Here’s your game-by-game breakdown on how the 2018 UNLV Rebels will fare this college football season.
The expectation in Las Vegas is that the 2018 UNLV Rebels cap off this college football season with an invitation to a bowl game.
– Contact/Follow @BSUKeith
It’s bowl eligibility or bust for the 2018 UNLV Rebels.
This season is the most important season in the history of the UNLV Rebels football program. I said the same thing about the 2017 season. It might not have felt that way, but I wasn’t wrong. I’m saying it again in 2018, and I’m still right.
The Rebs have to go to a bowl game. There’s been progress in Las Vegas in all ways. Head coach Tony Sanchez won three games in 2015. He won four games in ’16, and last year turned that into five. It’s progress, don’t get me wrong, I’m not turning my nose up at it, but it’s time for some postseason play.
UNLV football is about to have an awesome new practice facility. Before you know it they’ll be moving into Raiders Stadium on the Las Vegas Strip. And most importantly they have Armani Rogers at quarterback and Lexington Thomas threatening to break the school’s all-time rushing record. It is absolutely time to strike while the iron’s hot. Here’s how I think the 2018 UNLV football season shakes out, guaranteed to be right.
The USC Trojans will enter the 2018 season ranked #15 in the country. Many years you could write in a Trojans vs. Rebels matchup in SoCal or Vegas ending in a blowout without knowing a name on the roster. This one may very well get ugly. But if there was a year in which UNLV could keep things closer than expected, it’s 2018.
It’s sounding like true freshman J.T. Daniels is going to get the starting nod under center for USC. The Trojans are also tasked with replacing their leading rusher and receiver from a season ago. USC is still USC and UNLV is still UNLV but with so much transition among the Trojans and plenty of offensive firepower from the Rebels, expect to be entertained until late in this one.
Of the four non-conference games on the Rebels schedule, UNLV will enter two games as a significant underdog and two games as a heavy favorite. The UTEP game is one they definitely need to win.
The Miners won just a single game last season and failed to tally a victory in conference play. This is the start of a gigantic rebuild and there’s no reason to think that UTEP won’t finish in the basement of Conference USA once again. Expect Lexington Thomas to have a field day against a defense that returns five starters from a team that yielded north of 234 yards on the ground in 2017.
vs. Prairie View A&M
It’s going to be a good long while before fans in Las Vegas can hear of the Rebels playing a game against an FCS opponent and not think about the Howard debacle in 2017.
Eric Dooley’s squad has talent, a handful of his players were named to All-SWAC teams in the preseason, but on paper they don’t measure up to a team that will compete for bowl eligibility like UNLV. Off paper, Rebels head coach Tony Sanchez will make sure his team is reminded of being embarrassed by Howard last season so there will be no shortage of motivation when the teams take the field in Las Vegas.
at Arkansas State
UNLV travels to Jonesboro for what may be the most intriguing of its non-conference matchups on September 22nd. Arkansas State is the crown jewel of the Sun Belt Conference, and a bet on the Red Wolves to finish at the top of the league once again is not a bad bet.
If you’re a fan of Group of Five football, you should have this one circled. There will be plenty of points against a pair of explosive offenses. ASU’s Justice Hansen is the top quarterback in the Sun Belt, and it should be fun to watch him trade punches with Armani Rogers. Rebels fans can walk away happy just hanging with the Red Wolves, if they manage an upset they have my permission to get irrationally excited about the Mountain West Conference season.
vs. New Mexico
New Mexico at home is a nice, safe place to start conference play as the Rebels ramp up their quest to return to postseason competition for the first time since 2014.
Last season the Lobos ranked 11th in the MWC in scoring offense. That means a change in offensive coordinator. Bob DeBesse is out, Calvin Magee is in. The Rebel defense will need to be on alert. UNM running back Tyrone Owens gobbled up 770 yards on the ground in 2017. The Lobos will be mostly one-dimensional though, as Magee gets to work on revitalizing the passing attack.