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October 22, 2014

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5 predictions as the Rebels get set to open fall camp

OK, I'm not going to even try and get cute or funny with some small-talk leading into this.

So here it is. Five predictions for both fall camp -- which starts on Thursday -- and the upcoming 2009 season.

1) C.J. Cox will be starting at tailback on Sept. 5.

Last week, I was playing the new NCAA 2010 game on XBOX360 with my roommate, and decided to give the Rebels a whirl, just to see what the creators at EA decided to make the team look and perform like.

Cox was impressive as the starter next to Omar Clayton, while Bradley Randle was nowhere to be found on the roster (of course, this was before applying roster updates). But that's the point. No one has seen the kid up close and personal yet, and there's no grounds for appointing him as the starter on hype alone.

His YouTube highlight reel is impressive. Is it completely out of the question that he could be starting in the opener against mighty Sacramento State? No. But the fact that C.J. Cox has really wowed teammates in offseason workouts (and also did so in spring practices) shouldn't be too far under the radar.

Still, I think Randle plays a bunch early on. Why? Because I buy the hype all the time.

2) If the secondary improves, the defensive line will have plenty to do with it.

Mike Sanford and his staff brought in a ton of fresh bodies this year to try to improve what last year was the 60th-ranked pass defense in the nation.

In terms of points allowed, UNLV ranked 100th. The Rebels were also 115th in sacks, 116th in tackles for loss and tied for 107th in interceptions.

Yes, a lot to digest.

But one moment from last season truly sticks out in my mind, and that's Quinton Pointer's 77-yard interception return against New Mexico in a must-win game on Nov. 8, which sparked a comeback in the second quarter and breathed new life into the Rebels' fading bowl hopes.

In that game, UNLV's defensive front got in the face of New Mexico quarterback Brad Gruner on several occasions. They forced him into two key turnovers as he had little time to make decisions for much of the night. That hadn't consistently been the case for opposing quarterbacks during UNLV's previous five games -- all losses.

The talent and depth in the secondary are both improved, but they'll need an accompanying pass rush to go with it.

That means all eyes will be on juco transfer B.J. Bell along with junior tackle Malo Taumua, who appears poised for a big season.

3) No matter what you see, hear or read, there's no quarterback competition.

I repeat: NO QUARTERBACK COMPETITION.

Honestly, both quarterbacks are going to look strong in fall camp. There will even be times when Mike Clausen (remember, backup) looks better than Omar Clayton. He had a few of those moments in the spring.

But still, Clayton holds the No. 1 spot.

Even though a knee injury ended his 2008 season against TCU, it's easy to forget where Clayton ranked among the nation's starting signal-callers in terms of efficiency. It's easy to forget because when the Rebels needed to win their final three games, Clausen came from nowhere to win the first two and had them on the postseason's doorstep.

Clayton had the 29th-highest passer efficiency rating in the nation (140.50) and threw just 4 interceptions in 258 pass attempts.

Also, it'd be one thing if these guys were rivals. They're not. You won't hear any griping. And for a program that's craved quarterback stability for years, this is essentially the same as getting both a Lexus and a Cadillac for Christmas -- despite the state of the economy.

4) This year's potential upset special ...

Before last season, I picked the Nov. 1 home game against TCU.

Yeah, well, good thing I didn't advise anyone to put money on it.

This year? Lets take Oct. 17, when the Rebels face Utah at Sam Boyd Stadium.

5) As for this year's record ...

For now, I'm saying 6-6.

Could it certainly be higher? Sure. Could it be lower? Sure.

But taking everything into account, 6-6 is a very fair prediction right now.

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