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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.

Hawaii @ UNLV 2018 - Johnny Stanton
Johnny Stanton bulked up to play linebacker, and provided excellent relief for injured Armani Rodgers.

Five wins is a hell of a lot better than the two wins that they'd accomplished during most of Bobby Hauck's years as head coach. Tony Sanchez has seen steady improvement in the team's win record, offensive capability, and overall energy level over his three seasons so far. The Rebels have had three wins, four wins, and now five wins in each of Sanchez's first three seasons. That's starting to look like a trend.

Howard @ UNLV 2018 - Devante Boyd catch
Devante Boyd will be graduating,
but other key weapons will return.

UNLV will be losing its top passing threat, Devante Boyd, to graduation, but a lot of the other pieces of their offense will be returning. Armani Rodgers will be back, and will hopefully show significant improvement in his passing accuracy and decision-making. He needs a lot of work in those regards. He'll have some up-and-coming young receivers to throw to, such as Brandon Presley and Drew Tejchman. Most importantly, however, is that the one-two punch of Lexington Thomas and Charles Williams will be back at running back, along with Xavier Campbell.

I'm not worried about the offense next year. It seems to be in good hands.

BYU @ UNLV 2018 - deep TD
UNLV's defense has been getting
torched by the deep ball for year.

Defense needs to get better now

The big point of concern will be the defense. That's where UNLV will need to put most of its focus for recruiting this year. The defense routinely gave up 400+ yards and 40+ points, frequently looked gassed and exhausted as early as the second quarter, gave up far too many big plays, and failed to make key stops. The secondary has been blowing downfield coverages for years, and this year was no exception.

Sanchez and his staff will need to look at some serious defensive improvements this year, and might even want to look into some new defensive coaches. My understanding is that Sanchez himself isn't very actively involved in defensive preparations. Maybe he should be. That defense doesn't look like it's simply lacking talent; it looks like they lack motivation and stamina. This team's defense spends a lot of time on the field, so they need a lot of conditioning. Either that, or they need a deeper depth chart in order to give guys opportunities to rest.

With a better defense, UNLV should have a chance to compete for a bowl appearance next year, and they sure as hell better win back that cannon! Maybe the steady improvement is a sign that the school is finally turning the corner. But with that, comes higher expectations. This year's team could easily have won seven -- maybe even eight games -- and been a shoe-in for a bowl. Most signs seem to point towards next year's team being better. I certainly hope so. I don't know how many more 2-or-3-win seasons I could withstand...

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