Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Nov. 29, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Because of a new contract agreed to this week, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck isn’t going anywhere. But his team likely is because of the victories that helped earn him that deal.
The Rebels (6-5, 4-3) host San Diego State (7-4, 6-1) on Saturday — Senior Day — at Sam Boyd Stadium for the chance to guarantee their first bowl trip since 2000. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
UNLV is already bowl eligible, and it’s possible the Mountain West won’t get enough teams to that plateau to fill all six of its bowl slots plus a potential BCS game for Fresno State. Still, a victory would leave no doubt for the Rebels and it would also snap a three-game losing streak against the Aztecs.
1. The stakes
Neither team is playing for an appearance in the inaugural Mountain West title game, so what’s really on the line is bowl position. And pride.
San Diego State’s only conference defeat was an overtime loss to Fresno State, and if the Aztecs win Saturday, they will finish the regular season 8-1 after losing their first three games (against Ohio State, Oregon State and I-AA Eastern Illinois). That’s a great turnaround, one that would be dampened a bit by a loss to a UNLV team that SDSU feels it is better than.
For UNLV, this would be unquestionably its best victory of the season. The Rebels have yet to defeat a team that’s currently above .500. Taking down SDSU would add some legitimacy to that bowl bid, and it could also affect where the Rebels go.
If San Jose State defeats Fresno State and Wyoming wins at Utah State — both unlikely — there’s a small chance a 6-6 UNLV team could be left out of a bowl game. Defeating San Diego State would ensure a postseason trip and it could get the Rebels into the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, which has a higher payout and easier travel accommodations for fans than the Hawaii Bowl.
San Diego State is likely headed to the Armed Forces Bowl with a victory, while a loss could drop the Aztecs to New Mexico or Idaho. Those last two aren’t out of the question for UNLV, either.
2. Finishing at home
UNLV hasn’t won a regular season finale since 2009, which is also the last time the Rebels finished a season at home. That game was also against the Aztecs, whom the Rebels have played to finish their Mountain West schedules more than any other opponent — this will be the sixth time.
This isn’t the same rivalry that it is in basketball but the Rebels seniors are aware they’ve never beaten San Diego State and would love to check one more item off their to-do list. The team could use a good crowd to help them accomplish that goal.
Eighteen UNLV seniors will be honored before the game, including guys who have played huge roles this season like quarterback Caleb Herring, running back Tim Cornett and injured safety Frank Crawford. This is the last time they will play in Sam Boyd Stadium becuase the Las Vegas Bowl is the only game UNLV for certain won’t appear in.
UNLV is doing what it can to get people out to the stadium. Tickets are on sale for $5, many faculty were given tickets and anyone with a ticket to the afternoon basketball game against Tennessee-Martin can use that stub to get into the football game for free. Considering the most likely bowl game for UNLV is about 2,700 miles away on Christmas Eve, this is the last chance a lot of people will have to watch a game in person this season.
3. Kickin’ it
UNLV and San Diego State have combined to miss nine extra-point attempts this season, which may be the most total misses between two teams playing Saturday. It’s been a problem for San Diego State all season while UNLV’s Nolan Kohorst doubled his season total with two blocked in the frigid temperatures at Air Force last week.
Neither side has been very good at field goals, either, combining to connect on 17-of-31 attempts. Because of this, we may see a larger number of fourth-down attempts, meaning the defense that comes up with one or two key stops may make the difference.
UNLV’s offensive line vs. San Diego State’s defensive line
The Aztecs are giving up 3.7 yards per carry, which is about one yard lower than UNLV’s average on offense this season. That number will go a long way toward determining the winner. SDSU has the second best rushing defense in the league, but it hasn’t faced a lot of guys like Cornett.
Over/Under: 6.5 combined fourth-down attempts
It’s very possible this ends up becoming a dominant storyline on gameday. Neither team has an inherent advantage as both have converted exactly 48 percent of their attempts.
That’s what he said: “It should be a heck of a game, so I hope people will come out to watch.” — Hauck on Saturday’s atmosphere