UNLV Football: 2023 Transfer Portal and Off-Season Wants, Needs
With a new Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, where do the UNLV Rebels go from here for the upcoming 2023 season?
An early look at UNLV Football and the Rebels’ goals for the transfer portal
With the 2022 college football season nearing its end and the transfer portal open for FBS students looking for new opportunities, one school expected to be in the spotlight will be the UNLV Rebels. With new coach Barry Odom in place, several key positions will need to be addressed, including the hope for improving players to join the Rebels for the 2023 season as well. And those new players will be a welcome addition to the squad, as several players from the 2022 season have already opted to leave Las Vegas for elsewhere via the portal.
At present, the Rebels have been actively signing new recruits and keeping an eye on the portal. The competition will only increase as more players decide their futures, and UNLV, with Allegiant Stadium and all that Las Vegas has to offer, will certainly aim to put its best foot forward as a program on the rise.
For now, let’s take a closer look at the potential needs of the program and the questions to be answered:
Is Doug Brumfield back as the starter in 2023?
A question that lingered for much of last year’s offseason, Brumfield answered the call to start the 2022 campaign, leading the Rebels to a 4-1 start before an injury in the game against San Jose State and missing time throughout the second half of the year. Cameron Friel and Harrison Bailey filled in when Brumfield missed time, but the program limped its way to a 5-7 finish to the season, missing out on a possible bowl appearance once again.
As Odom takes the reins, the Rebels’ new coaching staff will certainly need to forge a new identity with this UNLV offense. And Odom’s new offensive coordinator, Bobby Petrino, will look to make a statement with his own style and nuances as well. Petrino’s offenses have long been predicated on big, explosive plays and aggressive play calling with a vertical attack, whether it be running or passing. How well the remaining starters will mesh with this introduction is only beginning to be considered, and much won’t be realized until spring practice to find out.
But the questions at quarterback of 2022 may remain. Will the Rebels benefit more from a more mobile, versatile offense under Brumfield or a more vertical passing game with Bailey under center? Will Friel possibly grasp the offense better than either of them or is the next UNLV quarterback somewhere in the portal?
Who replaces Aidan Robbins?
Following the firing of Marcus Arroyo, several players announced their intent to enter the portal and move on from the Rebels program. One such player, running back Aidan Robbins, entered the portal and has already transferred to BYU.
While Robbins’ place in the new UNLV offense might have been subject to debate, his role in the 2022 season simply cannot be overstated. Rushing for over 1,000 yards on the season, with another 125 yards receiving, Robbins was a dominant running back for the Rebels. Especially early on, his physicality and the overall aggressive running game the Rebels put forth to start the season was a huge reason for the Rebels early wins. Behind this rushing attack, Robbins and Brumfield formed a formidable 1-2 punch that often controlled the game on the ground. Granted, the offense struggled at times as the quality and quantity of opponents improved later in the year, but the identity of a potent running game to set up a more dynamic passing game was clear, and the Rebels improved from previous seasons to almost reach bowl eligibility.
And as the Rebels head into the Spring of 2023, the question will be front and center for the coaching staff to address this in the new offense. Courtney Reese will likely remain in the backfield for 2023, but can the Rebels find another running back to lean so heavily upon the way that Robbins did? Will the new offense under Odom and Petrino benefit from backs with a different skill set? Or will other playmakers on the outside be a greater need, reducing the desire for such a strong running game altogether?
How does Odom reload and refine the Rebels’ defense? While UNLV defense showed some improvement over the course of the 2022 season, rising from 88th to 71st in total defense, the Rebels struggled with consistency from game to game. Some will look to the Rebels’ game versus Utah State as the team’s most dominant defensive performance, others will call that an outlier to highlight the potential on defense that simply was not maximized.
And much like the departure of Robbins on offense, the new defensive coordinator – which Odom has not named as of this writing – will need to first restock the losses of some graduating seniors and other players moving on to the portal. Players like Austin Ajiake and Adam Plant Jr. were smart players that could be opportunistic or aggressive as the circumstances called. Their loss on this defense, along with some in the secondary, will quickly become priorities, regardless of the style or formations, the new defense brings to Las Vegas.
What about the passing game? Yes, it’s early to be asking about Petrino’s plans for the passing game in this offense but it’s worth adding that wide receiver Kyle Williams – second on the team in receptions and receiving yards – is another player that has decided to enter the portal. Ricky White, the team’s leading receiver last year remains with the Rebels, as do Nick Williams, Jeff Weimer and a number of other receivers from last year. It will be interesting to watch this group of young receivers mature in their roles, not just individually but within this new offense with a lot of potential for big plays. And of course, there’s always the portal as an option to add more to the passing game.
The UNLV Rebels, under new Head Coach Barry Odom, will certainly need to be busy in the coming weeks and months ahead to address the various needs and wants the program will have, under a growing and watchful eye in Las Vegas and beyond. It will be challenging but interesting to watch Odom balance the new additions to his staff as well as on the field, as more and more programs refocus their efforts to their respective offseasons and beyond. Questions for the 2023 campaign will be answered in due time, and there should be no shortage of speculation or expectations.
In the meantime, circle your calendars, Rebels fans: the 2023 schedule is scheduled to kick off Thursday, August 31, versus Bryant at Allegiant Stadium.