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January 27, 2023

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As season approaches, UNLV football remains a mystery

UNLV signing day 2020

Lucas Peltier/UNLV

UNLV football coach Marcus Arroyo speaks during a press conference announcing the Rebels’ 2020 recruiting class on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.

With just five days left before the opener at San Diego State, it’s possible we’ve never known less about a UNLV football team heading into a season.

Training camp has wrapped and game week is now underway, and the 2020 squad remains a complete mystery, and in some ways, that’s how new coach Marcus Arroyo likes it. On issues like his quarterback competition and what type of defensive system he’ll run, he prefers to have the element of surprise on his side. On the season’s most pressing issue, however — COVID-19 — it’s probably safe to say he would rather not be left in the dark.

But that’s where things stand as UNLV preps for its trip to San Diego on Saturday. Everything is uncertain.

During his weekly conference call on Monday, Arroyo dodged questions about the quarterback battle, only letting on that the field has been trimmed from four contenders to three over the last week. With freshman Doug Brumfield confirmed to be out of the running, it’s now down to redshirt sophomores Kenyon Oblad and Justin Rogers and senior Max Gilliam.

Arroyo did not comment on any of the contenders individually, only noting that he generally likes the progress they’ve made throughout the truncated preseason.

“We’ve probably got it closer to three guys,” Arroyo said. “Those guys have begun to elevate their process this past week, understand the urgency in which we’re up against in regards to getting ready for a game week. Lots to learn, lots to still do but they’ve been excited to do that and they have a good look in their eye and that’s important.”

With training camp and regular practices closed to media due to COVID-19, there is no insight to be had regarding the QB competition. Don’t expect Arroyo to name a starter until UNLV and the Aztecs have both taken the field on Saturday.

While quarterback is the focus on offense, on the other side of the ball UNLV is likely staging battles at every position. The defense allowed 6.4 yards per play last year — only 17 teams in the nation were worse — and lost its best player in graduated linebacker Javin White, so no one’s job should be safe.

Arroyo said his defense will use multiple alignments throughout each game, depending on how the opposing offense lines up.

“You’re going to see some odd[-man fronts],” Arroyo said, “you’re going to see some four down [linemen], you’re going to see multiple groups based on the offensive groups.”

As to his coaching style, Arroyo acknowledged that as a first-time head coach, he’ll be figuring that out as he goes.

“This is the first time I’ve sat in this chair,” Arroyo said. “First time having to do some of the things we’ve had to do. You can anticipate them in a perfect world; I think you can anticipate and hopefully you’ve prepared enough to take on the roles and the career that you’ve seen and you’ve accumulated enough information to feel like you can grow from. None of that preparation puts you in a pandemic, and then in four weeks you’re ready to roll.”

On the pandemic front, UNLV is facing the biggest unknown of all. Though the season is scheduled to begin in five days, the Mountain West has still yet to finalize its COVID-19 testing protocols. Until that happens, teams won’t know how they’re supposed to handle the inevitable positive tests during game weeks.

On Monday, a league spokesman said the MWC is still “finalizing” its protocols and guidelines in the event of positive tests. Teams have already begun the conference’s mandated three-times weekly testing schedule.

It’s kind of a mess. It’s a total mystery.

Did we mention the season is less than a week away?

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

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