Even though its football program is better-known for turning out SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne and notorious rap mogul Suge Knight than it is for NFL standout Randall Cunningham, UNLV is poised to make a huge statement on the gridiron this fall. The Rebels, under John Robinson's eye, are also trying to mount a Heisman Trophy campaign for their latest star, Jason Thomas. Sound crazy? Not if you know anything about the 6'5", 235-pound junior QB.
UNLV figures to be a Top 25 team and Thomas will be Robinson's ringmaster. The former prep basketball star's right foot is finally healthy, which means anyone who marvelled at Thomas' athleticism last season hasn't really seen anything yet.
Thomas severely sprained the foot late in the first half of the Rebels' Oct. 14 game at Colorado State. He fought through the pain to help lead UNLV to its first bowl game since 1994, a 31-14 rout of Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl. The bad wheel notwithstanding, Thomas still ran for 599 yards and 11 TDs, while ranking second in the Mountain West and 15th nationally in pass efficiency with a 138.1 rating, completing 106 of 201 passes for 1,708 yards, 14 TDs against nine INTs. The tender foot also hampered Thomas' throwing mechanics too, since he struggled coming down on his follow through.
But the early returns out of Vegas have been impressive, and Robinson is planning on unleashing his strong-armed left-hander on defenses this fall. "It's just too much damn fun watching him," says Robinson.
· New Cal OC Al Borges is excited over the possibilities Marcus Fields offers. The one-time starting TB was lost in the offense last season, but now will get action as a move guy, where Borges hopes to exploit the 6'2", 223-pound senior in mismatches from the FB, TE and H-back positions.
· Losing cover corner Tay Cody might've been the toughest blow for the Florida State defense, but Bryant McFadden is showing in spring practice that he's ready for a breakout season. The 6'1", 185-pound redshirt freshman is a natural-born playmaker and could be the Noles' next great DB.
· In hopes of boosting the Big Ten's worst pass rush (18 sacks), Michigan State is trying to find speed to come off the edges. From fullback comes hard-nosed Canadian Mike Labinjo and from linebacker comes Clifford Dukes. Both should help, but the real key will be the continued development of soph Greg Taplin on the other side.
· After losing Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne and Andre King to the NFL, Miami's depleted WR corps has gotten a much-needed boost from junior Ethnic Sands. The smooth 6'0", 188-pounder was the Canes' backup QB last fall, but spent his first two years at UM as a receiver and has impressed with his quickness and reliable hands. Sands' work has been even more of a blessing since Miami has missed touted soph Andre Johnson (out with a quad strain) for most of spring ball.
· Georgia Tech's D made a big jump in 2000 and figures to continue to improve with the addition of Notre Dame transfer Albert Poree, who has looked very sharp. Coaches started to realize the ultra-smooth CB's skills when he held his own against Tech stud WR Kelly Campbell in practice last fall.
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