Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013 | 12:35 a.m.
UNLV’s season has been all about achieving benchmarks few thought were possible for this team. A four-game winning streak, a winning road record and bowl eligibility for the first time in 13 years are only some of the highlights.
“There have been a lot of things accomplished this regular season,” said UNLV coach Bobby Hauck.
On Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium the Rebels added a few more to that ever-growing list of memorable moments. But not even the first seven-win year since 2000 guaranteed this memorable season will end in a postseason trip.
“Of course I’m concerned,” said UNLV interim athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy. “We have a lot of work to do.”
She said that before the Rebels’ 45-19 pasting against the Aztecs (7-5, 6-2). There’s a chance the decisive victory will only make it hurt that much more if UNLV is left out of a bowl game.
That possible scenario started with San Jose State’s 62-52 upset against Fresno State on Friday night. That made the Spartans bowl eligible and ensured the Bulldogs won’t go to a BCS game, leaving the Mountain West with seven bowl-eligible teams for six slots.
With a victory in the inaugural Mountain West championship game Dec. 7, Fresno State would go the Las Vegas Bowl and Utah State would likely head to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego. If Utah State wins those destinations could flip. And from there the Mountain West bowl picture gets very cloudy.
The remaining four bowl committees aren’t required to take the team that finished higher in the standings or even the one with a better overall record. That’s how UNLV (7-5, 5-3) could end up on the outside looking in while a 7-5 San Diego State or 6-6 San Jose State could get chosen.
Asked what he would tell a bowl director to sell his team, Hauck said, “We’re a good team and we’re fun to watch. We’re going to be an enjoyable group to have at your bowl game.”
UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring said he wasn’t going to worry about it much over the next week. The senior tied the school record with five touchdown passes in Saturday’s game and also ran for another score.
“We did what we can control,” Herring said. “Whatever happens is in someone else’s hands right now.”
A year after converting to receiver, Herring finished his senior season completing nearly 65 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and four interceptions. His redshirt freshman season was Hauck’s first with the program, forever entwining their Las Vegas careers. Often it looked like one or even both wouldn’t make it this far.
“We’ve been on a long road together,” Herring said.
The Rebels’ defense bounced back from giving up a two-play scoring that started the game to hold San Diego State under 100 yards rushing. They also intercepted two passes and kept the Aztecs 0-for-4 on fourth-down attempts.
Four of Herring’s touchdown passes went to favorite target Devante Davis, who became the third Rebel to ever catch that many scores in a single game. Davis also eclipsed the single-season record for receiving touchdowns with a tough catch in good coverage. His ability to make those type of plays is the reason Herring keeps going to him even if the defenders are there.
“He can make me right if I’m wrong,” Herring said.
Kunzer-Murphy, the former executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl, said she started making calls at halftime of the San Jose State game, when it looked like the field would be crowded. She called Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, various bowl directors and representatives from ESPN Regional Television, which owns five of the six Mountain West bowls.
ERT also owns other bowl games that will be looking for a fill-in team, specifically the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla. That could be a landing spot for Boise State — the only team the league could probably sell nationally — or maybe the last remaining league team.
At the end of the night the Rebels don’t know where they will play. And in the afterglow of this dominating victory they don’t particularly care.
No matter what happens with the bowl scenario this season was something else, and no one can take that away from the Rebels or their fourth-year coach.
“It’s all been worth it,” Hauck said.