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It wasn't all bad for UNLV in Tony Sanchez's first season as head coach, despite just the three wins. The Rebels were middle of the pack offensively in the MWC and they did improve in the win department. The problem was on the defensive side where they often gave up 30-plus points no matter the opponent in conference play. With the offense not expected to take a step back, UNLV could be on its way to four or even five wins in 2016.
But first, the Rebels need to decide on a starting quarterback. After spring, the battle was between junior college transfer Johnny Stanton and Kurt Palandech, who started a few games for UNLV last season. Both were listed as starters after spring, so this competition has a long way to go and will likely continue into the season. This offense was built on its running game and that should be the case again with Lexington Thomas (506 yards, 3 TDs) and Keith Whitely (711 yards, 3 TDs) expected to share the load.
The offensive line will decide just how well the offense plays with three starters returning and the entire right side underclassmen. At the least, senior center Will Kreitler gives experience in the middle. And if UNLV decides to pass more, they'll have the receivers with standout Devonte Boyd (904 yards, 7 TDs) leading the group to go with Kendal Keys (515 yards, 6 TDs) and tight end Andrew Price.
If the defense can improve just a little bit, the offense should be able to keep this team in most games. The line was simply overpowered by bigger MWC teams last year and that led to the worst defense in the conference from a yardage standpoint.
There's at least some experience along the line with end Jeremiah Valoaga and tackle Mike Hughes. Linebacker is set with a couple seniors in tow in Ryan McAleenan and Tau Lotulelei. That said, the secondary may be the most experienced unit, starting with corners Torry McTyer and Tim Hough. Safety is filled with seniors as well in Troy Hawthorne and Kenny Keys. While that may be the case, UNLV still had major issues last year.
The Rebels are on an upward trajectory, especially with a top recruiting class coming in, but they won't be able to increase their win total unless the schedule allows them. And that's exactly how 2016 could play out.
To help, two or even three wins in non-conference play are a possibility with a road game at Central Michigan being the toss up. But along with that, the Rebels host Fresno State, Wyoming and Nevada in MWC play and all could result in wins. Even a couple road games look like possibilities with San Jose State and Hawaii on the slate.
UNLV's over/under was at 4.5 in early June with the over at -190 at 5Dimes. Reaching five wins would be a notable feat for the Rebels, but easier said then done. The schedule could see them reach six wins, but remember, they still don't know who their quarterback will be and the defensive line is still a question.
2016 UNLV Rebels Football Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. Jackson State
Sept. 10 at UCLA
Sept. 17 at Central Michigan
Sept. 24 vs. Idaho
Oct. 1 vs. Fresno State
Oct. 8 at San Diego State
Oct. 15 at Hawaii
Oct. 22 vs. Colorado State
Oct. 29 at San Jose State
Nov. 12 vs. Wyoming
Nov. 18 at Boise State
Nov. 26 vs. Nevada
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