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UNLV football has a winning record for the first time in years. How can they keep it up?

UNLV
AP Photo/Lachlan Cunningham
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UNLV Rebels quarterback Doug Brumfield (2) looks to pass the ball in the first quarter against the California Golden Bears during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022 in Berkeley, Calif.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas football has a winning record. 

The red-hot Rebels are 4-1 after the first five games of the season and 2-0 in conference play. It’s a big change of pace for a team --and town-- that’s used to seeing the Rebels lose.  

So, what’s different this year, and how can the Rebels keep up their momentum? 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On what turned the team around

ALEX WRIGHT: They've had so many struggles since they became a Division I program in the ‘70s. And it's taken as long as when Marcus Arroyo took over as head coach, he kind of talked about, it's going to take some time to build the culture that he wants, build that winning culture and foundation. And in his first two years, they took a lot of tough losses. But within those tough losses, he learned and developed as a coach, he figured out the people that he wants on his staff, he figured out the players that he needs in his program.

We're seeing the fruits of that labor right now. One of the biggest, reasons for the Rebels success has been the play of quarterback Doug Brumfield, that they had a quarterback battle throughout fall camp and he ultimately came away as the starter, and he's been proving through early in the season that he is was worthy of winning that job with the way he's been playing. His play has a lot of reason to do that. But it's just a sort of a combination of a lot of things that the Rebels are having this early success so far.

On what’s different about Brumfield

The competition. I feel like we saw it in practice a little bit, his ability as a thrower, to push the ball down the field, be a deep threat and add something to the Rebel offense. But we've also been seeing his ability as a runner, his ability to get those tough yards, get the first down. He's not afraid to run for a touchdown. … If you go back to last season, Bumfield, during that first game last season, came in off the bench and kind of showed why he kind of established himself as the starter. But then he got hurt, he missed those last eight games. … How can a healthy Doug Brumfield deal throughout the rest of the season? So far, he's been making big plays as a runner. But he's also been very consistent as a passer, which is something the Rebels haven't had. 

On how Reno football is performing

CHRIS MURRAY: They're definitely in a rebuilding year. Ken Wilson is a first-year head coach. Jay Norvell left Nevada for Colorado State. That was the first time a sitting Mountain West coach went from one school to another, and he said his reason for doing so … it was not only that he was getting basically three times the salary, but he also felt a little bit more support in terms of trying to build a championship caliber program at Colorado State than you would at Nevada. 

Not only did Nevada lose a lot of players up to the NFL level, guys like Romeo Doubs, who started for the Packers, Cole Turner with the Washington commanders, Carson Strong who was a two-time Conference Player of the Year, but you know, a number of transfers left as well. Eleven players went with Jay Norvell to Colorado State, 23 players in total transferred, so he's brought in 57 new players since he got this job in December. 

I think he knew what he was getting into when he stepped into the shop and Nevada has a standard. They've made a bowl game 14 of the last 17 seasons, and they have the longest consecutive bowl streak out of all 12 teams in the Mountain West. So there's a certain level of expectation that you get to a bowl if you aren't Nevada. I think Coach Ken Wilson knew he was inheriting a rebuild, but also, that there was a likelihood that they could potentially get to six wins and make a bowl especially after winning the first two games in pretty lopsided fashion.

Alex Wright, reporter, Las Vegas Review-Journal; Chris Murray, co-host, Nevada Sports Net Daily 

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.