University of Nevada, Las Vegas

2022 was an unusually disappointing season for UNLV football. Every year is a disappointing season for UNLV, but the hot 4-1 start gave us fans and alumni actual hope that UNLV could be a contender in the Mountain West. Then injuries happened, and UNLV only won a single game in the second half of the season to close out with a 5 and 7 record.

After blowout losses to San Jose State and Air Force while starting quarterback Doug Brumfield (and several wide receivers and defensive leaders) sat out with injury, an embarrassing loss to a 2-win Hawai'i team in the penultimate game that guaranteed a losing season and no bowl game, and barely pulling off a last-second win against a 2-win Nevada team, UNLV's athletic director decided to fire head coach Marcus Arroyo after only 3 seasons. The decision is understandable, even if a bit sudden. Completely blundering the second half of the season after such a hot start is bad. Losing that must-win game against Hawai'i (one of the worst teams in the conference) was inexcusable. I get why the new athletic director decided to fire Arroyo.

I get it. But I don't really agree with it.

Marcus Arroyo
Photo credit: Steel Brooks, LV Review Journal.
Marcus Arroyo has not had much success as UNLV's head coach, but does he deserve to be fired?

Competitive losses

Yeah, this season ended in disappointment, but Arroyo's team has seen steady and consistent improvement in its 3 years. I, personally, don't hold the COVID-shortened 2020 season against Arroyo. He was coming into a tough position. A former offensive coordinator with no head coaching experience coming into a pandemic situation in his first year with a perennial losing team. Business closures prevented the team from holding many of the normal training activities. Yeah sure, every team around the country was dealing with COVID as well, but only a handful of them were doing so with a brand new coaching staff, which made Arroyo and UNLV's position particularly disadvantaged.

2021 showed incremental progress, in terms of win-loss record, with UNLV only winning 2 games. But that 2021 UNLV team (which started out 0-6, by the way), was surprisingly competitive in almost all of its losses, which lead me to call them "the best 0-6 team that I've ever seen". Many of those losses in 2021 were by a single score, with UNLV playing competitive football well into the 4th quarter. That was impressive considering that I was used to seeing previous UNLV teams come out completely flat to start the second half, and only get worse as the games would progress into the 4th quarter. They weren't winning, but Arroyo had his players playing! Every. Single. Game. And that was something that I hadn't really seen before.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Last year, I said that UNLV was the best 0-6 football team I had ever seen. Well this year, in 2022, the team has finally turned that competitive spirit into actual wins, and UNLV's football team has earned its first 3-1 start of the current century. Considering that the Mountain West isn't quite as strong of a conference as it has been in years past, this UNLV team might even have a chance at contending for the conference title if they keep playing like they are currently. Boise State and San Diego State aren't the dominant teams that they used to be, and UNLV just closed out a convincing 2-score victory at the home of the defending conference champs, Utah State.

I almost can't believe I'm saying this, but UNLV actually looks good!

Most of the success lies on the arm and legs of sophomore quarterback Doug Brumfield. Brumfield showed flashes of promise last year, but was plagued with injuries. He has absolutely taken over the offense this season as the unquestioned starter. He has been throwing pinpoint-accurate passes down the field, and is making mostly smart decisions with the football. So far, he has only thrown a single interception, which happened to be in UNLV's only loss so far this season. When there's no one open downfield, Brumfield has been good about checking down to underneath receivers or taking off and running (he has 4 running touchdowns to go along with his 8 passing TDs). He isn't forcing balls into coverage and sabotaging scoring opportunities with avoidable turnovers.

Doug Brumfield
Photo credit: Lucas Peltier, UNLV Athletics.
Sophomore quarterback Doug Brumfield has been playing mistake-free football.

Though Brumfield has been a big part of UNLV's success, it isn't all him. In general, the offense has been moving pretty well. Discounting the loss to Cal, this offense has been putting up an average of 48 points per game. Part of that production has been on the ground with redshirt junior running back Aidan Robbins carrying the bulk of the load in the rushing attack. He has big shoes to fill after years of Lexington Thomas and Charles Williams cutting through and barreling over opposing defenses.

Robbins has been adequate so far as a substitute for Charles Williams. His stats on the season look really good, with over 400 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns in 4 games. But half of those yards came from a standout performance against North Texas, in which Robbins rushed for over 220 yards and 3 touchdowns. Robbins has been sharing carries with change-of-pace back Courtney Reese, who has had some explosive plays, but not scores yet.

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Earlier this week, both the Mountain West and MAC collegiate sports conferences announced that they were going to "indefinitely postpone" fall sports as a reaction to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Both said that they are planning on rescheduling games for the spring if the pandemic has subsided. The Big Ten and PAC-12 followed up a day or two later by announcing that they will also cancel their fall sports season. The remaining power five conferences are currently planning on going through with their fall schedule.

The Big Ten specifically cited concerns over a condition called Myocarditis, which is a complication of the COVID-19 disease that leads to long-term or permanent heart problems. A number of players within the Big Ten have already been diagnosed with the condition following recoveries from COVID-19, and physicians are warning that the normal fall timeline would not give those players enough time to recover from the condition (assuming that they ever recover at all).

The cancellation of Mountain West football means that my alma mater, UNLV, won't be playing this year. 2020 was looking to be an especially exciting transitional year for the team, as they would be breaking in the fancy new Allegiant Stadium which was built for the Raiders' move to Las Vegas, and they would also be introducing a high profile new head coach in Marcus Arroyo. I was definitely looking forward to not having to sit out in the hot Las Vegas sun during those August, September, and October games.

I was looking forward to seeing Marcus Arroyo as the UNLV head coach.

That being said, I was also terrified of the idea of attending a sporting event during the midst of a pandemic. With the pandemic numbers in southern Nevada being as high as they are, my dad and I would probably have been forced to stay home for at least the first few games -- probably the whole season, since it doesn't look like the pandemic situation is going to improve at all. Even though I would certainly have had to chose to stay home in order to protect myself and my family, it was a decision that I really did not want to make. In that sense, I'm kind of relieved that the Mountain West conference let me off the hook by canceling the season.

Or at least, they delayed my decision. The cancellation is actually a "postponement". The league has said that they want to play the conference games in the fall. I assume the non-conference games would likely be cancelled altogether, unless the non-conference schools also decide to reschedule. But I'm not optimistic that the pandemic will be over in the spring. Instead, I suspect that we'll likely be on the tail end of a massive uptick in cases, as the normal fall and winter cold and flu season exacerbates the COVID-19 situation.

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With this weekend's loss to a two-win (now three-win) Nevada team, UNLV will end the 2017 season with a record of 5-7 -- one win shy of the 6-6 record that is usually the threshold for qualifying for a bowl bid. UNLV failed to execute on third downs throughout the game, settling for multiple field goals and failing on several fourth down conversions that ended up deciding the game. The Fremont Cannon will remain blue for at least one more year.

UNLV @ Nevada 2018 - tackle
UNLV couldn't convert key third and fourth downs in their loss to Nevada.
By the way, Nevada Wolfpack: nice helmets.

The big question is: even if UNLV had won the game and ended the season 6-6, would hey still deserve a bowl invitation?

If you ask me, the answer would be "no".

The 2017 season has been defined by disappointment and a dash of embarassment, starting with their week 1 loss to Howard. UNLV also gave up a huge lead to Air Force to lose that game. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of UNLV's season; that was where I gave up hope. But UNLV also dropped a game to a three-win BYU team and a four-win Utah State team. UNLV only had one upset win of their own, against a heavily-favored Fresno State team that ended its season with nine wins.

For me, it was those multiple, embarrassing losses that defined the season, rather than the one upset victory.

Even if UNLV had beat Nevada, they still may not have received a bowl invite. There's apparently a lot of 6-6 teams in the NCAA this year, and not enough bowls for them all to get invites. So UNLV may have been snubbed anyway. I certainly wouldn't have selected this team if I were on a bowl-selection committee.

Turning the corner yet?

Even though this season was disappointing, it does appear to have shown a lot of improvement, and there were definitely some positive moments. Senior quarterback (and converted linebacker) Johnny Stanton played well during a mid-season period in which Armani Rodgers was injured. Lexington Thomas and Charles Williams lead one of the most productive rushing attacks in the nation, along with the option-running legs of Armani Rodgers. The offense had a lot of good performances...

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The football gods gave UNLV every opportunity to win on Saturday afternoon against the Air Force Academy Falcons. The whole game was defined by fumbles, and virtually all of them bounced in UNLV's favor. Half a dozen Air Force fumbles were recovered by UNLV. Air Force botched a field goal snap. There was even a gust of wind that pulled a kickoff such that it hit the ground in front of the returner and then bounced backwards right into the hands of the incoming UNLV coverage team -- which was either the craziest fluke play that I've seen in a long time, or it's the most genius onside kick that I've seen in a long time.

UNLV vs Air Force - fumbles
The game was defined by fumbles, and UNLV was the beneficiary of almost all of them!

UNLV's 27-7 halftime lead wasn't really a case of them beating Air Force. The ball was literally being gift-wrapped (sometimes by Air Force, sometimes by blind luck) and handed to UNLV. They were the beneficiaries of constant mistakes by Air Forces and lucky bounces. But this undeserved lead also wasn't enough to guarantee the victory, as I smelled trouble as soon as UNLV stepped onto the field in the second half. The offense failed to move the ball, and the defense couldn't slow down Air Force's triple option attack. Even though the defense got plenty of rest in the first half of the game due to Air Force's constant fumbles, they still looked exhausted throughout the second half of the football game.

Perhaps the game-deciding play was the single instance in which the ball didn't bounce in UNLV's favor. After being completely shut down in the second half, Armani Rogers finally ripped off a big run in Air Force territory and looked like he might turn momentum back in favor of the Rebels. But he fumbled in Air Force territory, the ball bounced towards the Air Force goal line, and the ball slipped through the hands of two Rebel players before finally being downed in the end zone by Air Force. A Rebel even had the ball in his hand at the goaline, but a Falcon defender swiped it out of his grasp at the last instant, forcing the ball into the end zone where a Falcon fell on it. The play was even reviewed to see if the recovering Rebel had broken the plane before the ball was swiped. He was not...

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