Saturday, July 22, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Rogers is probably the closest thing there is to Cam Newton in college football. He was originally going to play at Cal in the Pac-12, but instead will now bring his talents to Sin City. He enters an offense full of skill players with considerable experience. It’s tough not to get over-excited with the potential, but Rogers could be the biggest wild card in the nation. Don’t be shocked to see him carry the Rebels to the conference title game. — Athlon Sports
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Let the Armani Rogers hype begin.
Athlon Sports sure knows how to turn up the pressure, which is a good thing for UNLV, because people are taking notice of its potential standout player and up-and-coming football program.
The Rebels started four different quarterbacks in coach Tony Sanchez’s initial two seasons, struggling to find someone who was serviceable and healthy. But all signs point to them having a winner in the redshirt freshman Rogers, and even though he hasn’t taken a college snap or been tackled in practice, the fact that he’s being mentioned by a respected national magazine speaks volumes of the potential.
These few sentences gives him a bar — granted it’s a gigantic Randall Cunningham-size bar — to strive toward. It puts the spotlight on him to be more than an average player in the Mountain West, meaning plays will be more deeply scrutinized and credit or blame for the Rebels’ record will partially fall on his shoulders.
That’s the way it should be. You don’t see other major programs, ones the Rebels are striving to emulate and one day beat, shying away from hype.
Rogers is expected to lead the Rebels to many wins, a league championship and multiple bowl victories. That’s not my expectation — it’s what the team expects of itself. And why can’t he lead them to a turnaround in a weak league where you can argue the Rebels this fall will be the second-best team in the West Division?
Nobody is saying Rogers is Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner who led Auburn to the national championship and is considered one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.
They are saying Rogers has many traits in common with Newton, everything from being physically gifted to having the ability to wins games with his legs and arms. (If you think the magazine is off in its assessment, the Rebels surely hope you are right — Athlon ranks them as the nation's 105th best team.)
Rogers, at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, is a former four-star recruit who is considered one of the best gets on the recruiting trail all-time by UNLV. He passed for 18 touchdowns with just one interception as a high school senior and rushed for nearly 500 yards with six touchdowns.
We saw glimpses of his potential during spring practice when he’d connect on a long pass with relative ease, or when he’d string together multiple completions in succession in the short passing game. He didn’t do much running because quarterbacks, especially the quarterback your future hinges on, don’t get touched in the spring.
He also had flashes of poor play, which was to be expected. Remember, he’s a young player with no experience. If the mention by Athlon has any drawbacks, it’s that fans will have little patience with a first-time starter who is a still a teenager. This isn’t an attempt to tap the brakes on how the hype is a good thing for the Rebels. Instead, it’s the reality of any first-time player needing time to adjust at any level — whether that’s your first varsity start in high school or the NFL.
It’s important to realize Rogers won’t win games by himself, at least not yet. And that’s fine.
UNLV rushed for 241.5 yards per game last season to rank 15th nationally and will again be solid in the rushing game with Charles Williams and Lexington Thomas as one of the best one-two punches in the league. The offensive line returns four starters, and UNLV's wide receiver group — namely Devonte Boyd and Kendal Keys — is also experienced.
That’s why Rogers won’t have to post Cam Newton-type numbers for a successful season. Rather, he needs to be the nation’s best game manager. It will be a delicate balance of not forcing throws or putting himself in harm’s way when running and taking those risks down field that will one day make him special.
It’s a good problem for UNLV to have. There’s nothing wrong with a little hype, especially when the player who the hype is directed at has the skill set of Rogers.