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Graney: Loss shouldn’t detract from what Rebels accomplished

It shouldn’t detract from what was already accomplished, this team that was picked ninth in conference and finished in a tie for a regular-season title.

Shouldn’t take away from what UNLV football has done this year.

How it rose from the ashes of such failure and mediocrity spanning decades.

How it breathed life into what had been a bottom feeder of a program for so long.

But before the computers spit out those final rankings — ones that should place UNLV in the Mountain West championship game — what transpired Saturday at Allegiant Stadium must be addressed.

The Rebels lost to a better team.

Or at least one that played better.

San Jose State might not like what those computers say Sunday morning, but it just might be the best team going in the Mountain West right now with six straight wins.

It looked so in a 37-31 victory against UNLV before 25,554.

So now everyone waits, a three-way tie for first at 6-2 between the Rebels, Spartans and Boise State that will ultimately see two of them matched in a title game Saturday at a site to be determined.

The Rebels have been darlings of those four computer polls used to gauge who qualifies for a final league matchup, having led by a substantial amount over the next closest side.

Which means it would be an upset the likes of Patrick Mahomes failing miserably against the Raiders on Sunday for UNLV not to make the game.

Which means it better play a whole lot better than it did Saturday.

Early deficit

Chasing a score is never a good thing, and the Rebels did so when trailing 17-0. Just never could make it all the way back. Never could execute one key play that might make a difference. Never was good enough.

“I hate that we lost the game,” UNLV coach Barry Odom said. “We couldn’t have started any worse. We got beat. It’s hard to say out loud. We’ll go play really well whenever and wherever they tell us. It’ll be another step for our program.”

They couldn’t get enough stops. Couldn’t totally control San Jose State quarterback Chevan Cordeiro (19 of 26 for 249 yards and two scores) or running back Kairee Robinson (16 carries, 165 yards, two touchdowns).

Couldn’t get the Spartans off the field when needed most.

“It’s the most pain in the world,” UNLV linebacker Jackson Woodard said. “You work so hard throughout the week and dedicate everything to winning. When you lose, it’s the worst feeling in the world.”

UNLV finished the regular season 9-3, the most wins since a Randall Cunningham-led squad had 11 in 1984. That’s how long it has been since such a year was fashioned from a Rebels side, how rare it is for this kid of success.

Think about it: UNLV before Odom arrived this season had one record above .500 since 2003. John Robinson was the coach back then. We’re talking forever ago. Since that time, there have been 10 seasons of two or fewer wins.

So while this was a loss and certainly one UNLV deserved, while the chance at an outright title went by the way of another big run from Kairee Robinson, it can’t be overstated how far the program has come in such a short time.

Just a massive leap forward.

Work to do

“I don’t want anyone in that that locker room to ever feel like coming up short is OK,” Odom said. “We have a locker room full of guys that are tired, hurt, upset, frustrated. I hope they’ll be able to look back and know they went 9-3 with a chance to compete for a championship on the last weekend of November. It’s a huge step for our program going in the right direction.”

The computers have loved UNLV to this point, and there’s no reason to suggest that won’t continue when the title pairing is announced Sunday.

But there’s more work to do. If it proved anything, this defeat did just that.

Don’t detract from the accomplishment.

Don’t settle, either.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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