Last year the UNLV Rebels ended the season 5-7, but with 14 returning starters and Tony Sanchez hitting his fourth year as head coach in stride, the Rebels have some talent that could cause problems for the USC Trojans.
Armani Rogers - Quarterback
Last year Armani Rogers created a buzz as a redshirt freshman turned starting quarterback. A highly sought after three-star recruit in 2016, he came to UNLV after decommitting from the Cal Golden Bears.
Rogers stands at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds and still managers to be a dangerous dual threat for his size. Last season he earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year after he showed just how dangerous he is with his legs.
The redshirt freshman gained 970 total rush yards, eight touchdowns, and averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
Armani Rogers breaks free for a 45-yard run to set up a UNLV field goal and we're tied, 3-3, with 0:26 left in the first quarter pic.twitter.com/dMeIk4D0di— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) October 8, 2017
Rogers was sixth in rushing for the Mountain West averaging 78 yards per game. However his air attack was less successful, throwing for 1,471 yards, six touchdowns, and completing only 52.4 percent of his passes.
If the Trojan defensive front line can limited Rogers’ ability on the ground, USC’s talented backfield should have no trouble defending his pass attempts. With that being said, USC usually has some struggles defending the run early in the season.
In last season’s opener Western Michigan running back LeVante Bellamy recorded 102 yards against the Trojans. With a year of experience under Rogers’ belt, USC can’t afford to let him run wild.
Lexington Thomas - Running back
Not only does UNLV’s returning starter boast one of the coolest names in college football, he also returns as the No. 1 rusher in the Mountain West.
Last season Lexington Thomas ran for a total of 1,336 yards, 17 touchdowns, and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. This earned him a spot in Rebel history books with the fourth best rush stats UNLV has ever seen.
Lexington thomas of the unlv rebels. #SCtop10 @SportsCenter pic.twitter.com/l4ViTzkB25— Kenan_Heralic (@kenanh0210) October 1, 2017
Thomas recorded an impressive seven touchdowns of 40 yards or more during 2017 and is also rumored to be trying his hand at kick returns this year. It’s no secret that USC’s special teams struggled last season but it can not afford to do the same against a speedy and shifty running back like Thomas.
Thomas earned first team All Mountain West honors last season and returns as UNLV’s headlining senior. He is a player that will most likely be drafted in next year’s NFL Draft and will cause the Trojans some problems if they don’t find a way to plug him up early.
Dalton Baker - Safety
While UNLV’s defensive unit was not at its best last season, allowing an average of 31.8 points per game and 458.7 total yards, one player stands out.
Senior safety Dalton Baker returns as the Rebels leading tackler with 99 on the 2017 season. A former walk-on turned starting captain, Baker will come out confident and ready to keep Trojans out of the end zone.
Last year, Baker averaged 8.3 tackles per game with a career high of 11 against the Air Force Falcons. Not only is he the defensive unit’s shining force but also an ultimate leader on the field, as he received the most votes for team captain by his teammates for 2018.
Baker will no doubt push his fellow defensive backs to play at a heightened level and will be dangerous as a rallying presence for the Rebels.