2021 UNLV Football Record Projection Per SP+
According to the advanced numbers, the Rebels enter year two of the Marcus Arroyo era with a lot of work left to be done.
Wins may be hard to come by.
A little over a month ago now, ESPN’s Bill Connelly released his preseason SP+ rankings for the 2021 football season and, perhaps to no one’s surprise, the UNLV Rebels are looking up at a lot of their Mountain West brethren. The first year under head coach Marcus Arroyo wasn’t a forgiving one, as a combination of COVID-related cancelations, a very young roster and injury luck saddled the program with its first winless campaign since 1998.
Preseason SP+ projections for the Mountain West:
39. Boise State
78. Fresno State
81. San Jose State
84. San Diego State
93. Air Force
96. Colorado State
121. Utah State
124. New Mexico https://t.co/nyzlyRuU6v
— Mountain West Wire (@MWCwire) February 9, 2021
If you’re looking for glimmers of hope, though, the fact that UNLV sits ahead of New Mexico in these rankings, the same Lobos who finished last year with a pair of surprising wins, suggests that there is a path upwards from the cellar of the West division… even if it doesn’t appear to be an easy one. What does SP+ suggest the 2021 season could look like for the Rebels?
— UNLV Football (@unlvfootball) March 5, 2021
September 2 – vs. Eastern Washington (NR): The Eagles aren’t quite the regional FCS power that they were under Beau Baldwin throughout most of the 2010s, but if the Rebels aren’t prepared they could get pushed. At present, their first two spring football games against Idaho and Northern Arizona suggests they won’t be shy about attacking through the air early and often, and though UNLV’s young secondary was tested by fire in 2020, there’s no guarantee all of the wrinkles have been ironed out. Record: 1-0
September 11 – at Arizona State (18): Oof. The Sun Devils finished 2020 with a modest 2-2 record, but they return 84% of their team production from last season and still boast one of the country’s best young quarterbacks in Jayden Daniels. Even in the Rebels’ best-case scenario, this one probably isn’t close. Record: 1-1
September 18 – vs. Iowa State (NR): There’s a bit in corners of the college football Twittersphere which examines the non-conference schedule of certain teams and asks simply, “Why would you do this to yourself?” Like Arizona State, the Cyclones return a ton of production on both sides of the ball (88% overall, which ranks fourth in the country). The two teams together give you the impression that whomever was doing the scheduling for UNLV didn’t consider this angle. Record: 1-2
September 25 – at Fresno State (78): The Rebels managed to land a couple of haymakers in the first half of this matchup last fall, but the Bulldogs’ powerful offense was able to ultimately keep the Rebels at bay. There’s a reasonable case to be made that this year’s iteration plays out mostly the same way, especially if UNLV can find a quarterback to threaten more consistently through the air, but it’s hard to imagine that they’ll have enough answers on defense to slow Fresno State down regardless. Record: 1-3
October 2 – at Texas-San Antonio (87): A 7-5 record may not look all that impressive, but the Roadrunners had a pretty good season in Jeff Traylor’s first year at the helm and weren’t that far away from accomplishing much more, losing to #15 BYU, #16 Louisiana, and eventual conference champion UAB by just one score each. This is all to say that this might be UNLV’s best chance to steal a non-conference win, especially if UTSA underwhelms on defense (they rank 97th on that side of the ball by SP+), but “best” also means “slim” in this instance. Record: 1-4
October 16 – vs. Utah State (121): Utah State’s overall standing in these preseason projections makes for an interesting case study in how talented reinforcements through the transfer portal can create a blind spot in metrics like SP+. On its face, this would appear to be one of UNLV’s best chances to score a victory all season, but if Blake Anderson is able to assemble his new puzzle in a hurry, this game could look like many of the ones before it for the Rebels. Record: 1-5
October 23 – vs. San Jose State (81): The defending Mountain West champions are part of a fairly substantial crowd in the middle of the overall rankings, but the odds are that the Spartans will remain one or two steps ahead of the Rebels for at least one more year. Record: 1-6
October 30 – at Nevada (74): Most years, you can safely throw out the records and past performance when the Fremont Cannon is on the line. Six of the last nine games between these Silver State rivals have been decided by seven points or fewer, but this year’s Wolf Pack look like they belong in the upper echelon of title contenders and the Rebels… well, they kept it competitive for most of a half in 2020 and they could probably do it again, at least. Record: 1-7
November 6 – at New Mexico (124): For a team that’s very much a work in progress, it might have been nice for UNLV to get this game at home, but tangling with the Lobos on the road will make for an interesting litmus test on both sides. SP+ is still pretty lukewarm on New Mexico despite last year’s late surge. Record: 2-7
November 13 – vs. Hawaii (105): Speaking of teams on which SP+ is lukewarm, the Warriors don’t look like they’re getting the kind of respect that their fans think they deserve. Of note: Hawaii ranks 111th on defense, in particular, meaning that a more stable Rebels offense could make this one a lot closer than many would expect. Record: 2-8
November 20 – vs. San Diego State (84): The Rebels surprised the Aztecs in 2018 and suffered a narrow loss to them in 2019, but this division tilt hasn’t otherwise been very kind to UNLV. If SDSU’s offensive struggles endure — they rank 123rd there by SP+, which is even worse than the Rebels themselves — the opportunity will be there for the Rebels to turn the tables once again, though. Record: 2-9
November 27 – at Air Force (93): It’s fairly common knowledge that SP+’s blind spots tends to underrate the academies, most notably with regards to recruiting, and its current outlook for the Falcons doesn’t account for the numerous turnbacks that many players took at the USAFA last fall. Presumably, they’ll get most if not all of those contributors back for 2021, especially on defense, which is bad news for a rebuilding team like UNLV. Record: 2-10
Given the circumstances, anything less than two wins in 2021 should probably be taken as a troubling sign for the Arroyo regime. You don’t even need to squint to see a campaign where the Rebels claim a surprise win or two over the likes of UTSA, Utah State, and San Diego State. The bare minimum, which can’t really be measured by SP+ or the win column, should be more competitive efforts week in and week out: UNLV lost its six games last fall by nearly three touchdowns on average.