Today at No. 128: UNLV
Coach: Tony Sanchez (0-0, entering first season, 0-0)
2014 record: 2-11, 1-7 in Mountain West Conference; sixth place in West Division
Look back: Expectations were high for the program coming off a seven-win season in 2013 and its first bowl appearance in more than 13 years. The school rewarded head coach Bobby Hauck with a three-year contract extension and a raise during the offseason. Despite all of the good will, UNLV took a major step backward by winning just two games in 2014. With fan support waning, Hauck resigned after the season, finishing with a 16-49 overall record in six seasons with the program.
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 5
Defensive starters lost: 6
Key losses: RB Shaq Murray-Lawrence, WR Devante Davis, WR Marcus Sullivan, WR Maika Mataele, LG Brett Boyko, C Robert Waterman, RT Andrew Oberg, DE Siuea Vaesau, DT Brandon Willis, CB Tajh Hasson, DB Kenneth Perry, DB Mike Horsey
Top returnees: QB Blake Decker, RG Ron Scoggins, WR Devonte Boyd, WR Anthony Williams, DT Sonny Sanitoa, LB Tau Lotulelei, LB Ryan McAleenan
Strengths: All indications are Blake Decker will be back under center when the Rebels begin the season on Sept. 5 at Northern Illinois. Decker played in all 13 games last season, completing close to 58 percent of his passes for 2,886 yards with 15 touchdowns while running Bobby Hauck’s spread offense. Cutting down on turnovers – Decker threw 18 interceptions in 2014 – is key moving forward in a new offensive system. Linebackers Tau Lotulelei and Ryan McAleenan anchor the middle of a defense fraught with question marks.
Weaknesses: Brett Boyko was a stalwart on the offensive line for UNLV last season and his departure along with that of tackle Andrew Oberg and center Robert Waterman leaves the Rebels looking to replace close to 120 career starts among the three players. Ron Scoggins, Nick Grstein and Kyle Saxelid all saw starts along the line in 2014.
Running backs Shaq Murray-Lawrence and Keith Whitely combined to rush for more than 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. Murray-Lawrence’s departure means Whitely takes on a larger role in 2015.
Ex-Rebels Siuea Vaesau, Jordan Sparkman and Brandon Willis combined for more than 70 starts on the defensive front line for the Rebels. The trio combined for 125 tackles and 8.5 sacks last season. Defensive tackle Sonny Sanitoa (44 tackles, 2.5 sacks) anchors the line in 2015.
UNLV’s secondary, which allowed close to 220 yards per game, loses three starters, including cornerbacks Tajh Hasson and Kenneth Perry as well as safety Mike Horsey. The trio combined for 15 pass break ups in 2014.
Outlook: The hiring of Tony Sanchez was a bold move by UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy. Sanchez is a well-known and well-liked high school coach in the area who established a powerhouse program at Bishop Gorman High while winning six state championships along the way. Putting him in charge of your program with no college head coaching experience is a risk. But the move could pay off in other ways, including attendance and recruiting. Adding long-time coaches Kent Bauer and Barney Cotton as coordinators could help ease the transition. Nevertheless, a top-40 schedule and 11 returning starters will likely make this a tough first year for Sanchez.
Sept. 5 at Northern Illinois
Sept. 12 vs. UCLA
Sept. 19 at Michigan
Sept. 26 vs. Idaho State
Oct. 3 at Nevada
Oct. 10 vs. San Jose State
Oct. 16 at Fresno State
Oct. 31 vs. Boise State
Nov. 7 vs. Hawaii
Nov. 14 at Colorado State
Nov. 21 vs. San Diego State
Nov. 28 at Wyoming
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