Monday, July 10, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: UNLV Rebels

UNLV Rebels
It is now year three in the bold experiment of hiring a high school coach to take over at one of the all-time worst programs in Mountain West history. UNLV has been a model of football disaster since entering the league, and desperate times called for a bold measure, and Tony Sanchez was that measure. Sanchez is now entering year three, and expectations are rising in the desert, and those expectations state that UNLV has got to make a surge towards a bowl bid, and that needs to happen now. Nationally, pressure is mounting, and a new AD is in place, and a new stadium seems to be on the horizon. Does UNLV have enough in the talent tank after three years of building to finally make a push around a corner?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The Rebels finally started to move forward in a big way in the run game last season, as the team has a two headed monster situation brewing at RB. Both Charles Williams and Lexington Thomas made major strides last season, and there is no reason to believe that with a freshman QB coming into play, that both backs will not have more freedom and more work ahead of them this fall. They combined for 1405 yards rushing last season and 11 scores, and both averaged over five yards per carry last fall. They could be two major breakout stars in the Mountain West this season.
With the roster being what it was last fall, several young players got time in at the receiver spots, and that will benefit the Rebels this fall. Devonte Boyd is the veteran and leader of the group, and led the team with 45 receptions for 746 yards and four scores last fall. With more consistent QB play this season being an expectation, he should become a big time star in this league. Darren Woods, Jr. and Mekhi Stevenson also both return, and got solid time in as freshmen. They, too, should blossom in the offense this fall.
Four starters will return on the line for the Rebels this season, and that maybe the biggest development of all. Consistency on the line and at QB have been two huge issues affecting the production of this unit for a long while now, and that may be a thing of the past. Kyle Saxelid (LT), Michael Chevalier (LG), Justin Polu (RG), and Nathan Jacobson (RT) will all be back. Zach Singer, a junior, will likely be the starting Center according to projections.
Evan Pantels was a huge success at PK last fall, and will also return after hitting 12/13 FG attempts.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The QB position is reason for both excitement and concern in 2017. The Johnny Stanton (transfer from Rancho Santa Margarita and Nebraska) experiment appears to be over with. He never caught on with the Rebels, and although he is returning as a senior, he is not going to be the starter. That job has been handed to RS freshman Armani Rogers, who hails from the Los Angeles area. Rogers is coming in with a ton of fanfare, the coaches love him, and the local media is fired up about him to varying degrees. He has a ton of potential, but to quote the great Don Henley, "If dirt were dollars, I wouldn't worry anymore." Potential is one thing, but real game experience is another. UNLV has landed with several promising, high potential QBs in the past, and rarely have they worked out. Here's hoping for the best this time around.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Here we have a problem, but not one unlike the rest of the league to some degree. The Rebels only return two starters on defense. This, as I have said, is a recurring problem in 2017 in the Mountain West.
Both returning starters play on the interior line, so there is a start to something. DTs Salanoa-Alo Wily and Mike Hughes, Jr. are your returning defensive starters. They combined for a total of six TFLs last fall. I had to find something, right?
Evan Pantels was rock solid at Punting, as he was at PK last season, and is slated to handle both jobs. He averaged 41.72 yards per punt.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
In one word, everything. With only two starters returning, both at DT, and both highly ineffective, this unit could end up being Kent Baer's biggest coaching job ever.
The Rebels must find nine new starters across the board, and must replace the entire secondary, as well as every LB spot. Both DEs must be replaced as well. As it comes, Wily may not even be a starter when fall camp breaks, as Jason Fao was ahead of him on the spring depth chart. Nick Dehdashtian will start at one DE spot, but also shows the lack of depth on the line, as he is also a key backup at DT. Senior Mark Finau is slated to start at the other open DE spot.
Gabe McCoy and Bailey Laolagi are slated to win the OLB jobs, while Brian Keyes is projected to start at MLB. They combined for a total of 34 tackles last season.
The secondary looks to have Robert Jackson and Tim Hough or Jericho Flowers starting at CB. Those three players combined for four PBUs last season as reserves. Evan Austrie, Javin White, and Chauncey Scissum were locked in a three way battle to start at SS this spring, while Dalton Baker is battling with Scissum to start at SS as well.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Howard, 9/9 at Idaho, 9/23 at Ohio State, 9/30 San Jose State, 10/7 San Diego State, 10/14 at Air Force, 10/21 Utah State, 10/28 at Fresno State, 11/4 Hawaii, 11/10 BYU, 11/17 at New Mexico, 11/25 Nevada
Final Overview
The Rebels are entering a crucial phase of the Tony Sanchez era in 2017, and everything must start to come to a head this fall. With a new AD in place, Sanchez is going to have to prove that his tenure is working forward, and there have been some signs of that, if not in the win/loss column entirely. UNLV is not going to win a Mountain West Conference or Division title, but getting to a bowl will be a benchmark to work for, and the Rebels, with this schedule, will have to steal a game or two to make that happen. It's going to be an interesting ride.

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