at Utah State
This one will be a pretty good barometer for how the Rebels will fare in conference play. Last season the Aggies crushed UNLV in Vegas and earned a berth in the Arizona Bowl. This season they’re likely the best team in the Mountain Division not named Boise State.
Utah State started freshman quarterback Jordan Love the final six games of last season. He returns, as do eight other starters from an offense that scored 30 points a game last season. The Aggies have all-conference talent on the offensive line and arguably the top tight end in the MWC in Dax Raymond.
vs. Air Force
If ever there was a revenge game on UNLV’s 2018 schedule, it’s the game against Air Force on October 20th. Last season the Falcons fell behind the Rebels by 27 points before constructing a comeback culminating in a 34-30 victory, the second-largest come-from-behind win in school history.
That comedy of errors seems unlikely to be repeated this season. Air Force must find a suitable replacement for running back Tim McVey, who was the focal point of the MWC’s top rushing offense in 2017. Gone too, is every starter on the offensive line. Defensively the Falcons return five starters from a team that gave up six yards a carry last season, worst in the nation.
at San Jose State
San Jose State was bad last season. They’ll be bad again, perhaps worst in the Mountain West. I have the Rebels at four wins entering the game against the Spartans. It’s not a must-win, but with Fresno State and San Diego State looming, call it a should-probably-win.
The Spartans were a team decimated by injuries in 2017 and they enter 2018 directionless. Head coach Brent Brennan has jettisoned offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder in favor of Kevin McGiven from Oregon State. He’s likely to improve upon the 15.8 points the Spartans scored last season. He’s unlikely to manufacture enough points mitigate the efforts of a defense that yielded 41 points last year, last in the MWC.
vs. Fresno State
The Fresno State victory was the signature win for the 2017 Rebels. It was the only loss suffered in conference play by the Bulldogs who aim to show this season that last year’s nine-win improvement was no fluke.
And they have the tools to do it. Marcus McMaryion may be the top quarterback in the West Division. KeeSean Johnson is the leading returning receiver in the conference. The defense gave up a scant 113 rushing yards per contest last season, the top mark in the league. Best case scenario is that UNLV catches Fresno State looking forward to a road matchup with Boise State a week later.