As tends to happen in my ‘line of work’ I’ve spent a good many years living in Las Vegas. One thing that ‘outsiders’ don’t realize is that the city has a lot of civic pride. It might manifest itself differently than it would in New York or Chicago but Las Vegans love their unique and sometimes bizarre hometown. The rest of the country got a glimpse of this during the Vegas Golden Knights’ unprecedented run to the Stanley Cup Finals as an expansion team a few years back. If the Raiders get on a winning run after they move to the ‘702’ the city will go nuts.
That ‘Vegas pride’ hasn’t really extended to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas football team. The basketball team has always been the star of the show and they still rule at UNLV even though they’re far removed from the dominance of the Jerry Tarkanian era. Tark still stands guard over the Thomas and Mack Center in the form of a statue and will forever have legendary status in Las Vegas. The same status will never be afforded to Jeff Horton, Mike Sanford or even John Robinson who have served as UNLV football coaches over the years.
The current head coach is Tony Sanchez who was hired after becoming a local legend during his six year tenure at Bishop Gorman High School in the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin. His accomplishments at Bishop Gorman were extremely impressive–a record of 85-5 and six consecutive Nevada 4-A State Championships. It’s unclear whether UNLV hired him because they didn’t think anyone else would take the job or due to his revered status among the locals or some combination thereof. Sanchez has definitely made some improvement in the program’s competitiveness but that hasn’t translated into many more wins. The team at one point was among the biggest pointspread money burners in college football. In Sanchez’s tenure they’re 23-21-1 ATS though only 17-32 SU. This is the final year of Sanchez’s contract and the thinking locally is that the Rebels will have to gain bowl eligibility for him to be brought back.
He does have some quality talent on offense and depth on defense. The Rebels return 9 players on offense including the entire line, a strong group of wide receivers and a potential NFL level quarterback in Armani Rogers. The team won and covered against FCS Southern Utah last week so they’re 1-0 both SU/ATS this year. The Rebels don’t get much of a break with their schedule. Even games against teams that they might have a qualitative edge over in terms of talent are tricky spots. For example, games at Colorado State and Wyoming are both in tough scheduling spots at high altitude. The most significant challenges are a 10/18 game at Fresno State along with tough games at Northwestern and Vanderbilt. The rivalry game with Nevada is in Reno this year and the Rebels are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 trips up North. It wouldn’t hurt for Sanchez to win that game in his bid to stay employed at UNLV.
Arkansas State has turned in 8 consecutive winning seasons going 20-4 in conference. Nationally, they’re definitely ‘under the radar’ and just haven’t received many breaks over the past couple of years. They’ve gone 15-10 in the past two seasons despite an average per game yardage edge over opponents of 104.5 yards. despite owning a yardage edge over opponents of an average 104.5 yards per game. Logan Bonner passed for four touchdowns against SMU last week and he should find the going much easier against a Rebels defense that ranked #121 in scoring defense and #119 in passing yards per game against a year ago.