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Hill: Catching up with the man who saw UNLV’s league title coming

It may not have looked like a championship contender on Saturday, but the UNLV football team claimed a share of the Mountain West title with the 37-31 loss to San Jose State.

It’s a development nobody could have expected for a program with a first-year coach and very little history of success.

Well, almost nobody.

When the league’s preseason poll was released in July, the single first-place vote allocated to ninth-place UNLV was the buzz of media day. There was scorn, mockery and ridicule directed at the anonymous voter who could have easily chosen to stay in the shadows.

But broadcaster Matt Neverett didn’t do that. He discussed his vote and his reasoning with the Review-Journal at the time and made a compelling case for his decision.

Nobody’s laughing now.

The Rebels finished in a three-way tie for the conference championship despite their loss to the Spartans and are almost certain to be included in the championship game when the league formally announces the two contestants Sunday. There’s a very good chance UNLV could still host the game

“To a certain extent, it is vindication,” Neverett said in the press box during Saturday’s game. “The job is not done, but they have exceeded every expectation that was put out.”

Neverett said some fan bases were nastier than others when the article hit the internet revealing him as the voter, but in the end it’s Neverett who gets to take the high road.

“For me personally, (UNLV winning the conference) has been an awesome story,” he said. “But for the city and the program, they are doing stuff that hasn’t been done in 40 years. A lot of people were starting to question after they got the new building and the stadium, when were they actually going to turn that corner? It’s a small sample size of just one season, of course, but it’s been so fun to watch as far as building the program.”

Neverett’s biggest reason for his prediction was his belief in coach Barry Odom, who has proven a turnaround artist in his first season. Everything Neverett believed about Odom has been backed up by what he has witnessed throughout the year.

He has been especially impressed with how the team has been able to prepare for such a wide variety of opponents and stay sharp while handling newfound success. Neverett also credited Odom for developing not only his players, but also his assistants as coaches by empowering them at practices and potentially creating opportunities for them to advance their careers.

“You don’t typically see that in a first-year coach because they want to put their thumbprint on everything, but he’s been so trusting and he’s been rewarded because of that,” Neverett said. “And then obviously, I don’t think anybody saw what was going to develop with the quarterback situation, and what (Jayden) Maiava has done as a redshirt freshman has been phenomenal.

“So that flexibility on the defensive end coupled with what has been such a remarkable offense on paper as far as the numbers and the personnel that goes along with it have been the driving factors.”

In the end, Neverett’s ability to see what was developing at UNLV and not be afraid to put his name on it makes him look very smart.

But predictions can just as easily go very wrong. Not that he’s rooting against anybody, but while Neverett’s vote was mocked, there was an anonymous voter who escaped the criticism he endured.

“I will say, we need to keep that same energy in finding the guy who voted San Diego State in first place because they aren’t just bad, they are dead last,” Neverett said with a laugh. “Those that were coming for me, keep that same energy trying to track down that person.”

Time for a solution

Bishop Gorman won yet another state title in blowout fashion Tuesday and once again drove home the irrefutable point that it has the best football program in the state.

There’s really not much point in disputing it. There’s probably not much point in contesting it, either.

Plenty of ideas have been floated over the past few years to solve the conundrum of having one private school competing for a title against a bunch of public schools with huge restrictions facing them. Something should be figured out.

How is it fair to Gorman to just continue drubbing overmatched opponents? It can’t be very rewarding.

While logistics would be an issue and rules would have to be rewritten, I’ve always believed there should be a compromise reached in which Gorman could compete in Southern California’s Trinity League.

It would provide the Gaels’ college-bound athletes with far greater competition and help their development, while also giving Southern Nevada public school players a chance to achieve a state championship on a level playing field.

It’s better for everyone. And Mater Dei coach Frank McManus, who passionately called for a game against Bishop Gorman this weekend, would get his wish on a regular basis.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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