Watching UNLV freshman quarterback Armani Rogers throw and move his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame through defenses on film, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun had a thought.
“I’d love to have a tape to be able to see where Cam Newton was when he was a freshman in college, and watch him and watch (Rogers),” Calhoun said. “This guy is just a tremendous, I mean a great, great talent and a guy who had all kinds of offers, which he should have. He throws it and he can flat move, too.”
A few minutes later, Calhoun repeated the same thought, adding, “I know that’s some big speak.”
For those curious, Newton – then 6-5, 240 – earned the top backup spot to Tim Tebow in his freshman year at Florida in 2007 after joining the Gators as a four-star recruit. He played sparingly, completing 5 of 10 passes for 40 yards and running 16 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns.
He was hurt early in his sophomore year for the Gators, then transferred. He won a national title at Blinn (Texas) Junior College in 2009, then did the same in his lone season at Auburn in 2010, garnering the Heisman Trophy along the way.
Newton was then the top pick in the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers and has since established virtually every franchise record for a quarterback.
So, that’s the kind of talent Calhoun sees in Rogers, who will visit Falcon Stadium at noon Saturday.
Pump the brakes on that comparison, UNLV (2-3, 1-1 Mountain West) coach Tony Sanchez said.
“Well, I tell you what. Obviously Cam Newton has played in a Super Bowl, I believe he’s been an MVP. He’s the elite of the elite,” Sanchez said. “(Rogers) is a great-looking kid. He’s 6-5, 220. Runs well, throws well. He’s doing a lot of good things, but he’s barely five games into a college career.
“When it’s all said and done, knock on wood, he’s got a chance to be a great football player.”
Rogers was a four-star recruit, according to ESPN, when the Rebels plucked him out of Los Angeles over the efforts of five Pac-12 programs, including UCLA and Washington. His father, Sam Rogers, played linebacker at Colorado – briefly being coached by current Air Force linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden – and then logged time in the NFL as a second-round selection with Buffalo, San Diego and Atlanta.
UNLV put a red shirt on Rogers last year, but immediately handed him the starting role this season. In five games, he has completed 55 of 97 passes (56.7 percent) for 881 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s carried 69 times for 312 yards and three touchdowns.
Calhoun’s comparison to Newton wasn’t a first for Rogers, as Athlon Sports wrote that Rogers was the closest thing to Newton in college football in its season-preview issue.
Air Force linebacker Grant Ross can see where the hype is coming from.
“He’s a big-size quarterback who can run well and pass,” Ross said. “All the things that you’d want in a quarterback, he embodies that. We have our work cut out. He’s a good quarterback.”
Added cornerback Marquis Griffin, “He has great receivers, for sure, guys who can blow the lid off for him very fast. When you have weapons like that and you’re big – he’s a big guy – and you can run it, pretty much the sky’s the limit. He can run it or throw it at will.
“We’re going to try to limit him as best we can.”
Air Force (1-4, 0-2) has struggled to contain dual-threat quarterbacks in recent weeks. Navy quarterback Zach Abey ran for 214 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 86 yards and two more touchdowns. The week before that, New Mexico’s Lamar Jordan ran for 68 yards and threw for 146 and two touchdowns. The Midshipmen and Lobos scored a combined 104 points in those victories over the Falcons.
Rogers brings far more size than Abey or Jordan, but lacks the experience of the two upperclassmen. But that aspect, too, is coming.
“I feel like I’m just developing as a player,” Rogers said. “The team is helping me develop as a player as well. … The chemistry we’re bringing together is just helping everybody out.”