Updated December 19, 2020 - 4:44 pm
The college football season was unlike any other, shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic that permeated every facet of a team’s operations and made playing each week anything but a certainty.
It will be an unprecedented offseason, too. The NCAA decided athletes in fall sports would not lose a year of eligibility, regardless of whether they played, which leaves 18 UNLV seniors with the opportunity to return for another year.
“It’s a program decision, but it’s their decision also,” UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said. “If they don’t want to come back, they don’t have to. We’ll have those private conversations and move forward in that regard.”
The Rebels figure to have fierce competition at most positions as they try to erase the memories of an 0-6 season, the program’s second winless season. UNLV was 0-11 in 1998.
Here’s a position-by-position look at players who should be key for the Rebels for 2021 if they return. Seniors are signified by an asterisk.
Quarterback: Max Gilliam*, Doug Brumfield, Justin Rogers, Kenyon Oblad
The Rebels don’t have any more clarity at the most important position than they did at the start of the season. Gilliam started all six games and received most of the snaps, but Rogers and Brumfield showed flashes of promise in limited time. Oblad fell behind after starting nine games in 2019. The logjam will only grow when Cameron Friel arrives as an early enrollee in January.
Running back: Charles Williams*, Courtney Reese, Chad Maygar
Williams has been UNLV’s workhorse and one of its most productive players. He had 116 of the 130 carries for running backs last season. Reese had the second-most carries from the position with nine, but there’s little experience behind Williams. Maygar received 69 carries in 2019 but only two in 2020. If Williams doesn’t return, the Rebels probably would turn to a committee approach.
Wide receiver: Kyle Williams, Steve Jenkins, Tyleek Collins, Zyell Griffin
Williams was a revelation and earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors, and Griffin came on late and should become a big-play threat. Jenkins played in only two games but scored a touchdown in both, and Collins is an all-purpose threat. Randal Grimes, UNLV’s leading receiver in 2019, was suspended for the season and until the end of the calendar year, but Arroyo has said he believes in second chances. Grimes will have to earn one, but his return would provide a huge lift for the offense.
Tight end: Giovanni Fauolo*, Noah Bean
Fauolo is a three-year starter, and Bean was second on the team in receptions despite missing two games. Both are solid performers who could provide leadership to a young team.
Offensive line: Julio Garcia*, Matt Brayton*, Clayton Bradley*, Leif Fautanu, Justice Oluwaseun, Jaron Caldwell*, Tiger Shanks
The most experienced group on the team never came together, as there was a different combination every week. The Rebels allowed almost five sacks per game and averaged only 3.9 yards per rushing attempt. The line had its best game in the finale at Hawaii, when the Rebels ran for 218 yards at a 5.5 average.
Defensive line: Jacoby Windmon, Adam Plant, Kolo Uasike*, Eliel Ehimare, Nate Neal*, Tavis Malakius
The Rebels generated more of a pass rush than in recent years. They had 14 sacks in six games after registering 12 in 12 games in 2019. Windmon and Plant did most of the damage, combining for 8.5 sacks. But UNLV was shredded to the tune of 255 yards per game and 22 touchdowns rushing, and depth was an issue as fatigue set in during the second half of games.
Linebacker: Farrell Hester II*, Vic Viramontes*, Malakai Salu
Hester was the Rebels’ leading returning tackler, but couldn’t stay healthy and started only the final game. His leadership in the middle of the defense was sorely missed, though Viramontes and Salu were key contributors.
Defensive back: Nohl Williams, Bryce Jackson, Aaron Lewis*, Sir Oliver Everett, Tre Caine
The Rebels allowed 227.2 passing yards per game, seventh in the Mountain West, but they gave up the second-most yards per attempt with 8.4. Williams, a freshman, started every game and improved throughout the season, and Jackson was the team’s leading tackler. The Rebels signed six players in the secondary during the early signing period, a clear signal this was an area of need.
Daniel Gutierrez finished 5 of 6 on field goals with a long of 36 and 11 of 12 on extra points. Charlton Butt and Tanner Brown spent time at punter. Butt had 14 of 22 punts result in a fair catch, while Brown has the stronger leg with a 45.5 average and 12 punts that went more than 50 yards.