It's the deep offseason right now, so we thought we'd put together some advance primers on the 2015 opponents on UCLA's schedule. Yesterday, we previewed Virginia. Next up: UCLA's second opponent of the season, UNLV.
Sept. 12, Las Vegas
2014 Record: 2-11
2014 Recap: As the record would indicate, UNLV's 2014 campaign was a miserable one, that culminated with Coach Bobby Hauck resigning after five seasons at the helm. The Running Rebels' two wins came against Northern Colorado and Fresno State, and making matters worse, UNLV was scheduled to play 13 games last year due to the weird rule about playing Hawaii on the road. UNLV was truly terrible on both sides of the ball all year, very obviously the worst team in the Mountain West and one of the handful of worst teams in the entire FBS.
Returning Starters: 11 (5 defense, 6 offense)
Notable Recruits: C Alex Neale , DT Salanoa Alo-Wily ,
OG Justin Polu
2015 Projection: With Hauck resigning at the end of the 2014 season, UNLV went a really risky route with its coaching hire, opting for local high school coach Tony Sanchez. Of course, Sanchez is the long-time head coach of Bishop Gorman, the major local high school power, but the jump from high school to college has never been the easiest transition, and given the historic difficulties UNLV has had building a program, Sanchez could have a really tough time turning the Running Rebels into a decent team. Certainly, 2015 projects as a difficult year.
UNLV would love to be able to turn into a running powerhouse, but there just isn't enough talent to get that done, even in the Mountain West. Last year, the team's offense often ran through Devonte Boyd, a receiver who won the conference freshman of the year award. Sanchez and offensive coordinator Barney Cotton are going to have to experiment this season to generate enough of an offense to take the pressure off the defense.
And the defense is going to have its issues too. Last year, UNLV had the fourth worst rushing defense in all of FBS, allowing an astonishing 5.8 yards per rush attempt. Only such luminaries as New Mexico, New Mexico State, and Georgia State ranked behind the Running Rebels. So it might actually turn out to be a good thing that UNLV has to replace six starters from that defense.
The end result is probably not going to be pretty next year. Even if Sanchez takes the proper steps, and installs some sort of gimmicky scheme that compensates somewhat for the lack of talent in the program, the talent is so down that it's going to be very difficult for him to compete in the Mountain West, let alone in a tough non-conference slate that includes UCLA, Michigan, and Northern Illinois to start the year.
Outlook for UCLA: Assuming UCLA gets past the Cavaliers in the home opener, this game should qualify as a tuneup for the first real test of the season coming on September 19th against BYU at home. Yes, this will be the first road game for UCLA, and (likely) the first road start of Josh Rosen's career, but on the road against UNLV isn't necessarily that big of a switch from playing at home. For one thing, with the proximity to Los Angeles, and how bad UNLV has been of late, we wouldn't be shocked to see more blue than anything in the stands.
As with the Virginia game, this one doesn't figure to provide a very significant test for UCLA -- again, the only way we'll glean much from it is if UCLA, unexpectedly, struggles. The Bruins should be able to dictate the way this game goes on both sides of the ball. UNLV's run defense projects to be porous enough, in fact, that you'd have to anticipate UCLA being able to keep Rosen under wraps to a certain extent and not put him in too many difficult situations. Defensively, UCLA should be able to shut down a team like UNLV without showing too many wrinkles.
The big key for UCLA in the first two games will be getting Rosen ready for the coming onslaught of difficult opponents. If he can build some momentum and confidence out of his performance in those two games, it could bod well for the following four-game stretch of BYU, @Arizona, Arizona State, and @Stanford.
Next up: BYU...
2015 Opponent Primer: UNLV
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