G.W. Gras

Senior Writer for The Bears Brawl and Lead Host of The Bears Brawl Podcast.

Toledo Rockets
Last Season (7-5 regular season, 7-6 counting bowl game)
This Season O/U Win Total: 8

The MAC conference is one of those conferences that only die-hard college football fans watch. . .as well as hard core gamblers. The MAC Conference will give you those weird 7:00PM start times on a Tuesday night, just to throw your wages off nice and early in the week. The Toledo Rockets enter this season as the best team “on paper” in the MAC Conference.

What’s odd about that is that they will have about half of their returning offense and half of their returning defense returning and yet they are still projected to make some noise. The truth is, Toledo offers a fun brand of offense that can generally attract recruits who feel they can show-case their talents or benefit from going against other MAC opponents. Although the five and four star talents get sucked up by Ohio State, Michigan and a few other “legacy” universities – teams like Toledo, Western Michigan and Ohio have done pretty well in recruiting and coaching up “the left-overs.”

Last season, starting quarterback Mitchell Guadagni’s season ended early due to a collarbone injury, but now as a senior he is ready to take over as the MAC’s best quarterback – as his statistics showed last year. Guadagni’s targets will be different, but the one thing about head coach Jason Candle that you will hear over and over again – is that he is the best recruiter in the conference. The offense line returns three starters to a unit that helped get their running backs to 5.3 yards a carry. Expect running back Bryant Kobiak to continue where he left off last year, which was running for six yards a carry as a freshman.

Source: Andrew Weber/Getty Images North America

The defense is the issue for Toledo. It’s because of this defense they either got blown out in 3 losses, and lacked the one big stop on defense in their three others. The belief here is that defensive coordinator Brian George will once again make All MAC defensive players out of the talent he currently has on this roster. George shined in 2016 and 2017 but last season the defense became pretty suspect.

Taking a look at their schedule, what may seem like “tough away” games may be just perfect timing on the part of Toledo. They start the season at Kentucky, and the Wildcats will not be the threat they were last year.  Then, towards the end of the season, they will go against Buffalo, who won’t be terrible, but much like Kentucky – will not be the force they were last season. Two of their tougher MAC opponents they get to tackle at home in Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois. They finished with 7 wins and their quarterback got hurt during the season. This year, they have a healthy Guadagni and a defense that can’t get much worse in a conference that they are usually one of the best in.

THE PICK: Toledo OVER 8 Wins.

UNLV Rebels
Last Season (4-8)
This Season O/U Win Total: 4

When most people think of UNLV, they think of Jerry Tarkanian, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Larry Johnson. Or at least I think so. . . Or maybe I’m just old.

Anyhow, UNLV football hasn’t had much to talk about. Even when discussing quarterback Armani Rogers, people only marvel at his “potential” but in reality, he’s a quarterback who completed less than 45% of his passes last season. Rogers missed time last year due to a foot injury, so head coach Tony Sanchez – who is in his “do or die” coaching year – is expecting Rogers to lead the attack.

Source: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

Last season, UNLV averaged 28.8 points per game, which on paper seems good, but in a conference where all but one team give up at least 22 points per game, that number is actually below average in the Mountain West. UNLV was able to run the ball last year mostly due to running back Lexington Thomas, but now with him gone Charles Williams gets the rock and if he didn’t get hurt back in 2017, it would’ve been him and NOT Thomas who would’ve been the stud lined up in the backfield. If he gets back to his freshman form, UNLV won’t miss a step.

The issue with UNLV is that they are very one dimensional on offense, their schedule is kinda-brutal and their defense is terrible. . . okay there are several issues, not just a single issue. . .

According to Street and Smith, UNLV’s defense hasn’t given up fewer than 30 point and 400 yard averages since 2007. Head coach Tony Sanchez’ 16-32 record shows that not much good is coming out of that culture in Vegas, and their recruiting has been poor.

The Rebels first two games of the season are against Southern Utah and Arkansas State. Both should be relatively easy wins – but I say that with haste considering the Rebels lost at Arkansas State last season 20-27. So sadly enough, this match up against Arkansas State is a “revenge game”. . . After those two games is a tough five game stretch: at Northwestern, at Wyoming, against Boise State, at Vanderbilt and at Fresno State. Now, if the Rebels can at least stand upright after that stretch they have a shot of at least getting to four wins. This is a wager that will have you unsure until the final week of the season when they go to Nevada to face off against the Wolfpack.

My guess? They look like garbage most of the season, but have enough power to control the clock against lesser teams like Colorado State, San Jose and Hawaii to get to five wins.  If Rogers stays healthy and plays mediocre at the quarterback position, they might surprise someone in that tough five game stretch mentioned earlier as well.

The Pick: UNLV OVER 4 Wins

G.W. Gras

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