Last year, it seemed that if you didn’t watch a single game of UNLV football, you didn’t miss anything.
Let’s face it, you were probably sitting at home with your wife, watching the latest episode of Orange is the New Black, wondering how the inmates were going to be able to deal with the new guards. Your mind was on Netflix, not if Tony Sanchez could get this team to five wins or better.
Well, believe it or not, there were some victories out of a somewhat blase season. The team did beat Nevada in the Fremont Cannon game at Reno, and they did give Boise State all they could handle in the first half of that Halloween game at Sam Boyd Stadium. Despite finishing 3-9, Tony Sanchez’s club did not quit, and in many conference games last year, competed to the point where they could have easily finished 6-6 instead of 3-9.
Am I being way too positive?
In all fairness, the Rebels were not the best team in the MWC West division last year, but were they really expected to be? Blake Decker got hurt in the UNR game, leading the way for Kurt Palandech to lead the way for almost a month. Palandech actually didn’t play too bad in relief, passing for almost 800 yards and 9 touchdowns while filling in for Decker. He threw for 2 touchdowns and no picks in the Fresno State game on October 16th. Was he absolutely outstanding? No, but he did just enough to keep UNLV in games.
Now, in the famous words of pro wrestling legend Ric Flair, Palandech has a shot “to be the man.”
His main competition? Johnny Stanton, a 6’2, 245 pound JuCo transfer from Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California. He also spent two years as a redshirt with Nebraska, but really made his bones passing in Junior College. Last season, he threw for over 3,400 yards and 27 touchdowns. During his sole season with the Gauchos, Stanton showed incredible precision with fluid passes that had a lot of spin on them most times. He also was a dual threat, running the ball for 747 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“Kurt was put in bad situation after bad situation. I think he’s a lot better than he showed last year,” Sanchez said. “Johnny does some pretty dynamic things. The biggest thing for him was raising his level of comfort with our offense.
“Going into fall, those two are going to battle it out, and I think within the first couple weeks, we’ll have a decision (on a starter).”
Of course, UNLV won the Armani Rogers sweepstakes, but it’s still too early to tell if he has the immediate goods to help the Rebels in the short term. He’s another incredible dual threat quarterback with enough ability in the pocket to net you 20-25 passing touchdowns, and also 800-1,000 yards. Before we label him another Kaepernick, we’ll let the youngster just absorb the offense like a sponge.
Whomever wins the starting quarterback job, they are going to need some pressure off their position. Last year, Keith Whitely and Xzaviar Campbell provided some of that, rushing for a total of 1,180 yards and 8 touchdowns.
This year, Whitely is out, having been replaced by Evan Owens, another JuCo transfer from San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California. During his time at San Joaquin, Owens was pretty much an unstoppable force, rushing for 1,142 yards and 12 touchdowns, with most defenses trying to tear his jersey off just to bring him down. Sometimes, 5-6 different defensive lineman and linebackers would try and knock him down, but he possesses incredible jukes and can avoid defenders with size and strength.
Good luck trying to stop him, because you can’t.
Will UNLV win the West Division title this year? No, but they are on their way to rebuilding a program that has been in long need of being successful. Don’t count this UNLV team out.
They are definitely on their way