Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The UNLV football team has a golden opportunity Friday night. The Rebels at 6 p.m. play at Mountain West power Boise State on ESPN2, a rare national televised game to showcase the program’s improvements.
It is just the Rebels’ fourth game televised on ESPN or ESPN2 since 2011. Boise State (9-1) is ranked No. 22 nationally, giving four-win UNLV a chance for a signature win.
“It’s huge,” Rebels coach Tony Sanchez. “Anytime you’re playing a Friday night game it’s national TV, so there will be a lot of eyes on us. We’re coming off a big win, so I’m sure you’ll get a little more interest there.”
UNLV (4-6, 3-3) hasn’t fared well against nationally ranked teams, going 5-37 all-time and having lost 14 straight. The Rebels last win over a ranked opponent was a 23-20 overtime win at No. 15 Arizona State on Sept. 13, 2008.
Oddsmakers give UNLV little-to-no chance at winning, opening with the Broncos as 28.5-point favorites. Sanchez says he doesn’t look at the lines.
“It’s a big game, but we are going to approach it the same,” Sanchez said. “You have to be even keel about these things. One game can’t be more important than the others because they’re all tough ones.”
If things weren’t already difficult enough, UNLV enters the game severely hindered by injuries at multiple positions.
It’s been well documented how banged up the wide receiver position is, but the Rebels could also be without defensive lineman Dominic Baldwin and long snapper Joe Lang.
Cornerback Robert Jackson and receiver Devonte Boyd are both out for the season with broken arms, but Sanchez expects running backs Charles Williams and Lexington Thomas to play against Boise State.
“You kind of expect those things to happen a little bit but not to the extent that it has to us,” Sanchez said. “We are down a couple guys but other guys will step up and be ready to go.”
Jackson’s injury could hurt UNLV the most as it has already struggled stopping the pass, ranked 101st in the country allowing 261.6 passing yards per game.
Boise State ranks 15th in passing offense with sophomore sensation quarterback Brett Rypien throwing for 2,916 yards, 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions this season.
“It’s a big challenge for us because we know what we’re capable of and we can go out there and show that we’re good,” said cornerback Torry McTyer, who had two interceptions in UNLV’s wild 69-66 win against Wyoming last week. “We look at it as an opportunity to showcase what we can do.”
The Rebels need to win both of their remaining games to become bowl eligible, but at this point building toward the future is equally important.
A good showing against a nationally recognized team like Boise State on ESPN2 would be a major feather in UNLV’s cap as they try to build a winning tradition.
“Boise has got a great history and tradition,” Sanchez said. “It’s a big deal, anytime you can get your brand out there and show what you’re all about. There’s always going to be features about your city and your program and where you’re going and you want it to be a positive flow.”
While the game could serve as a recruiting tool for Sanchez in the future, he does point out the one flaw in the game being on a Friday night.
“I always thought Friday nights should be reserved for high school football,” Sanchez said. “Most of the kids we are recruiting will be playing at the same time as the game so hopefully they DVR it. Right?”
UNLV’s current players, especially seniors like fullback Marc Philippi, know this game is an opportunity they can’t let slip by.
“I think everyone is excited about the opportunity to just go play in that environment against a team like Boise on national TV,” Philippi said. “I think everyone is preparing for that, and it’s another football game but at the same time it’s a great opportunity for us.”