It’s never a good sign when a school has to issue a statement explaining why its head coach isn’t going to be fired at the end of a losing season. UNLV coach Tony Sanchez got the vote of confidence to close the 2019 season, which likely means he has one more season to deliver wins or he will be fired.
Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel ranked all 130 FBS teams in the country entering the 2019 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 130 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 105: UNLV
Coach: Tony Sanchez (16-32, entering fifth season, 16-32 overall)
2018 record: 4-8 overall, 2-6 in Mountain West; fifth in West Division
Look back: UNLV seemed to be making steady, if slow, improvement under Sanchez, who moved from the high school coaching ranks to leading the Rebels. The program has long struggled to keep up and the hope was an unconventional hire could bring in recruits needed to turn the Rebels into winners. UNLV’s biggest problem in 2018 was an injury bug that hit multiple positions and most notably sidelined dual-threat quarterback Armani Rogers for six games. It proved to be too much to overcome as UNLV took a step back while most of the rest of the Mountain West teams on its schedule improved.
The bright spot during a four-win season was a 34-29 win over rival Nevada.
Offensive starters returning: 10
Offensive starters lost: 1
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: RB Lexington Thomas, RB Evan Owens, WR/DB Darren Palmer, OL Nathan Jacobson, DB Dalton Baker, DB Jocquez Kalili, LB Bailey Laolagi, DL Ammir Aziz, DL Jameer Outsey, DL Roger Mann
Top returnees: QB Armani Rogers, OL Justin Polu, OL Jaron Caldwell, RB Charles Williams, WR Darren Woods, LB Javin White, LB Gabe McCoy
Strengths: Rogers was challenged by fellow quarterbacks during the spring, but he’s still expected to lead the UNLV offense. If an experienced offensive line can help keep him healthy, he’s an electric playmaker who can give the Rebels a chance to win more games.
On the defensive side of the ball, Javin White and Gabe McCoy headline a tough linebackers unit that could be disruptive all season.
Sanchez is pushing to win right away, signing 10 junior college transfers and one graduate transfer to bolster his roster.
Weaknesses: The offense took a hit with Rogers’ injury last season and generally hasn’t been strong enough to keep up with the best of the Mountain West.
The team will have to find a way to gain traction without Lexington Thomas, who became the second UNLV running back to earn either first or second team all-conference honors more than during his career. Thomas rushed for 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior while adding a career-high 19 catches for 165 receiving yards. He broke multiple school records, including most rushing touchdowns in a career (40), most touchdowns scored overall (43) and most 100-yard rushing games (18). His 3,551 career rushing yards ranks second among all Rebels and eighth in Mountain West history.
The defense also lost some leaders up front and a big chunk of the starting secondary.
Outlook: UNLV has the ingredients to improve, but a challenging schedule could make it difficult to reach six or seven wins needed to earn a bowl bid and help save Sanchez’s job.
Aug. 31 Southern Utah
Sept. 7 Arkansas State
Sept. 14 at Northwestern
Sept. 28 at Wyoming
Oct. 5 Boise State
Oct. 12 at Vanderbilt
Oct. 18 at Fresno State
Oct. 26 San Diego State
Nov. 2 at Colorado State
Nov. 16 Hawaii
Nov. 23 San Jose State
Nov. 30 at Nevada
Rankings so far
The following schools were previously revealed during the Orlando Sentinel’s countdown to our preseason No. 1 team:
106. Western Kentucky
108. Ball State
109. Old Dominion
111. East Carolina
113. New Mexico
115. Texas State
116. Kent State
117. Bowling Green
119. Coastal Carolina
120. San Jose State
121. Georgia State
123. Central Michigan
126. New Mexico State
129. South Alabama