LAS VEGAS -- Not many people were circling Saturday's matchup between San Jose State and UNLV when the schedule came out.

The Rebels haven't been a consistent winner ever, with just three bowl appearances all-time and none since 2000. The Spartans are aiming for program consistency, but when they got off to a rough start this year, it looked as though they might be in trouble.

But suddenly, this game sets up as the game of the week in the Mountain West Conference, certainly at least in the West Division. SJSU (4-3, 3-1 MW) has won three straight, UNLV (5-3, 3-1) has won four of five, and this has turned into a battle of second-place teams in the West.

"A few weeks ago we were 1-3 and nobody thought anything of us," said Spartans quarterback David Fales, who is a big reason for the team's resurgence. "We're looking forward to a very competitive game."

The Rebels had won six games in the past three years under coach Bobby Hauck, who entered the season on the hot seat with expectations that he could be out of a job if he didn't lead UNLV to a bowl game.

With four games to go, including Saturday's 1 p.m. kickoff against SJSU, the Rebels need only one more victory to become bowl-eligible. In many ways, this UNLV team has some of the feel of last year's Spartans' squad.


Advertisement

"Both programs you could look at two years ago, three years ago, were just battling to ascend that mountain," SJSU coach Ron Caragher said. "It seems like both programs are in the process, partly up the mountain.

"They're seeing the light and they're on the cusp of getting bowl eligible, and our guys see the opportunity and want to continue as well."

UNLV's improvements this season have come mostly since making a change at quarterback to senior Caleb Herring, replacing Petaluma product Nick Sherry.

Sherry struggled in season-opening losses to Minnesota and Arizona and threw an interception on his only pass attempt against Central Michigan as the Rebels fell behind 21-0 at home to the Chippewas. Herring might have saved the season that day when he led UNLV to 31 straight points and a victory.

The Rebels have lost only once since -- to No. 16 Fresno State. The biggest win came last week in a 27-22 road upset of Nevada, UNLV's longtime rival. It was the first win for the Rebels since 2004 in the rivalry game.

Fales knows enough about the rivalry from his one year at Nevada to understand the significance of the win.

"They haven't won that in awhile, so that's obviously a huge confidence boost to beat their biggest rival in one of their biggest games of the year," he said. "They're going to be very emotional."

Hauck and UNLV spent Monday celebrating the win. Hauck's hope was that by getting the celebration out of the way Monday, his team would return its focus to Saturday's game.

"I think doing this probably helps you because there's something we did to kind of put it to rest," Hauck said. "Rather than sitting around talking about it all week, we can say, 'Hey, we did that. ... Now it's time to go on to the next one.' "