State of the State: Nevada Look at College Football Futures

August 18, 2023

Can Barry Odom make the Runnin’ Rebels a bowl-bound team?

© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

With a brand new head coach, UNLV looks to become a factor in the Mountain West.

How much – or how little – you believe in the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels this season largely depends on where you weigh in on first-year head coach Barry Odom. Or, put another way, how much better can the Rebels be under Odom, and how fast can he get them there?

It’s not that Odom is new to college football or even to the head coaching position. He’s not at all. In four seasons as the head coach at Missouri, from 2016 to ’19, Odom compiled a 25-25 record while competing in the SEC; twice he went 4-4 within the conference. While every program wants to win, it’s not as if the SEC is ripe for such wishes. Odom was let go following the 2019 season, and since then, the Tigers have gone 17-19.

Following his time at Missouri, Odom was scooped up by Arkansas as its defensive coordinator. Along with head coach Sam Pittman, they inherited a 2-10 Razorback team and within two seasons had them ranked as high as 8th in the national polls.

Now that he’s got the opportunity, can Odom do something similar in the desert, where the competition doesn’t exactly resemble the SEC?

UNLV, while a marketable brand with plenty of apparent advantages, has simply never been much of a football program. In fact, the Rebels only claim two winning seasons since 1994. Last season they turned in a 5-7 record (3-5 in the Mountain West). It was business as usual in Sin City.

Like a lot of losing schools in non-Power Five conferences, UNLV was hit somewhat hard with a departure of talent to the transfer portal. Odom was able to replenish some, but for the sake of argument, call it a wash. It might take another year to get his type of players, particularly on defense, filling up the roster. Perhaps the key to the Rebels roster is quarterback Doug Brumfield, who was injured late in the season. He appears to be healthy – a good thing UNLV went 5-1 when he threw for 209 yards or more. Stats aside, Brumfield was named Honorable Mention All-Mountain West after starting 10 games.

With what should be an improved defense – that’s what Odom does best – wins and losses could come down to how well the Rebels can run the ball. The offensive line could be shaky early on, and UNLV lost their best rusher in Aidan Robbins who transferred to BYU, but Vincent Davis from Pitt (1,800 yards and 16 TDs in 2022) transferred in to fill the gap. If UNLV can play solid defense and win the time of possession, they’ll win a game or two they shouldn’t.

With a projected win total of 5.5, it’s a dicey bet on either side. It all comes down to whether or not Odom can make an immediate impact.

Bud Parmalee’s pick: UNLV under 5.5 wins in 2023 (+130)

Don’t take this as a knock on Odom, rather more as a bet that this season won’t be the year the turnaround takes place. If the total were 5.0, the over would be the play. And since the over pays at an uninviting -150, the upside is limited. There’s a decent chance – considering some of the roster challenges during Odom’s first season – that the new coach simply treads water. The Rebels won five games a season ago, and Odom will won’t do worse, but finding that sixth win on the schedule could be tricky. Collect at the window when the Rebels go 5-7 once again, then check back next season when Odom really gets rolling.