The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 101 UNLV.
Previewing UNLV’s Offense for 2014
Replacing a player who began last season as a backup wide receiver will arguably be the biggest key for the Rebels offensively. Caleb Herring took over at quarterback midway through the fourth game of the season and rallied UNLV to its first bowl game and winning season since 2000, breaking a number of school records in the process, including the single-season passing percentage mark (62.9) held for three decades by the legendary Randall Cunningham.
Junior Nick Sherry, who beat out Herring for the starting job as a freshman and also began last season as the starter, is battling junior college transfer Blake Decker for the starting job entering fall camp. Both had their moments during spring practice, but neither was impressive enough for coach Bobby Hauck to hand him the job.
The Rebels also must replace tailback Tim Cornett, a four-year starter who departed as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,733 yards, second-best in Mountain West history. Projected starter Adonis Smith left the team in early May, leaving senior Shaquille Murray-Lawrence as the likely starter. Murray-Lawrence rushed for 418 yards in a reserve role last fall in his first season after transferring from junior college.
Senior Devante Davis, an NFL prospect who caught 87 passes for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns, returns to anchor a veteran wide receiver corps.
The strength of the offense, if not the entire team, is a big, strong and physical offensive line that returns most of its key contributors, including left tackle Brett Boyko.
Previewing UNLV’s Defense for 2014
It’s taken a while, but the Rebels finally have developed some size and decent depth on this side of the ball. Now the question is whether that will translate into improvement statistically after UNLV allowed averages of 31.8 points and 215.5 yards rushing per game.
The Rebels use a 4-3 base defense led by three defensive ends — Sonny Sanitoa, Jordan Sparkman and Siuea Vaesau — who could line up for any team in the conference. But the Rebels must replace both starting tackles.
The linebacking corps, led by Tau Lotulelei, is young but athletic and will likely feature three sophomore starters.
The secondary, which made significant progress under the tutelage of Hauck’s brother, former NFL defensive backs coach Tim Hauck, returns three starters, including junior strong safety Peni Vea, who had a team-high 108 tackles and two interceptions, and senior corner Tajh Hasson, who forced a team-high four fumbles.
Previewing UNLV’s Specialists for 2014
The Rebels must replace placekicker Nolan Kohorst, a four-year starter who kicked 39 career field goals, and they thought they had his replacement when they landed local star Conor Perkins. But shortly after signing his letter of intent, Perkins informed UNLV that he had decided to take a two-year LDS Church mission before enrolling. Jonathan Leiva, a late junior college signee out of Palomar (Calif.) College, will be handed the job in the fall. Junior Logan Yunker returns to handle the punting.
UNLV learned in the spring that it had failed to meet minimum NCAA Athletic Progress Rate (APR) score requirements of 930 and that the program would be ineligible for postseason competition in 2014, including the Mountain West Championship Game. However, in late June, the program won an appeal and is eligible to play in a bowl in 2014. The Rebels, who ended a 12-year bowl drought with a 36–14 loss to North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day, hope to be legitimate contenders in the West Division and stand a strong chance of making it to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.