Rebels can win final five games


Conventional wisdom followed suit Saturday night in the fifth-largest city in California, named for an ash tree.

Fresno State has a better football team than UNLV and proved it with a 38-14 win. The Bulldogs are better than any other Mountain West team. It will take a crazy scenario for them not to bust through those Bowl Championship Series cartel doors and play in a big-money postseason game this year.

The Rebels never were going to beat Fresno State. I don’t think anyone will during the regular season.

But that’s not to say UNLV shouldn’t contend to win each of its final five games and in the process qualify for the program’s first bowl since 2000.

“I don’t think the snowball-type effect of (the past) will be in play,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said of his team’s history of following one loss with another and another and so on. “Fresno State is ranked 17th in the country. Our guys expected to go in there and win that game. I was with them all week and in the locker room before and after the game, and our guys expected to go in, find a way to compete and win.

“It’s more about multiple years of guys having that attitude instilled in them. To have our guys have the ability to win (four straight games before Fresno State) was good. Now, we have to get back on track.”

I’m not saying they will win all remaining games; not saying they won’t. Might lose them all. The Rebels certainly are not better than most of the five opponents, but they’re closer in ability than at any time under Hauck.

I’m saying they can be victorious more often than not, beginning with this week’s rivalry game at UNR.

Here is one reason when forecasting each of the five games:

■ At UNR, Saturday: Think of how much George Washington wanted to win the Battle of Yorktown and force the British to surrender … almost as much as former Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault enjoyed beating UNLV, which he did the past eight years by an average score of 35-19.

To suggest Ault was obsessed with winning the state’s rivalry game is to suggest those One Direction kids have a hefty following of female fans. Ault was a complete nut job about beating the Rebels.

But the little general — Ault, not Washington — now is a consultant to the Kansas City Chiefs, and I can’t for the life of me think UNR coach Brian Polian has the same level of scorn (er, passion) about winning this game. In fact, this will be Polian’s first appearance in the rivalry.

Ault’s absence and a much closer level of talent between the sides gives UNLV every chance to bathe a certain cannon in red.

■ Vs. San Jose State, Nov. 2: Three of the first five questions to Spartans coach Ron Caragher at his weekly news conference Monday were about injured players. San Jose State is beat up, and UNLV is 3-1 at Sam Boyd Stadium this season. Decent odds, these.

■ Vs. Utah State, Nov. 9: Do you know that saying about how one player doesn’t make a team, how no one is that important to the overall success of a program? I believe Chuckie Keeton was for the Aggies. The dynamic junior quarterback was lost for the season with an injured knee on Oct. 4, meaning Utah State isn’t near as explosive. Darell Garretson is a true freshman who will arrive in Las Vegas with two career starts at quarterback. What once was a game UNLV likely couldn’t win (pre-Keeton injury) now is one it can.

■ At Air Force, Nov. 21: Hauck has won just 10 games at UNLV in almost four seasons, but he’s 2-2 after an off week.

Bob knows byes.

He also knows, or will when flipping on film of Air Force with ample time to prepare, that these hardly are your father’s Falcons. They are 1-6 entering this week’s game against Notre Dame and have defeated only mighty Colgate. Why can UNLV win this one? Easy. It’s the better team.

■ Vs. San Diego State, Nov. 30: It’s not crazy to think both could be playing for bowl eligibility in this season finale. It’s also a fact that the Rebels and Aztecs are near even in terms of skill. So in a game that figures to be final-possession close, I’ll take the team with the better kicker. Nolan Kohorst very well could boot the Rebels into a bowl here, while San Diego State’s kicking issues in recent times have rivaled the “Blair Witch Project.”

Not saying the Rebels will win all five.

Not saying they can’t, either.

Somewhere in that forecast, however, should be two more victories and a bowl berth.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.