by Devin Virissimo
UNLV is set to embark on the next chapter in Rebels football history with a new head coach in a new home desperate for new success. After finishing sixth in the Mountain West conference last season, the Rebels cut ties with Tony Sanchez in favor of the collegiate and professional experience of the former Oregon Ducks offensive coordinator, Marcus Arroyo. With Nevada high school’s all-time leading passer under center for the Scarlet and Grey, along with the best batch of recruits since 2010, it is vital to produce wins now, especially when playing inside of one of the newest and most impressive football venues in the country.
(credit: Erik Verduzco)
The final season of Sanchez’s tenure saw the Rebels win just four games, just as they had the previous season. Sanchez’s impressive record in the high school ranks gave hope to the program in 2015 that they could be a bigger threat in their conference, but that never came to light with their best record coming in a 5-win season in 2017. Arroyo is now at the helm, determined to bring the program just their second winning season since 2001 and their first bowl win since the Las Vegas Bowl at the turn of the century.
Arroyo, former San Jose State Spartan quarterback (‘98-’02) Arroyo comes with a ton of experience on multiple levels in numerous states. After setting several team records during his playing days, Arroyo immediately jumped into coaching and has since worked in 6 different states, with 8 different programs earning 9 different titles prior to coming to southern Nevada. Among those stops, he has only been a producer of offense.
During his time in Wyoming and Southern Mississippi, both of his quarterbacks were just freshmen who were able to thrive and become all-conference players in their much improved offenses. When Arroyo found himself coaching professionals in Tampa Bay, he was able to help Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans become the first pair of Buccaneers receivers to each have over 1000 receiving yards in team history. But it is not only the passing game that he has helped develop in his coaching career. During his time at Oklahoma State, he helped another freshman set records by developing a scheme that created the nation’s leading freshman rusher while improving the team’s yards per carry and yards per game year over year. Most recently, Arroyo’s time in Oregon with Justin Herbert as his quarterback led the Ducks to a Redbox Bowl victory in 2018 and a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin to finish out the 2019 season.
Shortly after the victory on New Year’s Day, Arroyo collected UNLV’s biggest class of recruits since 2010 with 22 of the 28 players coming with 3-star accolades. With 14 on offense, 13 on defense, and a punter to add in to the mix of returning players, Arroyo will now set his sights on making sure his quarterback Kenyon Oblad returns to showing the dominance he had while winning four straight Sunset Region titles at Liberty High School. Oblad’s 11,828 yards still stands as the most by a Nevada high school quarterback and does not look like it will be broken any time soon.
(credit: Steve Marcus)
The new head coach/quarterback combination will have to prove themselves early in this late starting season. After the Mountain West Conference ceased all fall sports programs on August 10 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it announced the return of football on September 24. That gave the Rebels exactly one month to prepare for their first opponent in the conference only schedule. UNLV will head to Carson, California to take on San Diego State before they host the most important game in Arroyo’s tenure.
On Halloween, the battle for the Fremont Cannon will take place inside the home of all Las Vegas football, Allegiant Stadium. While the Rebels were meant to host the first live event inside the $1.8B venue, the temporary stoppage of Mountain West Athletics gave way to the Raiders to take that honor. However, UNLV has developed a plan that, if approved, will allow them to host the first live event inside Allegiant Stadium with fans in attendance.
Should they not get the plan approved in time for the home opener, they could still get it approved sometime before the final home game on December 4 versus the reigning conference champion Boise State. The Rebels would still be the first to allow fans in the stadium since the Raiders have said no fans will be in attendance at any point this season.
The last time UNLV played UNR, the Rebels had to fend off the Wolf Pack after being forced into overtime before Oblad found Steve Jenkins for a 19-yard touchdown pass that kept the cannon red for another year.