at San Diego State
The tallest task of the Rebels 2018 conference season comes November 10th in San Diego. The Aztecs are the favorites to win the West and flew by UNLV 41-10 last season. They’re a team with 10-win potential looking to rebound from a season where they found themselves in the unfamiliar position of being left out of the conference championship game.
There’s talent all over the field, particularly on the offensive line where the Aztecs may very well have the top unit in the league. Juwan Washington is the best running back not named Lexington Thomas. Top to bottom, SDSU may have the top defense in the conference. If UNLV finds themselves in a position to need a win against the Aztecs to keep bowl hopes alive, they’re in trouble.
If things get ugly against San Diego State, a trip to Hawaii a week later should help. The Rainbow Warriors won just one conference game last season, though they did give the Rebels a scare in a 31-23 game in Las Vegas.
This one is an opportunity for the UNLV defense to shine. Cole McDonald is likely to take the snaps, and he tossed just nine passes last season. Head coach Nick Rolovich is returning to the run-and-shoot, a change that can only help an offense that was among the league’s worse in 2017. Perhaps McDonald and company figure out how to turn that new, old scheme into enough wins to return to relevancy in the Mountain West. My guess is that it doesn’t happen before November 17th when the Rebels visit.
Among locals there’s always plenty of excitement when UNLV and Reno get together to battle for the Fremont Cannon. Rarely are their postseason aspirations on the line. I have the Rebels at 6-5 to this point, but when it comes to bowl eligibility, seven wins would make everything a little easier.
Last year it was a heart-breaking 23-16 loss in Reno that kept UNLV out of postseason play. A delicious consolation for a Wolf Pack squad that managed just three wins on the season. In 2018 the 44th installment of the rivalry could have bowl ramifications for both teams, though my money says the plot reads similarly to last season.
Reno’s passing attack was second-best in the league last year, and should again be stellar. Ty Gangi to Kelton Moore is a connection that could end the UNLV season on a sour note if they let it. Defensively, the Wolf Pack can certainly be exploited. There’s not a ton of depth there, and in 2017 Reno was shredded for 471 yards per contest. On November 24th in Las Vegas, expect to see some fireworks.
WIN (7-5) and Rebels go bowling.