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An Early Look at: UNLV (Sept. 12)

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A few weeks ago, we started previewing the 2009 season by talking a look at Portland State. We'll continue that today by looking at the UNLV Rebels:

The Rebels saw their first five-win season in five years this season, with fourth year head coach Mike Sanford leading the team to a 5-7 final record. After four straight two-win seasons, UNLV won games against Utah State, Arizona State, Iowa State, New Mexico, and Wyoming; all teams who won five games or less. 

The Lobos had the sixth best offense in the Mountain West Conference in 2008, averaging 345 yards per game. Senior running back Frank "The Tank" Summers didn't match the numbers he put up in his junior year when he rushed for 928 yards, but he did lead the team with 740 yards on the season, 78 per game.

At quarterback, the Rebels got consistent output from sophomore Omar Clayton (pictured, above) until he went down with a right knee injury late in the season. He threw for 1,894 yards and 18 touchdowns. Backup Mike Clausen, a left-handed freshmen, thew for 767 yards on the season. 

Clayton will be a junior this year, and Clausen a sophomore. The Rebels lose their leading rusher in Frank Summers, but they return sophomore CJ Cox, although he averaged under 20 yards per game last season.

Clayton and Clausen will have an experienced receiver in Ryan Wolfe to throw to, who averaged 86.7 receiving yards per game in 2008. Those numbers made him the second-best receiver in the Mountain West conference, and third in the nation. Clayton and Clausen were voted Co-Offensive Most Valuable Players for the 2008 season by their peers at the team's annual banquet.

Receivers Phillip Payne, who will be a sophomore, and Rodelin Anthony (pictured, right), who will be a senior, also will return to the 2009 squad.

The Rebel defense allowed opponents to 433 yards per game last year, eighth in the Mountain West. Linebacker Jason Beauchamp, the team's defensive player of the year, led the MWC in tackles per game and will return in 2009 for his senior season. 

After playing Portland State at Reser Stadium in September 5's home opener, the Beavers will travel to Sam Boyd Stadium to play the Revels on September 12. Oregon State's inexperienced defense should get some time to gel in the game against Portland State. However, there may be room for error against the Rebels, who have suffered nearly year-in and year-out in the past decade. But Coach Sanford is determined to turn the program around, and after last year's five win season gave the Rebels a glimmer of hope in 2008, they'll be looking to make even more improvements in the 2009 campaign. 

--Jake (jake.buildingthedam@gmail.com)