UNLV’s bowl hopes hinge on QB Armani Rogers, defense

Updated June 28, 2018 - 9:38 pm

UNLV has covered its past two guaranteed money games, rewarding its backers as heavy underdogs at Ohio State in 2017 and at Michigan in 2015 while taking home a payday of at least $1 million for the program in each loss.

The Rebels also covered as 27½-point underdogs at UCLA in 2016 to complete a home-and-home series with the Bruins.

UNLV will open the 2018 football season — its fourth under coach Tony Sanchez — with a $1.15 million guarantee game against Southern California on Sept. 1 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Handicapper Bruce Marshall also expects it to be a payday for bettors who back the Rebels as 27-point underdogs.

Unlv (plus 27) over SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, Sept. 1

“Right off the bat, I could see that being one of the best plays of the first week,” said Marshall (Goldsheet.com). “It’s a bad spot to lay this many points with USC, which has got Stanford the next week and Texas after that. It’s a look-ahead game.

“(The Trojans) are breaking in a new quarterback and are going to be overvalued.”

Bowl or bust

Since Randall Cunningham led UNLV to an 11-2 record — the school’s only 10-win season — in his senior year of 1984, the Rebels have reached at least seven wins only three times, going 7-5 in 1994, 8-5 in 2000 and 7-6 in 2013.

Las Vegas oddsmakers give UNLV a solid shot at winning seven games in 2018 after it finished 5-7 in 2017, when the Rebels lost their season finale at UNR.

The Golden Nugget sports book posted lines Tuesday on each of the Rebels’ 12 games and opened their win total at 6½ after the South Point and William Hill sports books each posted UNLV’s total at 6.

“I expect them to make a bowl this year,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. “They were on the cusp last year. Sanchez is improving the program. They’re steadily going up.”

The Rebels are favored in six games — five by at least seven points — and are a pick’em against Air Force at Sam Boyd Stadium. UNLV is a 2½-point home favorite over UNR in the season finale.

The Rebels are underdogs of at least 8½ points in their other five games.

“It comes down to Air Force and Nevada,” Miller said. “If they win those games, that will definitely put them over the hump.”

UNLV has improved its record by one win each season under Sanchez, climbing from 3-9 in 2015 to 4-8 in 2016 to 5-7 last year, when it upset Fresno State on the road but also suffered a stunning season-opening 43-40 loss to 45-point underdog Howard in what is believed to be the biggest point-spread upset in college football history.

“They have improved incrementally. They are at least making some progress. But they can’t afford to step back,” Marshall said. “Going into the new (Raiders) stadium (in 2020), they need some momentum. They need to at least get to six (wins). That’s doable.”

Trending over

Sanchez is 12-24 overall at UNLV and 18-18 against the spread. The Rebels have been one of the nation’s top over teams under Sanchez, with a 23-13 over-under mark, and over the past 10 years (70-50-2).

That trend appears likely to extend to this season unless UNLV’s defense improves. The Rebels scored 28.8 points per game last season behind a top-20 rushing attack but surrendered an average of 31.8 points and 458.7 yards. It was the 10th straight year they’ve allowed at least 30 points and 400 yards per game.

Sanchez fired defensive coordinator Kent Baer in December and replaced him with former Florida linebackers coach Tim Skipper.

“UNLV has still got flaws on defense,” Marshall said. “They will eventually be exposed.”

Roger, Rogers

Marshall said the Rebels’ success will hinge on the health and improvement of sophomore quarterback Armani Rogers, who rushed for 780 yards and eight TDs and threw for 1,471 yards and six TDs with five interceptions last season. He missed two games and most of another one after suffering a concussion.

“They’ve got to be more efficient in the passing game. (Rogers) lacked a little refinement last year. He was too anxious to run,” Marshall said. “My concern for him is durability and his style. It’s hard to last a full season when you’re running as reckless as he does. And there’s no experienced backup this year.

“If he’s healthy, they’ll get to six (wins) and get to a bowl. But if he goes down at all, this season could go down the drain. He’s that important.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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