Passing the Test: Nick Sherry is the third freshman quarterback in UNLV history to start a season opener, joining Jon Denton (1996) and Travis Dixon (2007), neither of whom was taking snaps for the Rebels by their junior year. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Sherry, who redshirted last year, will be counted on to improve a passing game that averaged just 110 yards per contest in 2011. Only Army and Navy passed for fewer yards among the nation’s 120 Division I-A teams.
Most Valuable Players: UNLV converted just 28 percent of third downs last season, which ranked second-to-last in the country. With all five starters returning on the offensive line (two seniors, three sophomores), that unit should bring greater consistency to the Rebels this year.
Room for Improvement: UNLV has allowed an average of 40 points per game for two straight seasons, leading to defensive backs coach J.D. Williams taking over as the team’s defensive coordinator. With only five starters (no seniors) returning from last year’s unit, the Rebels will be relying on a lot of young players to tighten things up.
Game Not To Miss: Yes, UNLV’s annual clash with UNR is at Sam Boyd Stadium this year, but the Rebels’ home game against Washington State on Sept. 14 could provide the biggest thrills. Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is bringing his “Air Raid” offensive attack to the Cougars, who routed UNLV 59-7 in Pullman last year. With an improved Rebel offense facing a young WSU defense that allowed 32 points per game in 2011, touchdowns could come fast and furious in this one.
Can’t Happen Again: After a 40-20 upset victory over Hawaii at Sam Boyd Stadium in their third game last year, the Rebels embarrassed themselves the following week in a 41-16 home loss to Southern Utah and never recovered from it. UNLV needs to protect against a similar pitfall when it hosts Northern Arizona on Sept. 8. A loss to the Lumberjacks in the second game of the year could trigger another long season for the Rebels.
Road to Recovery: UNLV has lost 16 straight road games dating to 2009, and that streak could reach 20 this year with tough contests at Utah State, Louisiana Tech, Boise State and San Diego State. The Rebels’ best chance to end that slide comes Nov. 10 at Colorado State. The Rams are coming off of their third straight 3-9 season, have a new head coach in former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and are transitioning to a 3-4 defense.