2013 campaign. In fact, that was its first winning season since 2000 when it went 8-5 (the Rebels finished 6-6 in 2003). Prior to 2013, the last time UNLV had a winning season, Nebraska was the preseason AP No. 1-ranked team.
UNLV may be the biggest Group of Five surprise so far this season.
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Through five weeks, the Rebels already have more wins than their previous two seasons combined. Sitting at 4-1 and 2-0 in conference play, UNLV is atop the Mountain West’s West Division with wins over Utah State and New Mexico. Those victories certainly aren’t anything to write home about, especially given Utah State’s atrocious start (1-4) after winning the MW last season. But it’s certainly a leap for a program whose opponents had probably started chalking up the Rebels as an automatic victory.
Today, however, UNLV will be out to prove its sudden come-up isn’t a fluke. The Rebels will visit San Jose State in a battle of two of the top teams in the league in a Friday night showdown.
Who would have thought?
They’ll face Chevan Cordeiro, who has been on a tear behind center so far this season to set up the Spartans as 6.5-point favorites in this affair. The matchup starts a tough four-game stretch for the Rebels, who follow with a home contest versus Air Force, and two road games split up by a bye at Notre Dame (Oct. 22) and San Diego State (Nov. 5).
It’s almost like the Rebels are about to hit on 16 at the blackjack table and have to wait a month to see what the dealer puts down.
Until then, we’ll touch on their ascension. What’s behind the Rebels’ hot start?
A healthy Doug Brumfield
It’s only fitting that the Sin City signal-caller shares the same name as the infamous Doug from the movie The Hangover. The only difference is, UNLV sophomore Doug Brumfield has been the opposite of missing.
The dual-threat Brumfield leads the league in individual offense with 1,365 total yards and ranks third with 273 total yards per contest. UNLV is first in scoring (37.8 points per outing) and has two receivers in Ricky White (72) and Kyle Williams (58.8) ranking in the top 10 in the conference in receiving yards per game.
Brumfield showed promise last year. In UNLV’s season-opener, the lefty came off the bench and guided the team on a comeback before falling short in a double-overtime loss to Eastern Washington. He saw action in two more contests, being injured in both of them. The first against Arizona State, and the second against Fresno State, where he tossed two touchdowns before exiting the second game in a row with a back injury. He missed the remainder of the season.
Finishing dead last in scoring defense last year and in the bottom three of nearly every MW defensive category, the Rebels are allowing 22.4 points per game, good for fifth in the conference this season. They also lead the MW with 12 total turnovers.
Marcus Arroyo immediately made his presence felt at the helm of the program, securing the No. 1 MW recruiting class in 2020 and followed up with the No. 8 recruiting class within Group of Five programs in 2021.
Now, he hits the road to face his alma mater in what could be the biggest game of his head coaching career as he continues to make his case for MW Coach of the Year.
He holds a nice hand and what he’s done is starting to pay off. We’ll just wait to see if he and the Rebels can stay on a heater.