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Rebels embracing the expectations that come with winning

UNLV football finds itself atop the West Division standings in the Mountain West Conference after a 34-24 win in its Mountain West opener at Utah State on Saturday night.

Off to their best start since 2008, the Rebels (3-1, 1-0 in the Mountain West) are halfway toward qualifying for what would be their fifth bowl game in program history.

Entering Friday night’s matchup with New Mexico at Allegiant Stadium, the Rebels are 14.5-point favorites.

At his weekly press conference Monday, coach Marcus Arroyo is noticing the buzz around the program given the Rebels’ early success. But with that excitement comes a standard that Arroyo said the Rebels need to maintain.

“We have to understand how that target changes and what the expectations are,” Arroyo said. “And understand that we are the team everyone is looking at. That’s a fun place to be. That’s exactly where we want to be.”

Arroyo’s goal has always been to make sure that when the program turned the page and started winning, they would be ready to handle those expectations. While he said it’s a new mindset, the players are embracing the idea that winning is becoming the regular outcome.

“The energy has shifted in the building, but we’re expecting to win,” junior running back Aidan Robbins said. “The work has been put in, and we’re seeing the output of what we’ve put in.”

Against Utah State is when Arroyo noticed the real progress in the program. The Aggies cut the deficit to 10 points with over six minutes left. He admitted if that game was last season or two seasons ago, the Rebels would have not been able to hold onto that lead.

What has changed, he said, is that instead of the Rebels making mistakes, it was the opponent who did so. In the past, it was UNLV turning the ball over, not getting a stop, or giving up a big play.

He cited the maturity and buy-in from the team as to why the Rebels were able to not make those old mistakes and hold onto the win.

“For our guys to fight through it the way they did and stay disciplined, it just says a lot about how far this locker room has come,” Arroyo said.

Robbins said the Rebels have used their struggles from last year as motivation to stay focused throughout this season.

“A lot of guys in the locker room have scar tissue from the past, and me too,” Robbins said. “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.”

Arroyo said opening conference play with a win on the road against the reigning champs will go a long way with two-thirds of the season to play.

While the Rebels have taken time to acknowledge their early success, Arroyo has made it clear that the Rebels still have a lot to prove.

“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.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.

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