Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023 | 2 a.m.
• Sat. Oct. 14 at UNR, 2 p.m. on Mountain West Network/Silver State Sports
• Sat. Oct. 21 vs. Colorado State, 4 p.m. on Mountain West Network/Silver State Sports
• Sat. Oct 28 at Fresno State, time TBD on Fox Sports Networks
• Sat. Nov. 4 at New Mexico, 3 p.m. on Mountain West Network
• Fri. Nov. 10 vs. Wyoming, 7:45 p.m. on Fox Sports 1
• Sat. Nov. 18 at Air Force, 12:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
• Sat. Nov. 25 vs. San Jose State, noon on Mountain West Network/Silver State Sports
The season is not hanging in the balance when UNLV football heads north to take on UNR on Saturday.
For UNLV supporters, it might take some time to get used to the idea. The Scarlet and Gray have been down for so long that every year it seemed like the only game that mattered was the one against that team up North.
Beat Reno — those were the stakes. A 1-11 campaign was acceptable, as long as the lone victory earned possession of the Fremont Cannon.
Things are different now that UNLV is surging under first-year head coach Barry Odom. Of course, the two schools remain the bitterest of intrastate rivals, and the on-field battle figures to be intense. But this game isn’t everything for UNLV.
Odom’s squad has bigger goals in mind.
UNLV has won three straight and sits at 4-1 heading into its unusually early meeting with UNR. A win Saturday moves the Scarlet and Gray to the precipice of qualifying for a bowl game (which requires six victories), a feat the program has not accomplished since finishing 7-5 in 2013.
Beyond that, who’s to say what Odom’s plucky team can achieve? Backed by a powerful running game, a playmaking defense and sound special teams, this UNLV team might even have designs on the Mountain West title race.
That’s why Odom has tried to set a level-headed tone leading up to the clash with UNR.
“It’s about us and how we prepare,” Odom says. “Obviously, it’s hugely important for our supporters and our alumni base and the players before us. They understand what’s at stake with this game. But every game is going to be so hugely important when you get into conference play.”
Make no mistake: UNLV will still be up for the game. Though more than half the roster has turned over since last year, the incoming class has been a quick study in loathing.
Holdovers like junior quarterback Doug Brumfield understand how passionate the rivalry is, and the newcomers have been indoctrinated.
And if anyone needs a reminder, the Fremont Cannon is currently parked inside the front entrance of the Fertitta Football Complex and painted red. UNLV captured it last year, courtesy of a dramatic season-finale win, so every player, coach and staff member gets a good look at it every single day.
“You walk in the door and that’s one of the first things, if not the first thing you see,” Odom says. “The importance of this game for us, there’s a lot that rides on it.”
Brumfield’s health could be a determining factor on whether the Scarlet and Gray can retain the cannon for another year. He hasn’t played since suffering bruised ribs and hips against Vanderbilt on September 16, but has now gotten extra time to heal with UNLV on a bye week before facing UNR.
The offense wasn’t exactly humming with Brumfield in the lineup — he completed 56.1% of his passes with no touchdowns and two interceptions in the first three games — but UNR is an opportunity for a breakout performance, as the winless Wolf Pack rank dead last in the entire nation in yards per play allowed (8.3).
Odom has maintained that Brumfield will remain the starter and return under center when he gets healthy, no matter how competent freshman and Liberty High product Jayden Maiava has looked in helping UNLV to three straight wins.
Rushing Brumfield back for the UNR game may have been the play in past years, but Odom has to coach with the bigger picture in mind. That means inspiring the team to play with emotion on the field while removing emotion from the decision-making process.
“I’ve been in a lot of rivalry games over the years,” Odom says. “I understand there’s a lot of emotion that goes into a game when it impacts a lot of people.”
So, it’s a balance. Compete for the cannon, play with pride and win the rivalry game. But for the first time in a long time, there is a season beyond the matchup with UNR.
This is not the only big game UNLV will play.
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.