Saturday, Sept. 5, 7:30 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
The defending Mid-American Conference Huskies embark on another season against a team it has beaten in all four previous meetings. UNLV, moreover, struggled mightily in 2014, when it posted a 2-11 record. That led to a coaching change, and UNLV turned to area high school coach Tony Sanchez, who built a national prep powerhouse at Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High School. He is the 11th head coach in Rebel history. Time will tell if UNLV got lucky, but Sanchez and the Rebels have a tough challenge awaiting in their 2015 opener. Let’s take a look at the two teams.
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► UNLV’s Blake Decker hit on 24-of-41 attempts for 397 yards and one touchdown against NIU last year. He is back at the helm again in 2015, marking the third time in 12 years that UNLV had used the same quarterbacks to open a season in back-to-back seasons. He put up some big numbers in 2014, but it looking to reduce his interception total (18).
► Sophomore Devote Boyd was a unanimous 2015 preseason All-Mountain West First Team selectionHe grabbed 65 passes for 980 yards and four touchdowns while earning Freshman All-American honors. Kendal Keys also impressed as a freshman in 2014 and more receiving talent arrived this fall to build on talent at the position.
► UNLV is replacing some veterans on the offensive line. Will Kreitler, a junior college transfer (Second Team NJCAA All-American) should help that process as he settles in at center.
► New defensive coordinator Kent Baer will try to improve a defense that allowed 38.5 points and 293.8 yards rushing per outing.
► Junior linebacker Tau Lotulelei and senior free safety Peni Vea combined for 188 tackles last year.
► As with the offense, the defensive front was hit by graduation. There is a littlemore experience at linebacker, but the secondary is also breaking in some new talent.
► Turnovers were an issue in 2014 as UNLV scored 37 points off turnovers while the opposition cashed in for 82 points. UNLV ranked 105th in turnover margin.
► The Rebels ranked 102 rushing the football in 2014 with a 129.2 ypg average. They were 43rd is passing offense (258.2 ypg). The total offense yardage (387.4) put the Rebels 78th nationally.
► Huskie football is not limited to running the ball, but it does seem like NIU always has an effective ground game. Last year, the Huskies were 16th nationally in rushing.
RB Cameron Stingily and Akeem Daniels are gone after another terrific year. History strongly suggests, however, other names will soon be piling up the yardage. Junior Joel Bouagnon (6-2, 226) and R-Jr Keith harris (5-8, 200) figure to get the ball first.
► Quarterback Drew Hare comes into 2015 as the undisputed starter. He has some sneaky running skills, though he is not the same kind of threat former NIU great Chandler Harnish posed for defenses. Harnish completed 60 percent of his passes, totallying 2,322 yards with 18 TDs and a microscopic two interceptions.
► The Huskies have plenty of receiving threats, including senior Tommylee Lewis, who missed most of 2014 with an injury. He had 86 receptions the previous campaign. Team receiving leader Da’Ron Brown is gone after 68 receptions for 1,065 yards last year, but Chad Beebee and Juwan Brescacin return. Kenny Golladay, who transferred from North Dakota, could also do some damage.
► Replacing some departures along the offensive line is one challenge for the Huskies.
► Eight starters return on a defense that forced 24 turnovers and registered 32 sacks. Three starters are back in the secondary. Paris Logan earned all-conference honors and safety Marlon Moore returns after leading NIU in tackles.