Friday, Sept. 1, 2017 | 2 a.m.
With UNLV football opening its season on Saturday against Howard, today seemed like a good time to answer a few questions from readers. Among the topics: Expectations for the 2017 season, concerns about the defense, scholarship limits and the Rebels' elusive new logo.
VegasRebelDrew: Would a 5-7 record be considered acceptable in your opinion?
Mike: Acceptable, yes. But also kind of a disappointment.
No one is getting fired over a 5-7 campaign unless something drastic happens. But with the way this season is set up, the Rebels have their sights clearly set on a bowl game. That would require six wins. If UNLV falls short of that — even while making overall progress as a program — it will feel like a letdown.
That may sound harsh, but in Tony Sanchez’s third year, those are the expectations. UNLV should finish at least .500 this season.
Drew: Honestly, what’s the situation with the new logo?
Mike: What logo? I don’t see any new logo, and I don’t think UNLV does either. Sightings of the new Hey Reb have been few and far between, and some administrators have privately tried to distance the athletic programs from the rebrand. Basically, UNLV’s new mascot should be an Irish cop swinging a baton, whistling and saying, “Move along, nothing to see here.”
Scott: Is UNLV going to start getting in earlier on Liberty kids?
Mike: I can't speak to one specific school, but I do know that one of Sanchez's top priorities is local recruiting. He regularly cites Houston as an example of a team that "put up a fence" around its local high schools and built up its program by keeping talented players home, and he wants to follow that blueprint. There was a lot of talk about the Bishop Gorman connection when Sanchez was hired, but the UNLV coaching staff has canvassed the entire city for the past two years. One local coach told me that these current Rebels coaches have maintained a much more active presence at local practices, saying, "It's like night and day" between this staff and the previous staff. My guess is, if Liberty continues to produce Division I talent, some of those kids will start ending up at UNLV sooner rather than later.
Mr. Coach P: What is preventing Sanchez from getting to his max allotment of scholarships?
Mike: Division I football teams are allowed to carry 85 scholarship players, and UNLV is under that mark this season. While Sanchez hasn’t addressed the situation directly, I think the answer is obvious — they haven’t recruited enough players to fill up every roster spot. Sanchez targets a certain number of recruits every year, and he doesn’t get all of them. Instead of settling for less-talented players as a backup plan, Sanchez opts to maintain future flexibility by keeping the remaining scholarships open. As the program gets stronger and develops a better recruiting foothold, Sanchez should be able to bring in larger classes and get closer to that 85 number.
Scott: I keep hearing we are much more athletic and longer than last year on defense. So why does everyone think the defense may be worse?
Mike: Well, it’s pretty simple. UNLV had a really bad defense last year, and both of the good players from that unit — Tau Lotulelei and Torry McTyer — have graduated. Seven other starters are gone as well, leaving most to assume some regression on defense this year.
Could the Rebels surprise? It’s possible. Defensive tackle Mike Hughes can play much better than he did last year, bringing some hope to the D-line, and the secondary — which was the weakest part of the defense last year — is almost entirely new, so improvement isn’t out of the question.
As for being more athletic this year, we’ll have to see it on the field first. It’s easy to look fast and athletic in training camp practices, which are mostly conducted in open space without full pads. But players tend to slow down when opponents are blocking them. Given what happened on defense last year, the onus is on UNLV to prove it before we believe it.
Kristofer: Will the Rebels be playing in the NFL stadium when it opens?
Mike: That’s the plan. The stadium is set to open for the 2020 season, with UNLV playing on Saturdays and the Raiders playing on Sundays. The issue now is, how much will the stadium feel like home to the Rebels? Will the Raiders give UNLV its own separate locker room? Will the Raiders let UNLV decorate the stadium, field, end zones, scoreboard, etc. to make it seem like the Rebels are playing real home games? Or will it seem like UNLV is just a tenant in a silver-and-black stadium on Saturdays? The two sides are negotiating those details now.