For only the second time in history, the No. 15 ranked USC Trojans and UNLV Running Rebels will be facing off against each other as the Rebels return to Los Angeles. Their first meeting was October 4th, 1997 where USC beat the Rebels 35-21 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where USC scored 21 4th-quarter points to pull away and seal the deal.
USC is coming off an 11-3 season where they won the Pac-12 Championship in a 31-28 win over Stanford. However, they followed that up with a lackluster performance against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Cotton Bowl, where they lost 24-7.
The Trojans are considered by many to be the team to beat in the Pac-12 South but some are skeptical about their chances to repeat as conference kings. 2017 starting quarterback Sam Darnold is now a member of the NFL, however, 13 other starters are returning.
The Rebels closed out last year with a 5-7 record, just missing out on a bowl game with three of those seven defeats coming by seven points or fewer. The Running Rebels continued an upward trend under head coach Tony Sanchez though.
UNLV went just 3-9 during his first season in 2015, but have improved by one win every year since. The Rebels have 14 starters returning, seven on each side of the ball. Even though they have a chance of making a bowl game, UNLV will be facing a tough Mountain West Conference which features teams like Boise State, Utah State, Wyoming, Fresno State and San Diego State.
How UNLV Can Win
It was recently announced that JT Daniels beat out Matt Fink and Jack Sears for the starting quarterback spot. As good as Daniels may be, he is still a true freshman. Along with Darnold, USC also lost leading rusher Ronald Jones and top wideout Deontay Burnett.
Offensively, the Running Rebels have a backfield that could hang with anyone in NCAA. Their quarterback, Armani Rogers, is quickly becoming one of the Mountain West’s hottest young quarterbacks. Cal transfer Max Gilliam is coming in and competing with Rogers for the starting role. Also lining up in the backfield will be nationally-underappreciated running back Lexington Thomas, who could become UNLV’s rushing king this season.
How USC Can Win
While USC has their star pass rusher Porter Gustin sidelined with a knee injury, the talent stacked on the Trojan defense should be able to handle anything the Rebels throw at them. Even though most of the Trojans top pass rushers are gone, the defense is packed full of young talent that will keep the Rebels offensive from getting tons of yards.
On the other side of the ball, the best thing a new offensive backfield can get is time, and it’ll have it. UNLV’s pass rush has miles to go to be even mediocre. The Rebels were among the nation’s worst last season.
The Trojans will come out strong from the start and will never let off the gas. UNLV is talented enough to keep this from turning into a true blowout but the USC offense will take over the game early behind running back Stephen Carr.
The Running Rebels will put together a few scoring plays to help their cause but USC will look the part of the defending Pac-12 champions and then they’ll go prepare for Stanford as soon as possible.
Game Score Prediction USC 35-17