Coming off a positive season a year ago the UNLV Rebel football team is looking to build on the success. The Rebels kick off their season at Arizona next Friday. Here are the five biggest question marks concerning this year’s UNLV football team.
5. Can the offensive line build off strong 2013?
UNLV has the luxury of something just about every team in the country would love. They return all five starting offensive lineman. Anchored by stud left tackle Brett Boyko, the Rebels will start three seniors and two juniors all of which played significant time in 2013. UNLV had a tremendous season on the ground a year ago which was led by the strength of this offensive line. Assuming health, they should be even better this year and will allow Shaquille Murray-Lawrence to run wild. It’s not a question of whether or not this unit will be good, it’s will it be able to go from last year’s solid effort to a dominant one that the Rebels can lean on all year.
4. Are they good enough to win seven games and head to a 2nd straight bowl?
The UNLV Football program is not one that is used to going to bowl games. After a 14 year drought the Rebels finally cracked through and qualified to play in college football’s postseason. This year, with the 13 game schedule, the Rebels will have to find a way to win seven games to match last year’s success. Starting off at Arizona will be tough, and the road doesn’t get much easier with a home game against Northern Illinois and a trip to Houston before starting conference play. However, there are a lot of winnable games on the schedule. They’ll have to take care of business at home and then come up with a few wins in games they’ll be underdogs in on the road. It’s do-able, and every UNLV player and fan alike have to be pumped they are even allowed to play in a bowl after the ban was lifted, but it’s going to be awfully tough to reach that seven win plateau.
3. How well will the offense run with a new QB?
Last year the Rebels went into the season expecting Nick Sherry to be their starting QB, but after an abysmal start and Caleb Herring playing well, Sherry was relegated to the bench. This year, Sherry is on the other side of the coin to start the year. Blake Decker has been named the starter, and the JUCO transfer is expected to run an read-option style offense. However, with the uncertainties of a JUCO QB, there will likely be situations in which Sherry will have to step in. Either way, the Rebels have question marks at the most important position in all of sports, if one or the other doesn’t step up, it could be a long year for a previously promising looking team.
2. Will the youth of the defensive front seven haunt the Rebels?
For as experienced as the Rebels are on the offensive side of the ball, they are ridiculously inexperienced on defense. UNLV must find replacements for five of their starting front seven, and six of their starting eleven. While this could be a recipe for disaster, the previous front seven didn’t light the world on fire, so the new blood could represent a step in the right direction. The fear however is that with three very tough games in the first four weeks of the season if the young guys don’t come along incredibly quickly, the 32 points and 433 yards UNLV allowed per game last season may head the wrong way. Jordan Sparkman is the guy who needs to work off the edge and set the tone for the inexperienced defensive front. If he’s pedestrian again like he was in 2013, the offense may be required to score 50 just to stay competitive.
1. Will the pistol spread read-option offense work again for Hauck and the Rebels?
Caleb Herring put together one of the better seasons for a UNLV QB since the great Randall Cunningham graced the field at the Silver Bowl. But now it’s Blake Decker’s chance to run the offense. Coach Bobby Hauck has made it clear that he prefers the more mobile quarterback to add wrinkles to his spread offense. In his time at Scottsdale Community College Decker had insane passing numbers, but his rushing stats were rather low for a QB with his athleticism. The Rebels will need Decker to be a legitimate threat to run the ball out of the read-option otherwise opposing defenses will eat up the Rebel running backs. There’s no doubt the skill set is there for Decker, but it’s a tall task to replicate the success of 2013 Herring. He has weapons galore, it’s just a matter of if he’s able to use them.