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New Mexico vs. UNLV Prediction: Rebels Look to Continue Hot Start at Home Against Lobos

Mountain West's No. 1 scoring offense has fueled UNLV's best start since 2008.

They're winning in Vegas. That's never been an easy thing to do. Especially if you're the UNLV football Rebels.

But after losing their shirts far too much in the last two decades, there's reason to believe in a jackpot season this fall.

A 3-1 start, heading into Friday night's home game against the New Mexico Lobos at Allegiant Stadium, comes on the heels of a putrid 70-177 record since 2000 and has fans betting on the Rebels like never before.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 5

"Understand that we are the team everyone is looking at," UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo told reporters. "That's a fun place to be. That's exactly where we want to be."

That's because of wins over FCS Idaho State — 52-21 — North Texas — 58-27 — and Utah State — 34-24.

It's not exactly a murderers' row of foes. But after so much failure for so long, the Rebels will take all the dividends from the early returns and set their sights on winning one more pot — that against the incoming 2-2 Lobos — before they get into the meat of their Mountain West schedule.

"The energy has shifted in the building, but we're expecting to win," UNLV junior running back Aidan Robbins told reporters. "The work has been put in, and we're seeing the output of what we've put in."

The output of New Mexico, meanwhile, has been rather expected. The Lobos have wins over FCS Maine and UTEP and have lost to superlative programs in Boise State and LSU. At 2-2, they'd also like a timely triumph this Friday before getting into what looks to be tougher tests ahead.

And Vegas isn't exactly unfamiliar territory for many of the Lobos, since the team made the gambling capital its home for 43 days during the COVID-shortened 2020 season due to ugly pandemic numbers back home in Albuquerque.

"That was a crazy experience," New Mexico redshirt senior offensive lineman Isaak Gutierrez told the Albuquerque Journal. "That's something you never think could happen in your college career. I'm glad we're out of there. It wasn't the best thing for your (mental health) being stuck there. New Mexico wasn't trying to have us play here. But coach said, 'We're going to play the season.' We had to get it done. There was no other option.

"It'll be nice to be back in Vegas this time. But we're there for one reason, and that's to win a football game."

New Mexico at UNLV

Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 30 at 11 p.m. ET
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: UNLV -14.5
Tickets: As low as $19 on

When New Mexico Has the Ball

The Lobos love to run the rock. But against strong competition, they haven't exactly racked up a lot of real estate so far this season. The bread-and-butter part of their offense was held to just 25 yards in Week 2 against Boise State, and it only amassed 37 in last week's 38-0 loss to LSU.

Fact is UNLV might as well throw out the game in Baton Rouge, since the attack proved anemic, producing only 88 yards and two first downs against the staunch Bayou Bengals, although head coach Danny Gonzales was happy to see his troops hurt by the shutout post-game. He believes — and knows his guys believe — they should be better offensively.

"I thought we had success early running the ball inside, and we didn't stick to it," Gonzales told reporters. "They defeated us on the perimeter easier than we'd like, obviously, and we couldn't get to the outside."

So Gonzales and Co. expect to see more from the offense, especially in the ground game, in Vegas.

They need more from sophomore back Nathaniel Jones, who has run for 128 yards on 36 carries, and more from junior running back Sherod White, who's rushed 26 times for 110 yards.

And they need more from senior quarterback Miles Kendrick, who has produced against the lesser lights — he's 40-of-70 for 430 yards for three touchdowns against three INTs on the year — but is just 13-of-34 for 149 yards in the losses to Boise State and LSU.

How will the Lobos do against an in-between — but trending upward team — such as the Rebels then?

Better stick to the run, given UNLV's ball-hawking ability. Only USC has more interceptions, with 11 against the Rebels' nine. Senior linebacker Austin Ajiake, the Mountain West defensive player of the week after seven solo tackles, leads the Rebels defense with two picks and a team-high 27 total tackles.

"They're better on defense than they were last year," said Gonzales, of a UNLV unit that's certainly improved although wasn't great last Saturday, allowing North Texas to gain 476 total yards.

Expect better from that defense, as well, this week.

When UNLV Has the Ball

The Rebels offense is all about Doug Brumfield these days.

While it's not all passing — the balance is still there with a team-total 720 rushing yards complementing Brumfield's 990 Mountain West-best passing yards — Arroyo is certainly leaning on his 6-foot-6 sophomore QB.

And others are taking notice, as well.

"Doug Brumfield, the quarterback, is a big old joker, and he's playing really, really well," said opposing coach Gonzales. "He makes them go."

He did last week in helping the team put up 576 total yards in the 34-24 win over defending conference champion Utah State to make UNLV a 1-0 first-place team in the Mountain West.

Brumfield himself rolled up 311 total yards, including 100 of them with his feet. His dual-threat skills have defenses second-guessing themselves.

"That's a big piece of it," Arroyo told reporters last week. "Doug can be effective and beat the defense with his feet on the backside of a run, which changes the backside of a defense. It's a big point of the offense — the ability to extend plays. It's something we're emphasizing."

Brumfield has weapons, as well, in offering even more positives within the UNLV attack.

Robbins has 427 rushing yards — only Air Force's Brad Roberts (465) has more in the conference — on 81 attempts for a healthy 5.3-yard per-rush average. Fellow junior Courtney Reese is also racking up the yardage per run, with a team-high 6.5.

And sophomore pass catcher Ricky White has hauled in 317 receiving yards, second only to Colorado State's Tory Horton in the Mountain West.

In the conference, only Fresno State (487.3) and Air Force (486.6) have averaged more yards per game than UNLV's 439.8.

So, suddenly, the Rebels have an attack, and the Lobos defense will be tested. But they've been better in that department, too, with takeaways numbering five fumble recoveries and six interceptions.

Whether they can get to Brumfield might spell the difference in the game, and the Lobos have a solid 12 sacks, led by sophomore linebacker Cody Moon's 3.5. Senior defensive end Justin Harris has recorded 2.5.

Final Analysis

Yes, it's still early to push all your chips in on the Rebels. But their best start since 2008 has them headed to only their first winning season since the 2013 7-6 campaign and, perhaps, onto their first bowl game since that same year.

"We still have a lot to earn," Arroyo said. "We have a lot of respect to earn. It's not over until the season ends."

But they do have the motivation to back up the solid opening to the slate.

"A lot of guys in the locker room have scar tissue from the past," Robbins said. "Me, too. I have a chip on my shoulder, and we continue to carry that every week. Although we're becoming the hunted, we're still the hunters."

And this Friday, they'll be hunted by the Lobos, who have scars of their own they'd love to forget. UNLV is a paltry 48-114 since 2007.

"We get a great opportunity on Friday night playing probably the hottest team in our league," added Gonzales. "Coach Arroyo is doing a great job."

Good enough to run the Rebels record up to 4-1.

Prediction: UNLV 33, New Mexico 17

Podcast: Week 5 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread

– Written by Todd Saelhof, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports editor/writer for Postmedia in Canada. Follow him on @ToddSaelhofPM at #CollegeFootballFrenzy.

*Price as of publication.