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Defense will determine whether UNLV goes over win total

Updated June 29, 2017 - 5:16 pm

While I was still trying to decipher UNLV’s new logo Thursday morning, Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall made a great suggestion regarding an alternate Rebels football uniform.

“They should replicate the Raiders uniform, since they’re moving into their stadium, and just change the logo on the helmet to UNLV,” he said. “That would be such a big hit with the kids and a big recruiting boon. They should latch onto the Raiders as much as they can.”

The Rebels would certainly love to replicate the Raiders’ recent rise to prominence, as Oakland climbed from 3-13 in 2014 to 12-4 in 2016.

UNLV doubled its win total in the same span, going from 2-11 in coach Bobby Hauck’s final season in 2014 to 3-9 in coach Tony Sanchez’s first season in 2015 to 4-8 last season.

The Rebels went over their season win total of 2½ at the sports books in 2015, when they upset rival UNR in Reno. UNLV finished under its win total of 4½ last season, when it was whipped 45-10 by the Wolf Pack in the season finale.

“I’m still cautiously optimistic about Sanchez, though less so after the (UNR) game at the end of last season,” said Marshall (Goldsheet.com). “I don’t care if Sanchez said it’s only one game. That’s like Navy not showing up to play Army. It just shouldn’t happen. It made me think they’re not that much further along than the Hauck years.”

With UNLV set to hand the reins this season to highly touted redshirt freshman quarterback Armani Rogers, its win total is 5 at the Golden Nugget and CG Technology, which opened it at 5½ before it was quickly bet down.

“Five seems like the right number, but I didn’t expect it to go down to 5 so quickly,” CG Technology data analyst Frank Yi said. “That one got hit pretty hard really early on.

“They have a more difficult schedule than last season.”

The Golden Nugget has posted lines on every UNLV game except for its Sept. 2 season opener against Howard, a FCS school that it should crush.

The Rebels are favored in four other games, but by only one point each over Hawaii and UNR and by 2½ over Idaho. They’re double-digit underdogs against Ohio State, Brigham Young and San Diego State and also play at Air Force and New Mexico.

“The sure losses are Ohio State, San Diego State and BYU. Other than that, they have a chance to win a lot of games,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. “They’re definitely getting better every year. If this kid comes around at quarterback, I could see their win total going over 5. I definitely wouldn’t bet it under 5.”

The 6-foot-5-inch Rogers, a former California commit, showed flashes in the spring game of the talent that made him a four-star recruit. But offense wasn’t the problem last season for UNLV. Defense was.

The Rebels scored 31.6 points per game despite losing four starting receivers to season-ending injuries and rotating three quarterbacks who produced one of the weakest passing attacks in the nation.

The defense, despite featuring seven senior starters, gave up 36.8 points a game and has allowed more than 30 points and 400 yards per game in nine straight seasons.

“It’s been a recurring theme for a decade now. The defense is generally bad and fades late in the season because the depth isn’t there,” Marshall said. “I’ve seen no indication this defense is any better.”

UNLV opened as a 3½-point favorite at Idaho before the Golden Nugget lowered the line after taking a $1,000 wager on the Vandals, who upset the Rebels 33-30 in overtime last season at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Marshall said the Week 2 game in Moscow, Idaho, holds the key to whether UNLV tops its win total. Idaho, which returns starting quarterback Matt Linehan, went 9-4 last season and beat Colorado State 61-50 in the Idaho Potato Bowl.

“Idaho is the pivotal game,” Marshall said. “If they don’t beat Idaho, they’re not going to go over. Then they’d have to go 5-3 in the Mountain West, and I don’t see that. If they beat Idaho and go 2-2 in nonleague, they can probably get to six wins. I still think their ceiling is six until I see enough evidence that their defense is better.”

The Rebels have reached six wins in only five of their past 30 seasons. I’ll pass on the season win total and instead look to play the over in their games. Similar to last season, when the over went 9-3 in UNLV games, the Rebels should light it up on offense and get lit up on defense.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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