Rebels must guard against collapse after solid start to season

Is it beginning to feel more like 2000, or 2003?

UNLV’s football team had better hope it’s more like 2000, when the Rebels went 8-5 and demolished Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl.

2003? A little different story.

That season began with such promise. The Rebels, at 4-1, were off to their best start in 19 years, having scored victories at No. 14 Wisconsin and UNR.

A bowl game seemed certain. That is until it all fell apart, and the Rebels stumbled to a 6-6 record.

At 3-1, UNLV is enjoying its best start since that year.

The Rebels, who play UNR (1-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, are coming off victories over schools from Bowl Championship Series conferences — Arizona State and Iowa State. The Sun Devils were ranked No. 15 when UNLV beat them Sept. 13.

And now the bowl speculation has begun.

One ESPN.com projection has UNLV facing Connecticut in San Diego’s Poinsettia Bowl, and another writer on the same Web site puts the Rebels in the New Mexico Bowl against Louisiana Tech.

CBSSports.com forecasts a UNLV-Stanford matchup in the Poinsettia. That would be an interesting matchup, considering Rebels coach Mike Sanford’s son, Mike Jr., is an assistant for the Cardinal.

Of course, it’s a long way from here to there, as the second-half collapse in 2003 illustrated. Sanford must guard his players from buying into premature bowl talk.

Having the team’s fiercest rival coming to town should help keep the focus in its proper place.

“We’re not thinking about anything else,” Sanford said. “Right now, I think our coaching staff and our players are so intent on this game that we’re not even thinking about that kind of stuff. This game is huge, and we don’t want to talk about anything other than this game.

“Now we may at some point have to start warning against that.”

• TAILBACK TALK — UNLV starter Frank Summers remains upright, but that hasn’t been the case with the tailbacks behind him.

C.J. Cox backed up Summers in Saturday’s 34-31 victory over Iowa State because of ankle injuries to Channing Trotter and Imari Thompson. Cox is back at the No. 2 slot as those players continue to come back to full health.

Cox carried just twice against the Cyclones but responded with 15 yards. The Rebels also used wide receiver Michael Johnson on end-arounds, and he produced 32 yards on three rushes.

Sanford said UNLV also is waiting for David Peeples, a Cheyenne High School graduate, to fully recover from a preseason foot injury that has been slow to heal.

• MORE INJURY NEWS — Offensive right tackle Evan Marchal (ankle) didn’t play against the Cyclones and was limited in Tuesday’s practice. Sanford said he would know Thursday whether Marchal would play against UNR.

Richie Plunkett, who went to Las Vegas High School, is listed as the backup, but if Marchal doesn’t return, Johan Asiata probably would move from left guard to start as he did against Iowa State. Sifa Moala started in Asiata’s place.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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