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UNLV Football: 2018 Rebels Preview and Prediction

Lexington Thomas

Lexington Thomas

Tony Sanchez is just 12-24 in three seasons at UNLV. Although his teams have won at least one more game each year, the Rebels still have yet to qualify for a bowl game; they lost at home as a 45-point favorite to Howard; and they have lost back-to-back games to in-state rival Nevada. 

Previewing UNLV Football's Offense for 2018

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Boise State Football/2018 Athlon Sports College Football Preview Magazine

Quarterback Armani Rogers garnered Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors despite missing two games with a concussion, and his return gives the program some long overdue stability at a position that featured 11 different season-opening starters over a 14-year span. The 6'5", 225-pound Rogers was one of only five players in the nation to average at least 140 yards passing and 75 yards rushing per game last season -- an elite group that also included 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, USF's Quinton Flowers, Nick Fitzgerald of Mississippi State and Arizona's Khalil Tate.

Rogers finished sixth in Mountain West in rushing (78.0 ypg) but was erratic throwing the ball, completing just 52.4 percent his passes and throwing almost as many interceptions (five) as touchdowns (six).

The Rebels, who finished 18th in the nation in rushing (240.2 ypg), should once again be potent on the ground thanks to the return of explosive senior Lexington Thomas, a first team All-MW pick who averaged 6.3 yards per carry and finished with 1,336 yards and 17 TDs. Sophomore Charles Williams and senior Xzaviar Campbell also return to provide good depth.

This group will run behind an offensive line led by right guard Justin Polu and right tackle Nathan Jacobson, both all-conference candidates.

Devonte Boyd must be replaced, but the wide receiver corps, led by senior Kendal Keys and juniors Darren Woods Jr. and Brandon Presley, is deep and experienced.

Previewing UNLV Football's Defense for 2018

Tim Skipper, who spent the previous three years at Florida coaching linebackers and running backs, replaces Kent Baer as defensive coordinator and has his hands full. The Rebels allowed an average of 31.8 points and 458.7 yards per game and were especially bad on the ground (239.3 yards allowed per game, 123rd nationally). They struggled to get to the quarterback as well; only Air Force had fewer sacks nationally.

The good news is seven starters return, including linebackers Gabe McCoy and Bailey Laolagi and senior safety Dalton Baker, who led the team with 99 tackles. The bad news is the team's two best defenders, tackle Mike Hughes and corner Robert Jackson, both graduated.

Look for Skipper to insert more blitzing and exotic defensive packages to try force more turnovers on a defense that managed just seven interceptions.

Previewing UNLV Football's Specialists for 2018

Senior Evan Pantels, who was 17-of-22 on field goals and 28-of-28 on PATs despite battling a leg injury, returns to handle placekicking and punting, but he could be challenged by Utah transfer Hayes Hicken. Thomas, Presley, corner Jericho Flowers and sophomore wide receiver Mekhi Stevenson are among the players competing to jump-start a return game that averaged just 16.7 yards on kickoffs and 7.2 yards on punt returns.

Final Analysis

With a favorable home schedule that includes non-conference games against UTEP and Prairie View A&M and a conference slate once again void of Mountain West heavyweight Boise State as well as Wyoming and Colorado State, the pressure will be on Sanchez to guide his team to a bowl game in 2018.

College football rankings: UNLV