The UNLV Rebels kick off their 2018 college football against the powerhouse USC Trojans in Southern California.
Head coach Tony Sanchez is going to have his hands full if his UNLV Rebels are going to hang with Clay Helton‘s USC Trojans.
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The 2018 UNLV football season gets underway Saturday when the Rebels face the USC Trojans at The Coliseum.
At the time of this writing, the spread for UNLV at USC on September 1st is hovering right around 26 points. The Trojans besting the Rebels by more than three touchdowns wouldn’t surprise a single person outside of the most deliciously delusional scarlet and grey supporters.
But if there was ever a season in which UNLV could keep this game unreasonably close against one of college football’s behemoths, it’s 2018. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but if it were going to happen, this is the year in which it would happen.
Mountains of uncertainty on the Trojans roster coupled with more known commodities among Tony Sanchez’s bunch means it’s not completely absurd to think UNLV can throw a scare into USC late.
This is a big one. USC is ranked #15 in the country and UNLV will be bowl eligible at the end of the season. I’m tired of tip-toeing around it, so let’s just speak it into existence. The Rebels will qualify for postseason play in November. For now here’s a look at how they match up against Clay Helton’s Trojans.
For the first time in nearly 40 years, USC is tasked with replacing its leading passer, rusher, and receiver from the prior season. Therein lies the key to UNLV hanging close. That those new faces aren’t as good as we think they might be.
Only recently did Helton name J.T. Daniels the starter under center for Saturday’s game. Last season the freshman was named Gatorade National Player of the Year. He may be good, really good, but it’s fair to say that UNLV has the advantage at QB. Armani Rogers returns a season after being honored as the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year. Last season he threw an erratic ball at times, but on the ground, he was among the very best in the league. He’ll be one of the top three QBs in the MWC this year.
And all Rebels fans know that Rogers is not the most talented piece of the UNLV offense. That claim goes to senior Lexington Thomas. Thomas enters the 2018 season with a shot at breaking the all-time UNLV rushing record. Last year he racked up over 1300 yards and 17 touchdowns. USC counters with running-back-by-committee. Stephen Carr, Aca’Cedric Ware, and Vavae Malepei are listed as co-starters on the depth chart. It’s an impressive group, Carr might be the most impressive, but he missed all of spring practice with back surgery.
The nod at receiver goes to USC. The weapons are varied, led by sophomore Tyler Vaughns who caught 57 balls for 809 yards and five touchdowns last season. Junior Michael Pittman Jr. and redshirt sophomore Velus Jones in the slot should also get plenty of attention. UNLV has a deep and experienced group led by senior Kendal Keys. If Rogers is throwing a cleaner ball this season, Brandon Presley and Darren Woods Jr. will also require attention from the USC secondary.
The Trojans have familiar names on the offensive line, though that might not be a good thing. Four of five starters return from a unit that yielded 30 sacks in 2017. That number was just 12 in 2016. UNLV’s squad is led by senior Nathan Jacobson who started 12 games at right tackle last season and was an All-MWC Honorable Mention.