UNLV and Northern Illinois are both Group of 5 programs, but that’s probably the only similarity the two teams have. The Huskies have become one of the most successful programs in all of college football over the last five years, while UNLV is hoping the gamble to promote a high school head coach in Tony Sanchez as their head man will lead to consistency that the Rebs have not had in decades.
Northern Illinois was 11-3 last season, while UNLV went 2-11. The two programs faced each other last season in Las Vegas with the Huskies coming away with a 48-34 victory.
In that game against UNLV last season, Northern Illinois quarterback Drew Hare started in his first game as the signal-caller for NIU, went on to go 9-3, and is one of the MAC’s best QB’s entering the 2015 season.
Northern Illinois will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Huskie Stadium on Saturday by wearing throwback uniforms from the 1965 season. UNLV will also debut their new “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” uniforms.
UNLV at Northern Illinois
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Northern Illinois -23
Three Things to Watch
1. Best team in Illinois?
Since 2010, only three programs (Oregon, Alabama, and Florida State) have won more games than the Huskies 57-wins during that span. That’s elite company. NIU looks primed to be the best team in the Garden of the West state in 2015 with Northwestern in a slump after back-to-back 5-7 seasons, and Illinois being an utter dumpster fire after having to fire Tim Beckman just a week before the season. Rod Carey’s Huskies are the team to watch in Illinois, and this UNLV matchup will be the only tune-up against an FBS team before the showdown in the Horseshoe against the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes in week three.
2. UNLV WR Devonte Boyd
UNLV football has never seen the success like their runnin’ cohorts on the basketball court, and it’s been maddening for Rebel faithful because they’ve always had good talent at the skill positions, particularly at wide receiver.
Sophomore Devonte Boyd looks to be another great talent at wide receiver for the Rebs. Boyd enters 2015 on the Biletnikoff watch list, awarded to the best wide receiver in college football. As a true freshman in 2014, Boyd had 980 yards on 65 receptions, earning him freshman all-American honors. Arguably the only bright spot to emerge from last year’s disaster that led to the dismissal of Bobby Hauck.
Tony Sanchez brings in former Nebraska interim head coach from last season, Barney Cotton. Cotton will have some nice tools to work with in Boyd and senior quarterback Blake Decker who threw for close to 3,000 yards last season.
3. NIU’s nasty defense has a bad taste in their mouth
The Huskies were dominated in the Boca Raton Bowl last season against Rakeem Cato and his Marshall squad, surrendering 52 points to the Thundering Herd. That was not the norm for an NIU defense that kept nine of their opponents under 24 points a year ago.
NIU returns eight starters on defense in 2015, headlined by two-year starter at middle linebacker Boomer Mays who has an NFL future in his sights. The Husky D will need to dominate the Rebels to have the confidence rolling into Columbus two weeks from now.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 52, UNLV 14
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.