College Football Picks: UNLV Rebels at Minnesota Golden Gophers

UNLV Rebels at Minnesota Golden Gophers
TCF Bank Stadium – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Thursday, August 29, 2013, 7:00 pm Eastern, TV: Big Ten Network
Opening Line: Minnesota -14 1/2
Current Line: Minnesota -14
Opening Total: 54
Current Total: 51
Opening Money Line: Minnesota -530 / UNLV +425
Current Money Line: Minnesota -530 / UNLV +425

UNLV is a 14 point underdog at Minnesota Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.
UNLV is a 14 point underdog at Minnesota Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.

The UNLV Rebels and Minnesota Golden Gophers meet for only the second time ever as they open the season Thursday night in Minneapolis. Last year, the teams played a triple overtime thriller in Las Vegas and Minnesota came out on top 30-27.

Minnesota would end up 6-7 overall, and 2-6 in the Big Ten Legends Division. The Gophers would qualify for a bowl game though, under second year coach Jerry Kill. Minnesota lost 34-31 to Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Car Bowl of Texas. UNLV would go on to finish 2-11 in the Mountain West for the third straight year under coach Bobby Hauck. Both coaches return in 2013.

UNLV was 97th in both scoring offense and points allowed, as they were outscored last year 32.6-22. Still there were some positive signs for the Rebels who have only had two winning seasons since 1993. A total of 19 starters return for the Rebels and there are no seniors projected to start on offense besides star running back Tim Cornett.

Cornett had 242 carries, 1,232 yards, and 7 touchdowns, along with 14 catches for 108 yards. Cornett is won of the best running backs in the Mountain West. Sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry showed a lot of promise last year and with another year under his belt he should be able to cut down on the mistakes. Sherry completed 53.1% of his passes for 2,544 yards with 16 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. The top 4 receivers return for UNLV including Devante Davis (61 catches, 854 yards and 4 touchdowns), Marcus Sullivan (55 catches, 659 yards, and 4 touchdowns), Anthony Williams (22 catches, 337 yards and a touchdowns), and tight end Jake Phillips (23 catches, 232 yards and a touchdown.) The line should improve as well with 3 starters back including tackles Cameron Jefferson and Brett Boyko.

On defense, the Rebels must replace leading tackler John Lotuleilei, but the other 10 starters return. There is youth and athleticism everywhere, but the defense struggled both against the run and the pass. They should improve on both sides led by senior linebacker Tim Hasson, defensive end Sonny Sanitoa, and free safety Kenny Keys.

Minnesota also struggled on offense lase year as they scored only 22.1 points per game, and the passing offense was #109 out 0f 124 teams with 169.5 yards a game. The gophers installed a new power offense with more of an emphasis on the running game to take pressure off the quarterbacks.

Sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson took over midway through the season when MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell were both injured. Nelson completed 49.3% of his passes for 873 yards with 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, along with 69 carries for 184 yards in just 7 games. Gray graduated and Shortell transferred to Jacksonville State. Running back Donnell Kirkwood had 218 carries, 926 yards and 6 touchdowns, along with a handful of catches. Rodrick Williams, Jr. will also get some carries and had 57 carries, 261 yards and 2 touchdowns. Leading receiver A.J. Barker quit the team late last year. Junior Issac Fruechte will take over as the go-to receiver after making 19 catches, 256 yards and 2 touchdowns. Derrick Engel had 18 catches, 375 yards and a touchdown. The line returns all 5 starters and should improve.

The Minnesota defense was #33 in total offense and #12 against the pass nationally last year. Senior nose tackle Ra’shede Hageman had six sacks last year and returns to anchor the defense. Linebacker Aaron Hill and defensive back Derrick Wells also have the potential to be all-conference.

Minnesota was 6-7 ATS last year and the total was 5-6-1 last year. The Golden Gophers are 4-0 ATS in non-conference games, 7-3 at home, and 2-6 on fieldturf.

UNLV was 6-5-2 ATS and the total was 6-6 last season.  The Rebels are 5-0-1 ATS in Thursday games, and against Big Ten teams, 9-38-4 in road games, and 0-2-2 in non-conference games. The Rebels have lost 22 straight road games dating back to 2009.

UNLV should be much improved on offense, but still has a lot of questions on defense. We will find out what they are made of with a tough road game against a strong Big Ten defense, and next week at home against Arizona. Minnesota’s questions will come on offense, and the defense should be a top 40 unit again. I think the Rebels keep it close for awhile, but Minnesota pulls away late.

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