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Plenty Of Uncertainty As UNLV Football Starts 2020 Season

James Murphy
by in NCAAF on
  • UNLV heads into Saturday’s opening game against San Diego State with a new coach, personnel questions and multiple COVID-19 issues.
  • There is also plenty of ambiguity about whether fans will be able to attend UNLV home games this year.
  • Most college football experts are predicting that UNLV will near the bottom of the Mountain West Conference standings.

There are few major college football programs in the country that have suffered more than the Runnin’ Rebels of the University of Nevada–Las Vegas. They don’t have anything approaching the glorious past of the UNLV basketball program which can make a legitimate case to have had at one point the best team in NCAA history (1990). They’ve not given the city an iconic figure like the late Jerry Tarkianian who is forever enshrined in a 2000 pound bronze statue near the Thomas & Mack Center. Aside from increasingly lower expectations and a revolving door of head coaches the UNLV football team hasn’t done much of anything in the past decade or two.

That isn’t expected to change much in 2020 as they bring in another new head coach–former Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo. It speaks volumes as to where UNLV football ranks in the sports pantheon of the 702 that Arroyo’s first question at his first game week press conference was about Justin Hebert. Hebert was the starting quarterback for three years at Arroyo’s previous employer and now plays for the Los Angeles Chargers. Then again, that probably won’t be the strangest thing to happen for UNLV football this year. The Las Vegas Review-Journal provides some perspective:

A UNLV season that was supposed to start Aug. 29 against a Pac-12 opponent in a spectacular domed stadium on the Strip instead will begin Oct. 24 in a soccer facility. But if there’s a silver lining to any of this, it’s that we were spared the perfunctory announcement regarding the identity of the Rebels’ starting quarterback.

The soccer stadium in question is Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California aka the much maligned former home of the Los Angeles Chargers and temporary home of the San Diego State Aztecs. The Chargers have moved on to the swanky new SoFi Stadium while SDSU will call the ‘soccer stadium’ home for the next two seasons. The bit about being ‘spared the starting QB announcement’ is in reference to the fact that as of 4:30 PM Pacific on Wednesday afternoon Arroyo claims to not know who it will be:

“We’ll still work through that all the way through this week.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal is dismissing any gamesmanship on the part of the Rebels. That would suggest that UNLV is at the point where such tactics matter. The paper runs through Arroyo’s options:

Whereas the local ice hockey side will have you believe the Golden Knights have two starting goalies, at least give Arroyo credit for refraining from saying the Rebels have three starting quarterbacks. The depth chart lists Kenyon Oblad or Max Gilliam or Justin Rogers as the starter against San Diego State.

Oblad started seven games last year; Gilliam seven in 2018. Rogers is a transfer from Texas Christian who was once a top recruit.

In responding to a well-crafted follow-up question about who might have the edge, Arroyo said each of the three have begun to show “positive traits.”

When the best thing that can be said about a team is that they’re ‘adhering to virus protocols’ it doesn’t bode well. Which brings us to another bit of uncertainty….


Arroyo’s non-answers about his starting quarterback aren’t the most inscrutable comments to come out of the UNLV athletic departmentin the past week. Late last week it was reported that there had been ‘multiple COVID-19 positive tests’ in the football program but ‘the positivity rate is low enough that it’s not concerning enough to postpone any games at this point’. As far as who tested positive or for that matter how many positive tests?

Federal law prohibits UNLV from naming which players were infected, and the school wouldn’t provide an exact number. However, Dr. Wade Gaal — an associate professor at the UNLV school of medicine who also serves as the team doctor — said the positivity rate for all members of the football program over the past two weeks was less than 2.5 percent. He said the rate for all athletics over the past three week is less than 2 percent.

Gaal said exact numbers aren’t made public to further protect the identity of the athletes. He also serves on the Mountain West medical advisory board and said all data is shared throughout the conference.

Things could be worse–Mountain West Conference member New Mexico had to shut down football activities late last week and their road opener against Colorado State set for Saturday has been canceled and ruled a ‘no contest’. Arroyo clearly has a skill at oblique statements:

“We’re probably no different than many. Without getting into certain things we can’t comment on, we have our own issues to deal with in regards to roster management. We’re dealing with those. They’re fluid every day.”

For what it’s worth, no mention of COVID-19–or much of anything for that matter–on the UNLV injury report:

San Diego State is a -14.5 point home favorite with the total set at 49.


No clue. UNLV opens the stadium on October 31 for the ‘Fremont Cannon’ rivalry game against Nevada-Reno. UNLV is going for 10% capacity or 6,500 people in the facility. When you subtract staff, stadium employees and media that’s 6,150 fans. They’ve submitted a proposal to Clark County and are now in ‘wait and see’ mode. UNLV Athletic Spokesman Andy Grossman says they’ll be ready no matter what:

“If we have the opportunity to have fans, we will be prepared. We have been in continual communication with local health and state officials throughout this process.”

Earlier today, Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said “I don’t have a timeline yet on when approval may be forthcoming.” Not what you want to hear 10 days out from the event.

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