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BYU Cougars vs. UNLV Rebels Preview and Prediction

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Remember the scene from the movie, The Hangover, where Alan is tasered and humiliated by a bunch of elementary-aged children? Alan is BYU football in 2017. The Cougars (2-8) are taking these losses... in the face! It hasn’t been pretty for a program that has prided itself on a winning tradition, which would more resemble the character, Phil, from the same movie. BYU wants to get back to classic Phil. Just like Alan wanted classic Phil hair. But sometimes, you can’t always have what you want.

BYU will seek its classic Phil look again by taking the Cougar pack down to Sin City to face the UNLV Rebels (4-5), who are currently on a two-game heater, and seeking their first bowl bid in the Tony Sanchez era.

Will the Cougars feel an upset in the air on Friday night, or will the Rebels get their first victory over their old Mountain West foe since 2004?


Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 10 at 10:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: UNLV -4

Three Things to Watch

1. Who will play quarterback for BYU?

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The injuries continue to pile up for the Cougars, the latest season-ending one to junior quarterback Tanner Mangum, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. It’s the sixth season in the last eight years that BYU has lost its QB to a season-ending injury, but the beat goes despite not having a bowl game on the table anymore.

The Cougars will have three options at quarterback in sophomore Beau Hoge, who has started two games this year, and then a pair of true freshmen in Joe Critchlow and Kody Wilstead. Wilstead as of three weeks ago was not on the travelling roster with the team, but recently made it known to the coaching staff he wanted to help and have an opportunity to play. Don’t be surprised if Wilstead ends up getting the start as Hoge is still battling how own injuries.

2. UNLV’s ground attack led by QB Johnny Stanton

This will be a fascinating matchup in terms of the quarterback play alone. UNLV’s starting quarterback this week, Johnny Stanton, was a linebacker for the Rebels just three weeks ago, racking up six tackles in a loss to Utah State. Stanton, a former Nebraska Cornhusker, took over at quarterback after a handful of injuries at the position, including to starter Armani Rogers. Stanton stepped in and has led the Rebels to a pair of consecutive victories. Rogers is available to play this week, and he will see time, but he’s getting second-team reps. This is Stanton’s offense and it’ll be a tall order for BYU’s rush defense to stop the Rebel ground game that is currently 13th in the country as they average 252 rushing yards per game.

The main cog to UNLV’s ground game is running back Lexington Thomas. The junior is 16th in the nation with 118.1 rushing yards per game and tied for fifth with 14 rushing touchdowns. He has four 100-yard games and is averaging a robust 6.6 yards per carry. Slowing down Thomas alone will be a tough task for the Cougars, who have not fared that well against teams that like to run the ball. Mississippi State (306 rushing yards vs. BYU) and Wisconsin (235) have had similar production on the ground this season compared to the Rebels.

3. Which team has the edge on special teams?

The forgotten aspect of any football game is special teams. Neither BYU nor UNLV has been particularly spectacular in special teams this season. The Rebels are dead last in the nation (129th) in net punting, while the Cougars are 127th in the country in punt returns. Whichever side can gain an edge in the third phase of the game could set up their team to pull off a much-needed win.

Final Analysis

This is the 20th all-time meeting between BYU and UNLV, and it’s the first time that the Rebels are a favorite in this series that pits two old WAC and Mountain West rivals together again for the first time since 2014. It’s been that kind of year for BYU. The Cougars aren’t going to a bowl game for the first time since 2005. What will the Cougars have to play for? This season has already gone down the drain for BYU, while UNLV is starting to play its best football of the season and has battled back after that horrible opening loss to FCS opponent Howard. Look for UNLV’s ground attack with quarterback Johnny Stanton and running back Lexington Thomas to have a field day on BYU’s depleted defense en route to Tony Sanchez’ first three-game winning streak in his tenure with the Rebels.

College football rankings: UNLV

Prediction: UNLV 27, BYU 10

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is BYU Insider for ESPN 960 Sports and Publisher of Cougar Nation, part of the Rivals network. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.