Once the laughingstock of west coast major college football teams, University Nevada-Las Vegas is knee-deep in the middle of a long, hard-fought battle to respectability. They have already climbed back to mediocrity, finishing 5-7 in 2017, missing bowl eligibility by only one game.
For the past three seasons the Rebels have won one more game than in the previous season, so a 6-6 record in 2018 would almost certainly guarantee the team its first bowl appearance since the January 1, 2014 loss to North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Optimistic fans and alumni think that an 8-4 record can secure the Rebels a spot in their hometown Las Vegas Bowl in December.
The UNLV football program has only been to four bowl games (1984, 1994, 2000, 2014) in 50 years of competition so any bowl invite is sure to be accepted…
Rising Rebels: Las Vegas native and senior center Zack Singer (Bishop Gorman) is literally the start of the Rebels offense in a season where the team could develop a lethal running game with a combination of smash mouth running and fast cuts in between blocks with the talented trio of sophomore quarterback Armani Rogers, senior running back Lexington Thomas and sophomore running back Charles Williams.
The offensive foursome will be tested from game one as they open the season in Los Angeles against the highly-touted University of Southern California Trojans during Labor Day weekend. Home games with the University of Texas-El Paso and Prairie View follow before a cross-country road test at Arkansas State.
Junior offensive lineman Justin Polu (Silverado) should mature quickly during the first three games and provide balance on the offensive line for Singer.
Rising Rebel: San Diego native and senior wide receiver Kendal Keys (Helix High School)will play an important role in a potentially hot start by the Rebels. He is looking to build upon his 27 catches for 260 yards and three touchdowns in the 2017 season. His connection with Rogers will be important when UNLV goes on the road to play Utah State on Oct. 13.
The game with Utah State and following game at home against Air Force could dictate if the Rebels will be going to a bowl game even before Halloween. These games could be spotlight games for redshirt junior defensive lineman Nick Dehdashtian (Santa Margarita) who will have key advantages over both offensive lines in each game.
Rising Rebel: For a key home game against Fresno State on Nov. 13, sophomore linebacker and Las Vegas native Farrell Hester II (Bishop Gorman), will need to step up to help stop the multi-faceted Bulldog running game that can feature three or four running backs in a single game.
The second-biggest challenge of the year will be at San Diego State on Nov. 10, followed by an always exciting trip to Hawaii the week before Thanksgiving.
The annual UNLV-Nevada game on Nov. 24 will likely have bowl eligibility on the line for one, if not both teams.
The Silver State may be mining a new generation of an old rivalry that may have a national audience over Thanksgiving…