Las Vegas sports books might expect the UNLV football team to improve on last season’s 3-9 record — the Rebels’ 2016 win total is 4.5 — but the Mountain West media does not.
UNLV was picked to finish fifth in the MW West Division this season in voting by the media, the conference announced Tuesday morning at its annual media days at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Not that second-year Rebels coach Tony Sanchez cares.
“At the end of the day, preseason polls don’t mean much,” he said. “They’re fun for the media and fans to talk about, but I don’t know if I spend more than a second paying attention to that.
“Obviously, within the media, there’s still a perception that UNLV is UNLV. And it’s our job to go out there and prove people wrong, make ourselves bowl eligible and put ourselves in position to compete for a Mountain West championship.”
The Rebels were picked to finish sixth in last season’s preseason poll and finished in a tie for fourth place with a 2-6 league record.
“We don’t plan on finishing fifth. I can tell you that,” Sanchez said. “The goal is to finish No. 1. It always will be. That is the only goal.”
San Diego State, the defending conference champion, was picked to win the West Division, and Boise State was chosen to win the Mountain Division.
The Aztecs, who garnered all 29 first-place votes, are only the second unanimous preseason pick in MW history and first since 2010 (Texas Christian). San Diego State went 8-0 in the league last season and beat Mountain Division champion Air Force 27-24 in the conference championship game.
The Aztecs return 14 starters, including preseason Offensive Player of the Year Donnel Pumphrey — a Canyon Springs High School product — preseason Defensive Player of the Year Damontae Kazee and preseason Special Teams Player of the Year Rashaad Penny.
Boise State received 27 of 29 first-place votes, as it was picked for the fourth straight season to win the Mountain Division. The Broncos, who went 5-3 in the MW last season, return 14 starters, including two preseason all-conference picks in quarterback Brett Rypien and wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck.
Air Force, picked to finish second in its division, was the only other school to receive first-place votes, with two.
BOYD NAMED ALL-CONFERENCE
Junior wide receiver Devonte Boyd was the only UNLV player named to the preseason all-conference team. Boyd, a Biletnikoff Award candidate from Basic High School, has the most receiving yards through a sophomore season in school history with 1,884.
“Devonte Boyd has had a great two years, and we expect him to have a great third year. He’s very deserving of that honor,” Sanchez said. “A handful of other guys will have an opportunity at the end of the season to be on that list.”
Sanchez said several other UNLV players could vie for all-conference honors this season, including linebacker Tau Lotulelei, center Will Kreitler, running back Lexington Thomas and defensive back Torry McTyer.
COMMISSIONER TALKS EXPANSION
During his annual news conference at the Mountain West Media Days, league commissioner Craig Thompson said “a number of Mountain West institutions have expressed interest in looking at Big 12 membership,” but didn’t divulge names and added that there was no timetable.
“What’s going to happen? Nobody has any idea,” he said. “We’re all playing this game similar to a sweepstakes. (The Big 12 is) soliciting interest, then they’ll determine the timeline and process if they’re going to expand or not.”
Thompson also said the Mountain West could eventually expand.
“We could look beyond 12 (schools). This membership/expansion door swings both ways,” he said. “This week, I’ve had more than one and less than five institutions reach out to me and say, ‘Can we be in the Mountain West Conference?’
“It’s something we’re going to continue to monitor, and as things develop, we’ll adjust accordingly.”
Thompson also said a motion made in an attempt to add stability to the league by increasing its exit fee to $10 million was voted down 6-4 at a recent Board of Governors meeting.
Also, he said the Mountain West distributed $41 million in revenue to member schools. It was the second-highest amount in the league’s 17-year history.
WHAT’S THE MOTTO WITH YOU?
UNLV unveiled its marketing slogan for the 2016 football season, “Light The Fuse,” on the cover of its media guide. The phrase appears to refer to both the buildup to the Rebels’ season-ending game against UNR, aka “The Battle for the Fremont Cannon,” and to the team’s expected rise.
Also, the Las Vegas Bowl released a special edition logo to celebrate its 25th year this season. The game, scheduled for Dec. 17 at Sam Boyd Stadium, features the top choice from the Mountain West against the sixth pick from the Pac-12.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33
MOUNTAIN WEST PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. San Diego State (29 first-place votes), 174 points
2. UNR, 129
3. San Jose State, 122
4. Fresno State, 76
5. UNLV, 73
6. Hawaii, 35
1. Boise State (27), 172
2. Air Force (2), 126
3. Utah State, 111
4. Colorado State, 95
5. New Mexico, 74
6. Wyoming, 31