Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 | 2 a.m.
There would be legitimate surprise if UNLV football went 5-0 or 0-5 over its remaining games. However, anything in between seems plausible and it’s the reason the rest of this season is actually worth looking forward to for the Rebels (4-3, 2-1).
That’s not often the case this time of year in Las Vegas, where the basketball schedule usually reigns supreme. But with a couple more victories, the Rebels would become bowl eligible for the first time since 2000.
The Rebels certainly aren’t guaranteed to reach that benchmark but they have a great chance. The stretch includes three home games and two road trips against teams that are a combined 9-9 in Mountain West play so far.
The health of UNLV senior running back Tim Cornett, who’s listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game at UNR, will play a large role in the final outcome. But that’s out of the Rebels’ hands right now. What they can control is how they prepare for these final five games.
Here we look at those remaining matchups and sort them in order of likely victories for the Rebels. Like I said, no one would be surprised with anything between 1-4 and 4-1, which makes this an exciting finish to UNLV’s season:
At Air Force (1-6, 0-5)
• Thursday, Nov. 21, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU
I admit it’s a little strange to put a road game at the top of this list, but that’s just how bad the Falcons are this season. After opening the season with a victory against Colgate, Air Force has dropped six straight.
Most of those games haven’t even been close, either. They give up more than 37 points per game and don’t have the offensive capacity to keep up in most games.
Like New Mexico, their offense isn’t a threat to pass and can’t make up for it in the ground game. That matchup — at New Mexico on Nov. 8 — is the Falcons' best chance for a conference victory all season.
Both UNLV and Air Force will have a bye week entering this game. The Rebels will use theirs to work on practicing against the cut blocks Air Force uses so often in its offense.
It’s very possible UNLV will need this game to keep its bowl hopes alive.
San Diego State (3-3, 2-0)
• Saturday, Nov. 30, TBD
I’d listen to any argument wanting to flip-flop my second and third picks because they’re very comparable. Here’s my case: I went with San Diego State mostly because of its somewhat balanced offense but also because of motivation.
That’s not to say the Rebels won’t be motivated for any of these other games, but let’s say they have five victories heading into the regular-season finale against the Aztecs. Think they’re not going to find something extra for that game?
And as for balance, I think UNLV has a better chance against a team that’s OK at both running and passing rather than a team that’s very good at one or the other. Especially one that’s good at passing (see San Jose State).
San Jose State (3-3, 2-1)
• Saturday, Nov. 2, 1 p.m.
This hasn’t been the Mountain West debut season San Jose State was hoping for, but the Spartans are on a little uptick after winning back-to-back road games at Hawaii and Colorado State.
This weekend, they host Wyoming before next week’s trip to Sam Boyd Stadium. If the Spartans defeat the Cowboys, this game may sink to the bottom of the list as the least winnable for the Rebels.
Despite losing his top receiver, San Jose State’s David Fales can still throw the ball around — San Jose State ranks top-20 nationally in passing yards per game — and we’ve already seen what a mediocre quarterback like Hawaii’s Sean Schroeder can do against this defense.
This could be a JV-version of last week’s Fresno State game, meaning that entering the game, the expectation would be for a shootout. Tough to say which team that would favor more.
At UNR (3-4, 2-2)
• Saturday, Oct. 26, 3 p.m., ESPN3
The Battle for the Fremont Cannon is not only the biggest individual game of the season, it could also go a long way in determining the rest of the year.
Win the game and UNLV is sitting at 5-3, one victory away from a bowl game with four winnable games remaining. Lose and the Rebels are back to .500 and on a two-game losing skid.
It’s easy to see a scenario where an emotional loss here leads to two more defeats into the bye week. On the flip side, UNLV would feel invincible after winning this game on the road. The Rebels could still turn around and lose the next two games, but I believe if they win this game, they will definitely find a way to get to six victories.
Utah State (4-4, 3-1)
• Saturday, Nov. 9, TBD
Because of quarterback Chuckie Keeton’s season-ending injury, Utah State is the most difficult Mountain West team to project. And we won’t get much insight before this game.
Keeton went down in a loss to BYU. Since then, the Aggies lost by 11 to Boise State and dominated in New Mexico by 35. They have a bye week this weekend and then host Hawaii before traveling to Las Vegas.
Junior Craig Harrison entered the game in relief of Keeton but true freshman Darell Garretson started against the Lobos and figures to be the starting quarterback moving forward. Their defense gives up less than three touchdowns per game and the running game may take a step forward in Keeton’s absence.
There are a lot of unknowns surrounding the Aggies but the important thing to remember is they were a good team for reasons more than just Keeton. And in a weak league, they’re probably still one of the four or five best teams.