Rebels projected last again

UNLV’s dream is to blow up the low expectations, to play so well that no right-thinking media member — yes, they exist — would even consider placing the Rebels at the bottom of the Mountain West Conference poll the following season.

It’s still a force of habit to put the Rebels at the bottom, and that’s where they were — again — when the poll was released Monday during conference media days at Green Valley Ranch Resort.

“After the year we had last year, I don’t see where else they should put us,” UNLV senior tailback Frank Summers said. “I’m trying to take a positive out of a negative. The positive from that is we can’t go any further down.

“Also, it’s great motivation for myself and my team to work our way up.”

There is plenty of mountain in the Mountain West to climb.

Junior wide receiver Ryan Wolfe was the only Rebel selected to the preseason all-conference team.

Two-time defending champion Brigham Young was chosen No. 1. The Cougars received 29 first-place votes and 299 points.

BYU went 11-2 last season, including 8-0 in the league. The Cougars defeated UCLA 17-16 in the Las Vegas Bowl to finish No. 14 in the Associated Press and USA Today polls.

Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall cautioned an early coronation, saying, “As soon as we start thinking we’re beyond reach, we’re beyond touch, then I think that would be a great mistake.”

As for UNLV, it is coming off four consecutive two-victory seasons. The Rebels went 2-10 last year, including 1-7 in the Mountain West.

So that’s why no one from UNLV was overly surprised with the media’s opinion.

“I don’t put much stock in polls, but at the same time, it is a motivator,” said Rebels coach Mike Sanford, who is 6-29 in three seasons. “Most preseason rankings are based on where you finished the previous year, and that’s where we’re at. We’ve got to improve, and the key is to not end up there.”

The Rebels open training camp on Aug. 4, and their season begins on Aug. 30 at home against Utah State.

UNLV returns nine offensive starters, but has not decided on a starting quarterback. Sophomores Omar Clayton and Travis Dixon are up for the job.

On defense, the Rebels have to make up for the loss of linebacker Beau Bell, who was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns.

They also have to find a way to finally defy the low expectations. This is the third year in a row the Rebels have been picked last and the fourth time in the past five years. UNLV was selected eighth in 2006, just ahead of Wyoming.

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

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