UNLV opens training camp Friday at Rebel Park next to the 75,000-square foot Fertitta Football Complex that is nearing completion and symbolizes hope for the future.
But like the building itself, construction continues on the program as coach Tony Sanchez enters his fifth season, one that will determine his future with the program.
1. Can the Rebels get to six?
A better question is if they can get to seven victories. Wyoming won six games last season and was left out of the bowl picture. With Boise State, Wyoming and Colorado State — two of those games on the road — coming onto the Mountain West schedule from the Mountain Division and with nonconference trips to Northwestern and Vanderbilt, winning six or seven games won’t be easy. But UNLV can do it if quarterback Armani Rogers stays healthy and the defense makes clear progress.
2. Is there hope for the defense?
Yes, for real. Sanchez signed seven junior college defenders and picked up Florida graduate transfer Rayshad Jackson, a linebacker who started three games last season for a quality Gators defense. Those players should make an immediate impact and supplement players such as end/linebacker Gabe McCoy and linebacker Javin White.
Given that UNLV should score about four touchdowns per game offensively, the defense doesn’t need to improve dramatically after giving up 37.2 points and 454.2 yards per game last season. It just needs to improve enough so that the offense doesn’t have to win shootouts.
3. How will the offense be different under a new direction?
Don’t expect dramatic changes with Garin Justice taking over for Barney Cotton, who had to step aside because he needs a heart transplant. The Rebels still should be a run-dominant team with Rogers taking a fair number of shots downfield to take advantage of his strong right arm. Whatever wrinkles Justice, who also coaches the offensive line, delivers to the offense probably will be subtle to most fans.
4. How important is it to get Kenyon Oblad ready?
The Liberty graduate and state’s career high school passing leader rose to No. 2 on the depth chart after backup quarterback Max Gilliam suffered a foot injury that will keep him out until September. Rogers has missed 10 starts the past two seasons to injury, so Oblad, a redshirt freshman, could get called upon to deliver. The extra repetitions he’ll receive in training camp will benefit him, and the Rebels can’t afford a major drop-off should Rogers go down.
5. In what way will training camp affect the season?
UNLV’s roster is pretty much set, and most of the position battles are for playing time and not starting jobs. One key will be how healthy the Rebels are coming out of camp. They are deeper than in recent seasons, but that doesn’t mean they want to test that depth.
Aug. 31: Southern Utah, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7: Arkansas State, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14: at Northwestern, 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 28: at Wyoming, TBA
Oct. 5: Boise State, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12: at Vanderbilt, TBA
Oct. 18: at Fresno State, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26: San Diego State, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2: at Colorado State, 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 16: Hawaii, 1 p.m.
Nov. 23: San Jose State, 1 p.m.
Nov. 30: at UNR, noon
All times are Pacific. Homes games are at Sam Boyd Stadium.