No. 98 UNLV
UNLV failed to reach a bowl game for the 15th time in the last 16 years but an enthusiastic coach, promising freshman quarterback and new facilities have brought faith that the Runnin' Rebels will no longer live in the Mountain West cellar.
2016 Record: 4-8 (3-5, Mountain West)
For most programs, four wins is underwhelming. For UNLV, it was their third-straight season of improvement and just their third four-win season since 2009.
They scored 30 or more points five times — first time since 2013 — including 69 in a wild 69-63 win over Wyoming, their first over the Cowboys since 2010. And they lost to Idaho and San Jose State by a combined nine points.
Head Coach: Tony Sanchez (3rd year, 7-17)
When Tony Sanchez was hired from nearby Bishop Gorman High School in in December 2014, most of the reactions were similar: Well, nothing else has worked, so why not?
"When I took over this team, you could argue that I took over the worst program in America," Sanchez said last October. "Our whole thing is keep perspective on progress."
He's probably right; they won seven games in 2013 but won five or fewer every other year between 2004-2014. The improvement has been minimal — two wins in 2014 to three in 2015 and four last year — but it's steady progress, something UNLV fans haven't seen John Robinson took the 1998 winless team to the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl.
The expectation for 2017 should be just that, a bowl game.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Armani Rogers, RB Charles Williams, RB Lexington Thomas, WR Devonte Boyd, OT Kyle Saxelid, OT Nathan Jacobson, G Justin Polu, G Michael Chevalier
Johnny Stanton was once a top-15 quarterback recruit and three-star member of Nebraska's 2013 class. Now he's sitting behind the most promising quarterback recruit in program history.
Armani Rogers is a 6-foot-5, 225-pound redshirt freshman from Los Angeles who picked the Rebels over UCLA, Washington and other Power Five teams. He dazzled during spring practice and barring a sudden change in fall camp, will open the season as the starter.
"His ability to run the football and make some big plays helps him get jazzed up to make some plays throwing it,” head coach Tony Sanchez said last month. “We couldn’t really see it today because anytime he ran it we blew the whistle quick but he’s a guy that can turn a bad play into a first down or something special.”
Offensive line coach John Garrison gets back four key bodies, led by fifth-year senior left tackle Kyle Saxelid, a 6-foot-7, 290-pounder who helped the Rebels average 5.6 yards per carry in 2016. He'll pave the wave for the top-two returning ball-carriers, Charles Williams (763 yards and three touchdowns) and Lexington Thomas (642 yards and eight touchdowns), and give Rogers time to hit leading receiver Devonte Boyd (746 yards and four touchdowns).
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Mike Hughes Jr., DT Salanoa-Alo Wily, DT Nick Dehdashtian, LB Brian Keyes, LB Gabe McCoy, CB Tim Hough, CB Darius Mouton
UNLV's front seven played decent against the run, ranking fifth in the Mountain West, but had a miserable pass rush, finishing last in the country in sacks. Only three players had multiple sacks and none had more than four.
They do return three defensive tackles in Hughes, Wily and Dehdashtian (and add JUCO defensive end Roger Mann) and linebackers Brian Keyes and Gabe McCoy. Keyes is expected to take over the middle linebacker role vacated by Ryan McAleenan, who had 89 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in 2016.
Cornerback Tim Hough is looking to take the next step toward all-conference first-term consideration. He had four interceptions as a freshman in 2015 but was part of a miserable pass defense that hardly improved in 2016.
Notable Player Losses
RB David Greene, WR Andrew Price, C Will Kreiter, DE Jeremiah Valoaga, LB Tau Lotulelei, LB Ryan McAleenan, CB Torry McTyer, S Troy Hawthorne, S Kenny Keys
Though UNLV returns most of their offensive skill players, David Greene and Andrew Price both depart. They combined for 11 touchdowns, eight of which came on the ground from Greene with the help of center Will Kreiter.
They loss their top six tacklers, including linebacker Tau Lotulelei, who left with 317 career tackles and 42.5 career tackles for loss. Also gone is last year's sack leader, Jeremiah Valoaga (dismissed for a violation of team rules), and interception leader, Torry McTyer.
“We’re thin at the safety spot right now,” Sanchez said of losing Hawthorne and Keys. “We got to do a really good job at that spot.”
Notable Player Additions
C Sid Acosta, DE Roger Mann, LB Jacob Rominger,
Three JUCO transfers will have an immediate impact for the Rebels.
Sid Acosta was supposed to take over at center but he suffered a knee injury in spring ball that required surgery. However, Sanchez said he's optimistic Acosta can still play this season. If the 6-foot-1, 305-pound mauler is 100 percent, he should be a day-one starter.
UNLV badly, badly, badly needs a pass rush, and defensive end Roger Mann from Palomar College in San Diego, could provide it. He was called a "big, strong guy with good hands" by Sanchez last December.
Lastly, linebacker Jacob Rominger could challenge Brian Keyes for the middle linebacker spot. If not, the former quarterback will be a key reserve.
For the second-straight season, UNLV opens against a FCS foe, Howard, before hitting the road. Though all eyes are on a fun trip to Ohio State in Week 4 (after a bye), the rejuvenated Idaho Vandals await in Week 2.
But their 2017 schedule is mostly about who they don't play. They avoid arguably three of the top four teams in the Mountain West: Boise State, Colorado State and Wyoming. However, an Oct. 7 visit from San Diego State looms large — UNLV has lost the last three matchups by a combined score of 112-38.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. Howard|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at Idaho|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at Ohio State|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||vs. San Jose State|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. San Diego State|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Air Force|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Utah State|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at Fresno State|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. Hawai'i|
|Friday, Nov. 10||vs. BYU|
|Friday, Nov. 17||at New Mexico|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||at Nevada|