2014 CFN Preview - UNLV Rebels
UNLV QB Nick Sherry
UNLV QB Nick Sherry
Posted Jul 17, 2014

Preview 2014 - As last year showed, it really is possible to win in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

UNLV Rebels

Preview 2014

- 2014 UNLV Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders
Head coach: Bobby Hauck
5th year: 13-38
12th year overall: 93-55
Returning Lettermen
Off: 24, Def. 25, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best UNLV Players
1. WR Devante Davis, Sr.
2. OT Brett Boyko, Sr.
3. S Peni Vea, Jr. 
4. WR Marcus Sullivan, Sr.
5. C Robert Waterman, Sr.
6. CB Tajh Hasson, Sr.
7. S Mike Horsey, Sr.
8. QB Nick Sherry, Jr.
9. RB Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, Sr.
10. DE Sonny Sanitoa, Jr. 
2014 Schedule

Aug. 29 at Arizona
Sep. 6 Northern Colorado
Sep. 13 Northern Illinois
Sep. 20 at Houston
Sep. 27 at San Diego State
Oct. 4 at San Jose State
Oct. 10 Fresno State
Oct. 25 at Utah State
Nov. 1 New Mexico
Nov. 8 Air Force
Nov. 15 at BYU
Nov. 22 at Hawaii
Nov. 29 Nevada

Yes, you can come up with a good football team at UNLV.

The season might have ended with a thud, losing 36-14 to North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but with a 7-6 campaign, and with the NCAA allowing the program to play in a bowl this year after adjusting its Academic Progress Report score, this is the fun time for UNLV football.

It took head coach Bobby Hauck a few years to get to this point, and it was a fair time period of adjustment. He needed a recruiting cycle, and he had to change the culture of the program and show that it really and truly could be a winner. There might not have been any epic victories last season, but there was a dominant performance over San Diego State and a victory over in-state rival Nevada.

No matter how it happened, and no matter who the Rebels played, a winning season is a winning season, and with just one since 1994, 2013 was a really big deal.

Recruiting hasn’t been easy, coming up with the 124th-ranked class of 2014 according to Scout.com, and it’s always going to be a fight to turn UNLV into a true football school, with the stadium nowhere near campus and with basketball always taking center stage, but Hauck is doing it.

There’s still plenty of work to do with a soft run defense that needs to replace the entire starting linebacking corps, the offense has to be more consistent - going 7-0 last season when scoring 25 or more and 0-6 when scoring fewer – and the team has to rise to more occasions against the better teams. Going forward, though, Hauck proved that it’s possible to win in Las Vegas.

Going forward, Hauck and his staff have to recruit to a type. The lure of Las Vegas isn’t what you might think – it’s not like college kids have any money to hang around casinos, even if they are old enough to get in – and it’s always going to be a battle to get recruits to treat the school like a football power, so the expectations aren’t going to be all that high.

But again, there’s a bowl game now to shoot for, and there’s a precedent set. A good year could make it the first back-to-back winning seasons since 1983-1984. The schedule is a little tougher, but now, so is UNLV.

What to watch for on offense: The running game needs to come up with another option. Tim Cornett was everything for the ground game at times, rushing for 1,284 yards and 15 touchdowns. QB Caleb Herring ran well, finishing third on the team with 346 yards and five scores – likely starter Nick Sherry won’t do that. The two combined for 391 of the team’s 507 carries and 20 of the 25 rushing scores. Considering the O line might be the team’s biggest strength, Shaquille Murray-Lawrence and the rest of the backs will have to work to hit the 2,000-yard mark again. When the team ran well – going for 190 yards or more – UNLV won. That might be hard to do on a regular basis this season.

What to watch for on defense: It’s all about the run defense. The teams that could only run the ball – New Mexico and Air Force – got their yards, but they couldn’t do anything else in blowout losses to the Rebels. However, in general, the Rebels struggled when they couldn’t hold up on the defensive front, getting rolled over by San Jose State for 312 rushing yards in a winnable home loss, Arizona cranked out 397 on the ground and five scores, and the team was 1-4 when allowing three rushing touchdowns or more. This season, the secondary is loaded with experience, and there’s potential for an improved pass rush, but four of the top five tacklers are gone and the coaching staff has to rely on a young group of linebackers to get by. With Arizona and Northern Illinois up early, it could be rough.

The team will be far better if… the defense can come up with a third down stop. In one of the biggest statistical anomalies of the season, UNLV stuffed Nevada allowing the Wolf Pack offense to convert just 2-of-15 (13%) third down chances. In the other 11 games against FBS teams, the Rebels allowed opposing offenses to convert 50% of their chances or more eight times, and allowed Central Michigan and San Jose State to convert 40% of more. On the year, UNLV ended up allowing teams to convert 47.6% of their chances, but that’s been a major problem throughout the Hauck era allowing 49% of third down conversions in 2009 and 2011.

The Schedule: It’s going to take some work to manage the 13-game slate, and it’s going to take some key home wins against some tough teams. The Rebels will have to get used to life on the road over the first half of the season with four away games in the first six and five in the first eight. Can they take the big home dates against Northern Illinois and Fresno State? They might need to with a three week stretch of Houston, San Diego State and San Jose State on the road. Making life even harder is a date at Utah State to close out October. Going to BYU won’t be a breeze, but getting a trip to Hawaii might be like the bowl game considering how rough the rest of the slate is before closing out at home against Nevada.

Best offensive player: Senior WR Devante Davis. Can he keep up the pace after a dominant season, catching 87 passes for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns? Three of the top four receivers are back, and there are more than enough targets for QB Nick Sherry to work with, but Davis, along with Marcus Sullivan to provide a strong 1-2 punch, but it’s Davis who should be the team’s signature star and the most dangerous weapon. Explosive and consistent, he’s a true No. 1 target.

Best defensive player: Junior S Peni Vea. It’s never really a plus when a safety is the leading tackler, but it’s nice to know that there’s a last line of defense who can handle himself against the run and make plays in the open field like Vea. With good size and big-hitting ability, he’s like another linebacker, but he doesn’t do much when the ball is in the air. A strong safety, that’s not always his job, but he’s the sheriff of a veteran secondary that should be one of the team’s bigger areas of improvement.

Key players to a successful season: Senior DT Efrem Clark. It’s not like the veteran defensive tackles formed a brick wall against the run, but they were experienced. Three of the top four defensive tackles were seniors, with Clark the only one back. He’s not just at just 6-2 and 275 pounds, and he was a part of a rotation making ten tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss, but now he has to be a bit of an anchor. JUCO transfer Billy Tanuvasa is the bigger presence inside at 6-2 and 290 pounds, but it’s Clark who has to use his time logged in to be a bit of an active force against the run.

The season will be a success if ... UNLV gets to six wins. Coming up with another winning season will take a few upsets and a couple of shockers, but after getting to a bowl game last year, a losing campaign will be a big letdown - but 6-7 wouldn't feel that bad. Can the defensive front seven come together in a hurry? Can Nick Sherry come up with a big season under center? Can Tim Cornett be replaced? This might not be the most complete team in the Mountain West, but the program is far better and stronger than it was a few years ago. Six wins, considering all of the question marks, would be solid.

Key game: Oct. 4 at San Jose State. The Rebels were run over by the Spartans at home last season, and this year the tables have to be turned. It’ll be a tough first half of the season schedule-wise, and with a trip to San Diego State to start the season, and with Fresno State coming up next, this could turn the tide of the season. UNLV has lost the last four in the series – but before last season, the previous losses was a wild 55-48 loss in 1997.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles: Opponents 22 (lost 9) – UNLV 9 (lost 5)
- Penalties: Opponents 79 for 647 yards – UNLV 45 for 406 yards
- Punt Return Average: Opponents 9.7 yards – UNLV 3.2 yards

- 2014 UNLV Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players