The UNLV Rebels’ football team has been abysmal the last half-decade.
Over the last five seasons, UNLV has averaged three wins per year. The Rebels have gone 16-47, with one winning season in 2013 when they went 7-6.
A multitude of factors can be attributed to UNLV’s poor performance over the past few seasons. One is quarterback play.
Last season, UNLV used two quarterbacks–Blake Decker and Kurt Palandech. Both were subpar.
Decker started the 2015 season as UNLV’s main man under center. However, he was often injured, which allowed Palandech to start a handful of games for the Rebels. Over the course of last year, Decker completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 1,713 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Palandech threw for 794 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions while completing a mere 49.3 percent of his passes.
Entering the 2016 season, UNLV’s quarterback situation is murky. Decker is gone, but Palandech and JUCO transfer Johnny Stanton are in a tight battle for the starting spot this year.
UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez named both Palandech and Stanton co-starters for the Rebels’ first game against the Jackson State Tigers. However, despite naming both quarterbacks co-starters, Sanchez needs to look beyond Week 1.
The signal-caller who offers the most upside for the Rebels is Stanton.
UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said QBs Johnny Stanton and Kurt Palandech will both play in Sept. 1 season opener vs. Jackson State #UNLVfb
— Todd Dewey (@tdewey33) August 19, 2016
Why would a JUCO transfer offer more upside than a quarterback who has more experience running the UNLV offense? It’s simple: talent and past experience with some members of the coaching staff.
Stanton was a decorated quarterback coming out high school. He led Santa Margarita Catholic to a California state title his junior year and a No. 3 national ranking his senior year before suffering a knee injury. Those performances helped Stanton earn spots in ESPN’s Elite 11 camp and Nike’s quarterback camp.
Having earned those accolades as a prep player, he was named the No. 14 dual-threat quarterback in the 2013 class. Stanton received interest from Oregon and Wisconsin. However, he settled with the Nebraska.
Stanton redshirted his first year in Lincoln–2013–and was the third-string signal-caller for the Cornhuskers in 2014. During the offseason before the 2015 season, Stanton fell all the way to fifth on the quarterback depth chart under new head coach Mike Riley. With that, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound gunslinger decided to transfer to Saddleback Community College. He blossomed there.
The former Cornhusker completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 3,471 yards, 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while adding 752 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. He led the Gauchos to a 10-3 season in his lone year in Mission Viejo, California. Those numbers helped Stanton earn California Offensive Player of the Year and All-America honors.
His style of play at Saddleback seemed to replicate one of college football’s greatest gunslingers.
A quarterback with the same type of physicality as Tebow, but with a better arm, could spell more wins in year two under Sanchez in Las Vegas if Stanton does become the Rebels’ starter.
As previously mentioned, Stanton has previous experience with some of UNLV’s coaching staff, specifically offensive coordinator Barney Cotton and offensive line coach John Garrison. Both were at Nebraska when Stanton was there. Some of the offense that the Rebels run mirrors what Stanton learned while he was a Cornhusker.
“A lot of the offense I am very familiar with and will be able to pick up right away when I get there,” Stanton told the Las Vegas Sun last December. “It’s not the same offense (as Nebraska’s), but a different version with some of the same qualities and plays.”
With Stanton knowing UNLV’s offense and possessing the better arm out of the two quarterbacks, the highly-touted recruit should get his first chance at leading a collegiate football team this year.
However, will the possibility of Stanton starting affect the Rebels’ record this season? Probably not. UNLV still has a lot of missing pieces on its roster.
What matters most: The Rebels need every small step in the right direction, every modest indication that they’re improving instead of stagnating. If Stanton starts, UNLV has a better chance to escape the bottom rung of the Mountain West and possibly enter the league’s limelight in 2017 and beyond.