UNLV Rebels

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is seen during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Independents and Group of Five National Signing Day Recap: Irish bounce back, Memphis tops AAC

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Outside of the Power Five conferences, recruiting went about as expected in 2017.

Notre Dame continued to pound the national trail and landed a top 12 class full of players who will be expected to play early. BYU managed another impressive group that was one of the most diverse out there. The schools with a talent-rich backyard to draw on did well in the AAC.  Boise State was once again tops in the Mountain West and did better than a few peers in the region. And yes, Lane Kiffin earned that recruiting reputation by pulling in the best class of Conference USA.

Though there wasn’t much drama outside the top schools, there nevertheless was plenty of action for many programs on National Signing Day.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 67 overall Brock Wright (TE, Notre Dame), No. 154 overall Chaz Ah You (DB, BYU), Aisa Kelemete (DE, Boise State), Nick Robinson (TE, Memphis), Nicholas Sims (RB, Toledo)

Top classes: Notre Dame (No. 11 overall), Memphis (No. 58 overall), Boise State (No. 60 overall), BYU (No. 65 overall), Florida Atlantic (No. 71 overall), Toledo (No. 74 overall), Texas State (No. 87 overall)

Biggest storyline: Irish still land solid recruiting class

Despite the worst season in South Bend since Charlie Weis and a nearly brand new coaching staff, Notre Dame still managed to cobble together a top 12 class on Signing Day. Tight end Brock Wright was the highest rated player and should see early playing time but the number of quality offensive linemen was really evident in the group Brian Kelly signed. Will it be enough to help with a big turnaround? We’ll see.

Biggest surprise: Memphis runs away with things in the AAC but new coaches still fared well

Given all the turnover in the American this year, it should probably come as no surprise that the Tigers pulled the top recruiting class in the conference. That’s a testament to what Mike Norvell is building with the program and the fact that they don’t have to go far for players. Many of the same factors played a role in Scott Frost landing the second-best class at UCF. It was also pretty impressive what Luke Fickell did on the recruiting trail at Cincinnati and Charlie Strong did at USF given those two didn’t have a ton of time to get things lined up.

Don’t sleep on: Boise State, Colorado State

The Broncos were once again the class of the Mountain West on the recruiting trail and fended off several Pac-12 schools for prospects. That will put them firmly in the mix to win the league again in 2017 but don’t overlook another good job by Mike Bobo and staff at Colorado State in landing 17 three-star players.

We’ll see about: Everybody else

UNLV extends Tony Sanchez’s contract through 2021

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 22:  Head coach Tony Sanchez of the UNLV Rebels leads his team onto the field before their game against the Colorado State Rams at Sam Boyd Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Last season marked just the third time in UNLV history and first time since 1999-2000 that the Rebels won more games than the previous season for a second straight year.  For that rather program-specific historic development, the head coach has been rewarded.

UNLV announced in a press release Friday night that the university and Tony Sanchez have reached an agreement in principle on a three-year contract extension.  The new deal would keep the head coach with the football program through the 2021 season.

Sanchez’s original deal had been scheduled to run through the 2018 season.

“Tony signed a four-year contract and halfway through it, we are even more convinced he is the answer to the question of how to make UNLV Football consistently successful,” athletic director  Tina Kunzer-Murphy said. “Continuity is important in turning this program around and Tony’s success in building a roster, building the brand and building interest and support throughout the community has earned him an extension to see that vision realized.”

Sanchez, hired away from national high school power Las Vegas Bishop Gorman in 2014 having never coached at the collegiate level, went 3-9 in his first season with the Rebels.  That was the most wins for a first-year Rebels coach since College Football Hall of Famer John Robinson hit the same mark in 1999.

He was also the first to stake claim to the Fremont Cannon for beating in-state rival Nevada on the road in his first season.

“I want to thank President [Len] Jessup and Tina for their continued support along with the entire Southern Nevada community, which has been unbelievable throughout our first two years here,” Sanchez said. “I am so excited to be leading UNLV Football for years to come.”

There was no word on what if any raise was included in the extension.  In 2016, Sanchez was paid $510,000; that level of compensation was 11th in the 12-team Mountain West Conference.

Mountain West commissioner says Chargers’ move to LA played role in Poinsettia Bowl folding

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 21:  President of the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Ted Tollner congratulates Harvey Langi #16 of the Brigham Young Cougars  for winning the Defensive Player of the game after defeating the Wyoming Cowboys 24-21 in a game on December 21, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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One of the bigger surprises this offseason has been the announcement that the Poinsettia Bowl was closing its doors and folding for good this year after a strong dozen year run.

The move has left several in college athletics scrambling as a result of the shakeup to the postseason picture and the league most directly affected is the Mountain West. Perhaps not surprisingly, commissioner Craig Thompson isn’t too thrilled with the big hole in the bowl lineup now and went on 93.1FM/1350AM The Ticket up in Boise, Idaho to discuss the move and some of the reasoning behind it.

What’s most interesting there is the fact that Thompson thinks the Chargers move from San Diego to Los Angeles played a role in the decision to cancel the game. The Holiday Bowl, run by the same organization, has denied that is behind folding the game but has already begun to explore moving from Qualcomm Stadium to the San Diego Padres’ home of Petco Park in case the city decides to close the football stadium after next year.

“This is purely a decision made for our organization,” Mark Neville, executive director of the bowl game association, told the Associated Press last week.”It’s a completely different environment. Doing two games in San Diego, in the span of a week, is becoming more and more challenging in relation to ticket sales and sponsorships.”

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, as it has no doubt become much tougher to operate two bowl games in one city and the fact that the local pro football team is heading up the 405 certainly doesn’t help matters. In addition to the Mountain West needing to find a new spot for bowl eligible teams in 2017, BYU — which beat Wyoming in the final Poinsettia Bowl last December — is also looking for a new bowl game to go to next season.

UNLV could be in play for transferring Arizona QB Anu Solomon

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 03:  Quarterback Anu Solomon #12 of the Arizona Wildcats throws a pass during the college football game against the Brigham Young Cougars at University of Phoenix Stadium on September 3, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cougars defeated the Wildcats 18-16. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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As it turns out, an injury-riddled season for Anu Solomon will turn out to be his last in the desert.

On Instagram Tuesday, the Arizona quarterback confirmed that he has decided to transfer out of the Wildcats football program. Solomon is expected to graduate from UA before he officially leaves the university, meaning he would be eligible to play immediately at another FBS program in 2017.

That would be his last season of eligibility.

I first want to take this opportunity to thank Arizona Football for making me the man I am today, especially Coach Rodriquez & the Rodriguez family, Greg Byrne, the entire administration and staff, and of course the die-hard fans for absolutely everything to make my past 4 years at The University of Arizona worthwhile and unforgettable. God has a plan for me. I’ve prayed for direction, patience, and knowledge to know when it comes, and it is with a heavy heart to announce that I am transferring from The University of Arizona. Through much adversity, I will never forget those who supported me, stuck by me, and believed in me; God, my family, my girlfriend, and close friends. From highs and lows, and the unlucky injuries I suffered from the past 2 seasons, I am blessed to have a fresh start at another program to finish out my senior year. Thank you Tucson, & GOD BLESS! At this time I will be focusing on spending the holiday season with my family and ask for privacy as we decide on the next step in my college career.

A photo posted by Anu Solomon (@anusolomon) on Dec 13, 2016 at 11:23am PST

UNLV has already been mentioned as a potential landing spot, with Solomon’s high school coach, Rob O’Dell, serving as the Rebels’ quarterbacks coach. Speculation is that Hawaii and possibly Cal could also be in play for the Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School product.

Solomon entered the 2016 season having started 25 of the previous 27 games. He made it 26-of-28 in the opener before an injury in practice leading into Week 2 knocked him out for the next six games. He returned from the knee issue and served as a backup to Brandon Dawkins for three consecutive games before starting the Nov. 19 loss to Oregon State. A foot injury in that game, however, kept him out of the Territorial Cup win over rival Arizona State the following week and effectively ended his UA career.

Arguably the highlight of the Wildcat portion of his playing career was winning the 2014 Pac-12 South championship.  Solomon also leaves as the fourth-most prolific passer in school history.

“We were sad to hear that Anu had decided to transfer,” athletic director Greg Byrne said during a radio interview by way of Tucson News Now. “We also understand that does happen. He’s had a lot of great moments here in our program; obviously, the highlight was winning the Pac-12 South and playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

“We wish him nothing but the best. We want great things to happen for him on the football field and off the football field as well.”

QB who started half of UNLV’s wins is leaving Rebels

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 22:  Quarterback Dalton Sneed #18 of the UNLV Rebels looks to pass against defensive back Shun Johnson #17 and linebacker Kevin Davis #33 of the Colorado State Rams during their game at Sam Boyd Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Colorado State won 42-23.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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When UNLV kicks off spring practice in a couple of months, they’ll do so without the quarterback who started 50 percent of the team’s wins in 2016.

As all of the cool football players are doing these days, Dalton Sneed announced on Twitter that he has decided to transfer from the Rebels. “Decisions in life aren’t easy, and this has been by far the toughest of my life,” the quarterback wrote, adding, “I have to do what’s best for me.”

What’s arguably best for Sneed is finding a situation where he likely wouldn’t be buried behind a trio of players heading into the spring.

A redshirt freshman, Sneed will have to sit out the 2017 season if his next destination is another FBS program. However, the Las Vegas Sun reports that Sneed is likely headed to a junior college.

Regardless, he’d then have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2018.

The third-string quarterback to begin the season, injuries led to Sneed starting five games in the middle of the season, with the Rebels winning two of those contests. A poor performance in a loss to San Jose State prompted Sneed’s benching in favor of Kurt Palendach, who along with Johnny Stanton (starter the first four games before being injured) and Armani Rogers “appear to be ahead of [Sneed] on the depth chart,” the Sun noted.

While he completed well under 50 percent of his pass attempts (39-88), Sneed did finish fourth on the team in rushing yards with 348.