2014 College Football Preview: UNLV Rebels

There is not much positive football history for UNLV. From 2001 through 2012, the Rebels did not have a winning season. They did finish 6-6 in 2003, but their more recent history has been poor. Since 2004, UNLV has recorded only two wins in seven different seasons!! Three of those occurred in Bobby Hauck's first three seasons as he implemented his offensive and defensive schemes. 2013 was by far the best season under Bobby Hauck and the best since 2000. We take a closer look below.

2013 UNLV Season

2013 did not start well for UNLV. They were blown out at Minnesota by a score of 51-23 and then played Arizona at home, but were demolished 58-13. The schedule did lighten up as they won back-to-back games against Central Michigan (31-21) and then against FCS Western Illinois (38-7). The win streak continued in high scoring fashion with a road win over New Mexico (56-42) and another home win against Hawaii (39-37). The win streak ended at four after going on the road and losing to #19 Fresno State, 38-14. The rest of the regular season was up and down with a 3-2 record in the last five games. The season ended on a down note in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against North Texas. They were tied 7-7 before being blown out in the 2nd half and lost 36-14. Both the offense and defense were the best in the Hauck era. The 2013 schedule is below.

Offense

2013 was a good year for the UNLV offense. They had nine starters returning and finished with an average of 29.9 points and 411 yards per game. This year, however, is a different story. They return seven starters, but the big loss is at quarterback. Caleb Herring threw for 2,718 yards, 24 touchdowns, and only five interceptions in 2013. Replacing him will most likely be Nick Sherry. Sherry started 12 games in 2012 and finished with 2,544 yards with 16 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Sherry does have experience, but he will struggle to have the same efficiency as Herring and the unit will drop off some.

Another loss for UNLV is at running back. Gone is Tim Cornett who had 1,284 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns last season. Cornett is also the all-time leading rusher for UNLV. Replacing him will be Shaquille Murray-Lawrence. Murray-Lawrence had 418 yards and 2 touchdowns to go along with an outstanding 8.9 yards per carry in 2013. He does have good speed, but it will be tough to replace the production of Cornett.

A bright spot for UNLV will be at wide receiver. Returning is Devante Davis. He was easily the leading receiver in 2013 with 87 catches for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns. He will be the top threat and can definitely help quarterback Nick Sherry. Also returning is the second leading receiver Marcus Sullivan. Sullivan finished with 45 receptions, which was good enough for 505 yards and five touchdowns. This unit should be just as good as last year.

The offensive line will see four starters return including three seniors. The other two starters will be juniors. Leading the way will be three year starter Robert Waterman at center. He has been an honorable mention for the Mountain West three years running. The amount of starts on the offensive line is quite impressive. According to Phil Steele, UNLV has 117 career starts on the line, which is good enough as 8th best in the FBS. This group is easily the strength of the offense.

Defense

The 2013 defense was the best it has been under Bobby Hauck. They gave up 31.8 points and 433 yards per game with nine returning starters a season ago. Still, those numbers can improve. The issue is they only return six starters and the five new starters will come from the front seven. On the defensive line will be Sonny Sanitoa and Jordan Sparkman at the end spots. Sanitoa has started the last 21 games for UNLV He recorded 34 tackles and 2 sacks in 2013. Sparkman had similar stats in 2013 with 37 tackles and one sack a year ago. These two will need to help the new starters at tackle in Efrem Clark and Billy Tanuvasa. The defense gave up an average of 216 yards per game and 5 yards per carry in 2013.

The biggest hit to the defense comes at linebacker. They have to replace all three starters from a year ago. The three guys coming in have big shoes to fill as two of the linebackers were the second and third leading tacklers in 2013. Junior College transfer Elexious Perkins had 72 tackles, 4 sacks, and blocked an outstanding five kicks at San Bernardino Community College in 2013. He will be joined by Iggy Porchia and Tau Lotulelei. This young and inexperienced group will see a massive drop off in production.

The strong point of the defense will be the secondary. All four starters return as does the experienced cornerback Sidney Hodge should one of the corners go down with an injury or if they under perform. Strong safety Peni Vea had 108 tackles and two interceptions last year and he will be the guy to avoid in the defensive secondary. Mike Horsey will be at costless safety after starting six games a year ago. He finished with 43 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, and an interception. At the cornerback spots will be Kenneth Penny (32 tackles and 18 pass breakups in 2013) and Tajh Hasson (49 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, and 11 pass breakups). Hodge was bitten by the injury bug in 2013, but had a solid 2012 season. He finished that year with 50 tackles and 9 pass breakups. This group should be even better than last year when they gave up an average of 218 passing yards per game.

Special Teams

Nicolai Bornand will take over the kicking duties this year. He has some game experience with 48 kickoffs in 2013, but has not registered a field goal attempt. He should be able to improve over the Rebels' previous kicker, Nolan Kohorst. Kohorst was only 10 of 19 on field goals with a long of 50 yards. At punter, UNLV will see another year of Logan Yunker. Yunker started his career at Nevada before transferring to UNLV. He finished with an average of 41.8 yards and a net of 36 yards. This group should do no worse than they did in 2013.

2014 Season Outlook

Coming into the season, UNLV was expected to be banned from a bowl game and lose practice time due to a low Academic Progress Rate score. However, in June, the NCAA overturned the bowl ban and gives back some momentum and excitement that Hauck has built. With that distraction out of the way, Hauck and UNLV can focus on getting to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. It will not be easy though. The loss of the top quarterback and running back will be hard to overcome. In addition, there is a lot of youth in the front seven of the defense that will make it difficult throughout the season. The 2014 schedule is below.

There are 13 games schedule for UNLV due to the "Hawaii Rule". Any team that has a road game at Hawaii can schedule a 13th game to help recoup the expenses incurred for traveling to play Hawaii. UNLV has chosen to schedule a road game at Houston. This means that UNLV will need to win at least seven games in the regular season to be bowl eligible. The schedule this year looks very similar to 2013. It is difficult to see UNLV having a winning record outside of Mountain West play. They will probably beat Northern Colorado, but Northern Illinois will be a tough matchup. It is hard to foresee the Rebels beating UNLV, Houston, or BYU. In conference, UNLV has winnable games against San Jose State, New Mexico, Air Force, and Hawaii. Even if UNLV goes 2-3 out of conference, those four wins leave UNLV a win short of making another bowl game. It may just come down to the rivalry game against Nevada to reach bowl eligibility for the Rebels.

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