An urgency exists every football season, but for a UNLV football coach who was publicly put on notice last November, it’s even more pronounced.
It’s well known the Rebels need at least six victories for Tony Sanchez to return for a sixth year as coach. That would qualify UNLV for a bowl game and meet the expectations laid out after last season by athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois.
Six, however, isn’t the number being tossed around Lied Athletic Complex.
The Rebels are thinking 12 or 13 — 12 regular-season victories, 13 including the Mountain West championship.
Those are lofty goals for a program that hasn’t made the postseason since 2013.
“If you’re setting your goal low, then you’re not going to reach it,” junior running back Charles Williams said.
UNLV opens its season at 7 p.m. Saturday against Southern Utah at Sam Boyd Stadium, the team’s final year there before leaving in 2020 for Allegiant Stadium. The Rebels went 4-8 last year, but won two of their final three games.
Sanchez’s job situation could serve as a rallying point.
“It’s motivation to play for us and him, everybody,” Williams said. “We’re playing for a whole entire city. We’re not just playing for each other. Las Vegas is supporting us so much, we’ve got to go out there and give them what they deserve.”
If the Rebels are to play in a bowl game, they need junior quarterback Armani Rogers to stay healthy and their defense to make noticeable strides.
Rogers missed seven starts last season after injuring a toe. The Rebels went 3-2 in games he started and 1-6 in the others.
His ability to run and athletic 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound frame give UNLV a big-play ability that opens up the rest of the offense. Rogers’ 1,345 career rushing yards is second all-time among UNLV quarterbacks only to Jason Thomas’ 1,528 yards from 2000 t0 2002.
To be a complete quarterback, Rogers needs to improve his 49.3 career completion percentage, but he ended last season by completing 13 of 20 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns to beat UNR.
“I feel great right now, the years of experience I have under my belt,” Rogers said. “I know exactly what to expect. I’m feeling comfortable with the offense, the receivers, the linemen, just the whole group itself.”
What Rogers doesn’t want is to have to win shootouts. UNLV allowed 37.2 points per game last season.
The Rebels have added players they hope make a difference, such as Florida graduate transfer Rayshad Jackson who will start at weak-side linebacker this weekend, and junior college transfer Vic Viramontes, a co-starter at middle linebacker. They join players such as returning seniors Gabe McCoy at defensive end and Javin White at strong-side linebacker, who are co-captains.
“You’re going to see some guys out there that are going to contribute that nobody’s really thinking about right now,” Sanchez said. “I think you’re going to see a group of guys that’s going to allow our defense to play faster for a longer duration of time.”