Can UNLV ever turn this thing around?
It might be the most overdue program in college football. Seriously, every team in the Mountain West has been able to have some fun, but not UNLV.
It’s been eight years since the program has enjoyed a winning season, and the 2013 team that got there ended with a bowl loss.
The 2000 Rebels went 8-5 and beat Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl. In the 21 seasons since, there’s been just that one lonely winning campaign, and no bowl bids.
Since 2019, eight current Mountain West programs have at least played in the conference championship, and six have won one. Nevada won a WAC title in 2010, New Mexico has at least tied for a division title and has been to seven bowl games over the last 22 seasons, and …
UNLV’s lone conference title was the 1994 Big West.
This year’s team would need to pull off something miraculous to win the Mountain West – especially now that the divisional format is gone – but head coach Marcus Arroyo can at least pull this team out of the nosedive.
There were signs throughout the 2-10 2021 season when the Rebels were close, but they couldn’t quite pull off close games against Eastern Washington, Fresno State, UTSA, Utah State, San Jose State, and San Diego State – all defeats were by eight points or fewer.
Being competitive is a great step forward, but in that town, either you win or you don’t.
UNLV football fans deserve to enjoy more wins.
UNLV Rebels Preview 2022: Offense
The Rebel attack has to find something that constantly works well.
It couldn’t crank up the yards, and rushing offense only averaged 110 yards per game, and the pass protection wasn’t there. What it did do relatively well was push the ball down the field, but it struggled to score managing to come up with more than 20 points in just four games against FCS teams.
The passing attack has to improve with Harrison Bailey, a 6-5, 225-pound transfer from Tennessee who has the big-time passing skills and the arm, but he needs time to work. Last year’s top passer Cameron Friel had some nice moments, but he only threw six touchdown passes with 11 picks.
Leading receiver Steve Jenkins is gone, but just about everyone else of note is back in the corps starting with Kyle Williams, a quick 42-catch receiver who can grow into a No. 1 target. The deep threats are there – Zyell Griffin averaged over 20 yards per catch.
The O line has to give everyone time to work. Four starters are back, and there’s decent size to get physical, but the depth and options are lacking. As this group goes, so goes the UNLV season.
The star of the show is gone. Charles Williams was a great player on a whole lot of bad teams – running for 1,261 of the team’s 1,317 yards and 15 scores – and now it’s up to the 215-pound Chad Magyar and 230-pound Louisville transfer Aidan Robbins to fill the void.
UNLV Rebels Top 10 Players: College Football Preview 2022
UNLV Rebels Preview 2022: Defense
Like the offensive side, the UNLV defense has to find one thing it can do at a high level. There were some plays in the backfield, but the run D struggled and the secondary couldn’t make the plays to get off the field.
Job One is to revamp the line. It’s a smallish group that has to find a front three that can hold up – 285-pound Eliel Ehimare and 300-pound Tavis Malakius will give it a shot. Adam Plant is a good veteran defensive end, but he needs help.
LB Jacoby Windmon – the team’s best defensive player – is off to Michigan State – but Austin Ajiake is a good one in the middle and should be the team’s leading tackler if he can stay healthy.
240-pound Kyle Beaudry brings the size inside, and Brennon Scott is a 235-pound pass rusher on the outside. On the way is Jordan Eubanks from Florida State to work somewhere in the rotation.
The lack of a pass rush made life hard on a secondary that can tackle, but didn’t do enough when the ball was in the air.
Phillip Hill is a decent veteran safety who tied for the team lead with three picks, but losing third-leading tackler Bryce Jackson to New Mexico State hurts. Ricky Johnson came up with three interceptions last season and now gets more of a shot.
Corners Cameron Oliver and Nohl Williams are experienced corners who combined for three picks last year, but they’ve got to be bigger playmakers.
UNLV Rebels: Key To The 2022 Offense
Start with this. Block even better.
The crazy part about the 2021 UNLV offensive line was that it was awful in pass protection, but it was vastly improved. The 2020 version allowed 4.8 sacks and almost ten tackles for loss per game, and the 2021 version allowed 3.4 sacks and 7.8 tackles for loss every time out.
There’s enough experience to be better, though. Likely new starting quarterback Harrison Bailey isn’t a runner, and he’s going to need time. Give him a chance to work, and the passing game is about to be much, much better.
And on the other side …
UNLV Rebels: Key To The 2022 Defense
Get in the backfield.
To be fair, this has been a major problem for well over a decade.
You want one of the biggest reasons why UNLV football can’t turn a corner? It can’t find enough players on the front seven who can turn that corner.
There was actually hope as the 2020 version had its best pass rush in a long, long, long time, but it went back to struggling in 2021. Jacoby Windmon is now a Michigan State Spartan, and Adam Plant is gone after being one of the better pass rushers over the last few seasons.
The Rebels came up with just 22 sacks last season, and 15 of them came in a late three-game stretch against New Mexico, Hawaii, and San Diego State. They won the first two of those games, and pushed the Aztecs hard in a tight loss.
UNLV Rebels: Key Player To The 2022 Season
LB Brennon Scott, Soph.
The team’s best returning pass rusher has to do even more to be a disruptive playmaker
He came up with 35 tackles with four sacks and ten tackles for loss in his second season with the team, and now it’s his job to try being another Jacoby Windmon. He doesn’t have to be a devastating force, but a seven-sack season would be a big deal.
UNLV Rebels: Key Transfer
QB Harrison Bailey, Soph.
Justin Rogers, Armani Rogers, Johnny Stanton, Tate Martell … you’ll have to forgive UNLV fans if they’ve seen this before when it comes to hyped up quarterbacks who couldn’t come through and make the offense sing.
Bailey is different – at least that’s the hope.
He’s a 6-5, 225-pound former superstar recruit for Tennessee who could’ve gone to Ohio State, or Alabama, or Georgia, or anywhere he wanted to coming out of high school.
He hit 71% of his passes for 578 yards and four scores with two picks in 2020, but was moved aside when the new coaching staff took over and only got in seven passes last season.
The talent is there. The parts around him have to help the cause.
UNLV Key Game To The 2022 Season
North Texas, Sept. 17
Just for the confidence at a program that hasn’t had a lot of fun in a long, long time, starting a season 2-1 would do wonders.
Last year’s team won two games, the 2020 version didn’t win any, and there’s been just one 2-1 start since 2009. Assuming a win over Idaho State to kick things off, and a loss at Cal to follow that up, getting by a dangerous and experienced North Texas team at home would be a terrific step forward.
Considering the rough slate the rest of the way – New Mexico is the only time the Rebels might be favored –
UNLV Rebels: 2021 Fun Stats
– Sacks: Opponents 41 for 229 yards – UNLV 21 for 113 yards
– 2nd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 114 – UNLV 50
– 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 11-of-21 (52%) – UNLV 4-of-16 (25%)
UNLV Rebels Season Prediction, What Will Happen
It would be SO nice if the schedule was just a little bit easier.
The idea of for UNLV to rise up and start to rock enough to hang with the midrange teams in the Mountain West, and maybe beat a few stronger ones, but that’s going to be a big ask.
Are the lines appreciably better? The offensive side is at least experienced, but the defensive front has to find a way to be far, far stronger in all phases.
The offensive skill parts are in place, the defensive back eight will be okay, and …
The schedule. That’s going to be a problem.
Set The UNLV Rebels Regular Season Win Total At … 4
Idaho State and New Mexico. Those have to be two layup wins, and the Rebels have to take down North Texas in Week 3 to build up a base of victories to build off of.
At Notre Dame, at Cal, and even with the close fight last year, at San Diego State are the three almost-certain forget-about-it games, and the home date against Fresno State might not be far off.
Can there be a home rivalry win over Nevada? How about a mini-stunner at San Jose State, or at home against Air Force, or at Hawaii?
It might not seem like much, but getting to four wins for the first time since 2019 would be wonderful.