Cal Football: Previewing The Bears’ 2020 Opponents – Game 1: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

Cal’s 2020 football season-opening game is just five months away. The Bears are supposed to play UNLV at the Raiders’ new Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Aug. 29.

Of course, there is a asterisk attached to all sports schedules these days:

* Pending the progress of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have no idea whether the coronavirus battle will be in our rear-view mirror by the start of the college football season. We all hope so, and for reasons much bigger than football.

There is legitimate concern, however, that the sports shutdown we currently are experiencing in the name of social distancing could extend through the summer and into the fall. It’s possible we could lose the college football season.

For our purposes, we’re going think positive and proceed as if there will be college football. And beginning today, we present a series of stories previewing the Bears’ 2020 opponents.

First up: UNLV, which will be making its debut under first-time head coach Marcus Arroyo, whom Cal fans will remember as a former assistant to Jeff Tedford nearly a decade ago. The Bears will face the Runnin’ Rebels at the Raiders’ new Allegiant Stadium.

* Pending the stadium’s completion, given complications stemming from COVID-19.

Here goes:

Game 1: CAL at UNLV

Date: Saturday, Aug. 29 at Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas.

UNLV 2019 record: 4-8 overall, 2-6/tied for last in Mountain West Conference West Division

Series record: First meeting

UNLV vs. The Pac-12: 6-31, including 2-14 vs. Former Mountain West rival Utah. The Rebels have never faced Cal, Colorado, Stanford or Washington.

Runnin’ Rebels coach: Marcus Arroyo (1st year)New UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo spent last season as offensive coordinator at Oregon.Photo by Scott Olmos, USA Today

Top players: Senior RB Charles Williams (1,257 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns in 2019); sophomore QB Kenyon Oblad (2,081 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 9 interceptions in 2019); junior WR Randal Grimes (44 receptions, 696 yards, 7 touchdowns in 2019).

Strengths: UNLV returns all but three starters (two O-linemen and a wideout) from its offense. . . . Oblad took over at midseason for injured three-year starter Armani Rogers, and is the frontrunner, but not a lock, to retain the job. Also potentially in the mix is transfer Justin Rogers, once the highest-rated recruit ever at TCU, who left the Horned Frogs last fall after dropping on the depth chart during his comeback from a serious knee injury in 2017 while in high school. Oblad threw multiple touchdown passes in the final six games of the season as a redshirt freshman last fall to set a school record. . . . Williams assembled six games of at least 100 rushing yards as the Rebels ranked fourth in the Mountain West in rushing at 168.2 yards per game.Running back Charles Williams had six games of at least 100 rushing yards last season.Photo courtesy of UNLV Athletics

Weaknesses: Only five starters return from a defense that was 11th among 12 MWC teams, allowing 33.0 points per game, and was 10th in total defense (442.3 yards). . . . The Rebels also ranked third-to-last nationally with just 12 sacks in 12 games, so the defense appears to be a total rebuild.

What you should know about UNLV: Arroyo, 40, arrives to take charge of a program that has had one winning season since 2000. Arroyo most recently served as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Oregon, the defending Pac-12 champion. A quarterback at San Jose State during his playing days, Arroyo was the passing game coordinator and play-caller under Jeff Tedford at Cal in 2011 and ’12. . . . Arroyo assembled a 28-player recruiting class that included 22 prospects given at least three stars by 247Sports. . . . Players with connections to Cal include backup QBs Rogers (who committed but never signed with Cal) and Max Gilliam (who spent one season in Berkeley), and senior linebacker Vic Viramontes (a high school quarterback, who sent one season at Cal before transferring). Running back Biaggio Ali Walsh (who spent two seasons at Cal before transferring), recently announced he has retired from football. . . . UNLV welcomes back wideout Brandon Presley, who caught a total of 69 passes in 2017 and ’18 before missing all of last season with a knee injury.

*** In the video below, Cal quarterback Chase Garbers talks about adapting to coordinator Bill Musgrave’s new offensive system.

Spring practice status: The Rebels were scheduled to begin workouts on March 24, so they have likely lost their entire spring practice session.

2020 Season projection: Arroyo was optimistic when he was hired last December, remarking, “We will work tirelessly to elevate UNLV football to the championship caliber program that it is positioned to be.” But it won’t happen overnight and every projection we could find for next fall ranks the Rebels between 10th and 12th among 12 Mountain West teams.

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