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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 116: U.N.L.V.

Roulette odds are about 37-1, should you lay your money down on a single number and just let it ride, if I’m using the correct terminology. So the odds of winning in Las Vegas, Nev., favor the house; not so at Nevada-Las Vegas, where the odds have long favored the visitor, not the hometown Rebels. So enter Bobby Hauck, Mike Sanford’s replacement, and up the expectations and standards surrounding a program that has only one winning season since joining the WAC in 1996. Year one? Not so good: 2-11, again near the bottom of the Mountain West. Year two? It might be the same story, thanks to youth, which should again leave Sam Boyd Stadium as the only place in Sin City where a visitor can truly make himself at home.

Conference
Mountain West

Location
Las Vegas

Nickname
Rebels

Returning starters
11 (7 offense, 4 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 98

2010 record
(2-11, 2-6)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 113

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    at Wisconsin
  • Sept. 10
    at Washington St.
  • Sept. 17
    Hawaii
  • Sept. 24
    Southern Utah
  • Oct. 8
    at Nevada
  • Oct. 15
    at Wyoming
  • Oct. 29
    Colorado State
  • Nov. 5
    Boise St.
  • Nov. 12
    at New Mexico
  • Nov. 19
    at Air Force
  • Nov. 26
    San Diego St.
  • Dec. 3
    T.C.U.

Last year’s prediction

You can’t ignore this murderer’s row of opponents, both in and out of conference play: Wisconsin, Nevada, T.C.U. and Air Force at home; Utah, Idaho, West Virginia, B.Y.U. and Hawaii on the road. No other non-B.C.S. conference team in the F.B.S. has a tougher schedule. Which is unfortunate, because of the noted talent on the roster. The offensive line is experienced and the quarterback duo talented, each in their own way. I have a few issues with the defense, which must show improvement, but the hope is that four returning starters in the secondary and some new faces up front will lead to a better performance in 2010. Give U.N.L.V. a schedule like some I’ve seen thus far on the Countdown, and I’d be very tempted to say this is a bowl team. We can’t do that, however, and I have no choice but to predict the Rebels to again finish in the bottom half of the Mountain West.

2010 recap

In a nutshell You’d look at the drop in the win column — from five in 2009 to two — and think Bobby Hauck did a poor job in 2010, but you have to think big picture when considering Hauck’s tenure with the Rebels. It won’t be easy, if last season is any indication; it will continue to be difficult this fall, as while the roster will be more experienced, U.N.L.V. remains one of the youngest teams in the country. We saw plenty of signs of this youth last fall, when the Rebels struggled to gain any measure of consistency on offense, unless you count a consistent level of ineffectiveness as a form of consistency. The defense was even worse, believe it or not: 516 points allowed over 13 games, the worst showing in program history. Clearly, it’s going to take Hauck time to round these Rebels into form.

High point Two home wins, even if they came against the worst the Mountain West had to offer. The Rebels took out New Mexico and Wyoming — roughly two months apart — by the combined score of 87-26, posting their two best offensive performances in the process.

Low point There was nothing competitive about one of U.N.L.V.’s 11 losses, though a 33-point road loss to three-win Colorado State was the ugliest of the bunch.

Tidbit How tough was U.N.L.V.’s schedule last fall? According to Sagarin, the Rebels played the third-toughest schedule of any non-B.C.S. conference program since the B.C.S. was established in 1998. The Rebels faced Wisconsin, Utah, Nevada, West Virginia, T.C.U., Air Force, San Diego State and Hawaii — eight teams that won at least nine games on the year. Also on the docket were six-win Idaho and seven-win B.Y.U., two pretty good teams that felt like breathers compared to what the rest of the schedule brought to the table.

Tidbit (future schedule edition) The 2011 schedule is not that much smoother. Utah and West Virginia are off, but Boise State is on. All told, the Rebels hold a career winning record against only one F.B.S. opponent on this year’s slate: Wyoming, which trails the Rebels by 10-9 in the the all-time series. The Rebels are 3-3 against Boise State, but the six-game series consists of games played from 1972-77. In total, U.N.L.V. will face four teams that finished last season ranked 11th in the nation or higher, and play only five games at home.

Tidbit (offensive edition) The Rebels were equal opportunity offenders last fall. Inept throwing and running, U.N.L.V. ended the year ranked 118th in total offense, just ahead of fellow cellar-dwellers Akron and New Mexico. The offense averaged 4.1 yards per play or fewer eight times; passed for 200 yards or more only five times; cracked the 100-yard rushing mark six times; and gained more than 300 yards of total offense only four times. Perhaps the most pitiful performance came in a 55-7 loss to B.Y.U., when the Rebels gained only 155 yards of offense — 22 on the ground — while averaging 2.5 yards per play.

Tidbit (Las Vegas edition) Updating an old standby for 2011. Most of U.N.L.V.’s victories do, in fact, stay in Vegas. While the program has not been a powerhouse over the last six years — 18-54 after last season  — only three wins since 2005 have came on the road: a 2009 win at New Mexico, a 2008 win at Arizona State and a 2007 victory at Utah State.

Former players in the N.F.L.

4 LB Beau Bell (Cleveland), TE Greg Estandia (Cleveland), FB Frank Summers (San Diego), CB Eric Wright (Cleveland).

Arbitrary top five list

Coaches whose last name starts with “H”
1. Woody Hayes, Miami (Ohio)-Ohio State.
2. John Heisman, Akron-Auburn-Clemson-Ga. Tech-Rice.
3. Lou Holtz, N.C.S.U.-Arkansas-Minn.-Notre Dame-S. Carolina.
4. Frank Howard, Clemson.
5. Gus Henderson, U.S.C.-Tulsa.

Coaching

Bobby Hauck (Montana ’88), 2-11 after a single season in Las Vegas. Not a great start, but Hauck is the most successful F.C.S. coach of this generation, having led his alma mater, Montana, to an 80-17 record from 2003 through 2009. His seven seasons with the Grizzlies saw the program land seven Big Sky championships and three appearances in the F.C.S. championship game, though his team lost in all three title games. While his first three seasons at Montana were impressive enough — 29-11, 16-5 in conference play — he took the Grizzlies to another level over his last four seasons: 51-6 overall and 31-1 in Big Sky action. Prior to taking over at his alma mater, Hauck spent four seasons as an assistant at Washington. From 1999-2001, Hauck served as the safeties coach and special teams coordinator; in 2002 he coached all the defensive backs. He held similar duties at Colorado from 1995-98, adding the title of recruiting coordinator for some of Colorado’s finest teams in program history. His recruiting acumen is an oft-overlooked aspect of Hauck’s draw. Another factor that must elate the U.N.L.V. fan base, despite the potential for a slow start: Hauck is a winner, pure and simple. He’s been an assistant on teams that have won 11 games and nearly played for a national championship; teams that have spent weeks ranked No. 1 in the nation; and played for national championships on the F.C.S. level. No other second-year coach coming off a poor debut campaign will have a longer leash.

Players to watch

The Rebels must replace running back Channing Trotter, but it’s not an altogether big loss: sophomore Tim Cornett stepped into the starting lineup midway through the year, finishing the year with a team-best 546 yards rushing and 6 scores. In doing so, Cornett became the first freshman in school history to lead the Rebels in rushing and touchdowns. So it’s his job to lose in 2011, with senior Deante’ Purvis and sophomore Bradley Randle fighting to pick up the leftover carries. Keep an eye on two new additions in JUCO transfer Eric Johnson, a potential big-play threat, and true freshman Dionza Bradford, who impressed during the spring.

Yeah, running back depth is great, but it means nothing without an offensive line. Those with a love of the trenches might want to skip this section. The Rebels bring back only two starters and have not one senior on the two-deep, which points to another season of difficulties protecting the quarterback and opening up lanes in the running game. The two returning starters, right tackle Yusef Rodgers and left guard Doug Zismann, will have to be consistent in their play while helping break in three new starters and a handful of new faces. One is redshirt freshman Cameron Jefferson, who should start at left tackle. Another newcomer to watch is JUCO transfer Allen Carroll, who began his career at Washington and should beef up the interior of the line.

Say this for the receiver corps: there are numbers. A total of 18 Rebels made a reception last fall, and 15 of those receivers return in 2011; in all, 90 percent of the team’s receptions, 92 percent of the receiving yards and 17 of the 18 touchdown catches return. Leading the way is senior – I can’t believe he’s a senior already – Phillip Payne, who enters 2011 five touchdown grabs away from setting a new school record. Payne missed two games last season due to a suspension; the teammate expected to start on the opposite side, Michael Johnson (a team-best 51 receptions in 2010) has been suspended indefinitely, leaving his status for this fall in doubt. Sophomore Marcus Sullivan has stepped into Johnson’s old role, but don’t count out Eric Johnson, the aforementioned running back.

It’s time for B.J. Bell to follow in his older brothers’ footsteps and become a difference maker on this defense. Big things have been expected of the senior since he arrived on campus prior to the 2009 season, but his career was derailed slightly by a shoulder injury that debut season. He was a starter last fall, when he led all U.N.L.V. linemen in tackles, but more will be expected. Perhaps Hauck’s decision to push fellow senior Matt Kravetz into co-starter status on the depth chart will push Bell to a strong senior season – and the Rebels need him to have a big year, especially in terms of getting to the quarterback. A third senior, James Dunlap, will start on the opposite side.

Remember what I said about youth along the offensive line? Check out the interior of the defensive line: not one player older than a sophomore. That’s a major, major concern for a defense that ranked 116th in the nation against the run in 2010. There is size, on the other hand. Nate Holloway tips the scales at 350 pounds and freshman Desmond Tautofi at 300, giving some beef to help against the run. It’s still impossible to predict anything but some struggles from the defensive tackles, which is not good news for the defense as a whole.

The story doesn’t get much better as you move back. All three starting linebackers must be replaced, and there’s only one senior in contention for a starting spot. That’s Nate Carter (35 tackles, 1 interception), who stands atop the depth chart in the middle. You’ll currently find sophomore Tani Maka starting on the weak side as Tim Hasson and C.J. Cox battle it out on the strong side, but look for JUCO transfer Princeton Jackson to grab a starting role once he learns the defense in the fall.

Some good news, finally. The Rebels have very nice depth at cornerback, particularly with the return of senior Quinton Pointer, who missed last season with a knee injury. Will Pointer be back at his old form after the injury, one that also kept him out during the spring? He has a position battle on his hands with sophomore Sidney Hodge, who played in nine games as a true freshman last fall. It will probably be senior Will Chandler (team-leading five interceptions) on the opposite side, though sophomore Cedric Coleman made a strong claim for that role during the spring. Another sophomore, Eric Tuiloama-Vaa, is back at strong safety, and redshirt freshman Tajh Hasson looks to be the starter at free safety.

Position battle(s) to watch

Quarterback Omar Clayton was far from perfect, but he did play 40 games at quarterback for the Rebels,  a program record. Again: he was far from perfect. But you did know what you were going to get from the former starter, which was a nice blend of passing and running, even if he didn’t really excel in either area. The competition to replace Clayton should continue into the fall, though sophomore Caleb Herring should be considered the frontrunner. That’s largely due to his experience in the system, which includes eight games and 56 attempts last fall and gives him an edge over JUCO transfer Sean Reilly, who joined the program during the spring. Also in the mix are redshirt freshman Taylor Barnhill and incoming freshman Nick Sherry, though only slightly. Barnhill’s quest for the backup role has taken a hit with Reilly’s arrival – Barnhill’s now running third – while it’s a bit premature to expect Sherry to do more than take a redshirt as a true freshman. For now, it’s Herring one, Reilly two, though that could change when the Rebels return to the practice field in August.

Game(s) to watch

Southern Utah stands out, if only because it’s a guaranteed win. Also of note: a home date with Colorado State and a road trip to New Mexico.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell I vastly underestimated U.N.L.V.’s youth last fall, and won’t make the same mistake twice. Even with last year’s experience the Rebels remain extremely young: there are still twice as many sophomore as juniors – 24 to 12 – and more true freshman arrivals than seniors – 18, including greyshirts, to 16 – which should speak to this team’s continued youth and inexperience heading into 2011. In short, combining this inexperience with another deadly schedule leads me to think that U.N.L.V. will struggle again this fall. There have been examples of young teams coming together, on the other hand; I think of Florida International last fall, but that’s not a great comparison – there’s no comparing F.I.U.’s Sun Belt slate with what the Rebels will face in and out of conference play. Instead of measuring success in the win column, therefore, measure U.N.L.V.’s development in Hauck’s second season by what we see on the field. In a perfect world, we’d see more consistency on offense, which would include better play from the line and more explosiveness in the passing game. We’d see better play on third down from the defense, as well as more forced turnovers, fewer big plays allowed and, simply put, an improved statistical effort. This year might not be pretty, but it will hopefully find an improved U.N.L.V. team in all the categories that matter outside the win column.

Dream season Hauck works his magic in year two, leading the Rebels from the bottom of the M.W.C. into bowl play.

Nightmare season The youth movement yields a similar result to last season: 1-11, 0-8 in conference action.

In case you were wondering

Where do U.N.L.V. fans congregate? Only a few options out there for the interested U.N.L.V. fan. Send me your message boards, your forums, your blogs yearning to be posted! You can try out Rebel Net for message board chatter and the Web site of the Las Vegas Sun for daily coverage.

Word Count

Through five teams 12,374.

Up Next

Who is No. 115? Maybe tomorrow’s program might want to avoid coaches from a specific B.C.S. conference. The last two hires from said conference have combined to go 5-18 in their debut seasons.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Jer says:

    Buffalo?
    Jim Hofher QB coah at Syracuse went 3-8
    Jeff Quinn OC at Cincinnati went 2-10

    Although EMU is close
    Jeff Genyk ST co at Northwestern went 4-8
    Ron English DC at Michigan went 0-11

  2. Ezra says:

    Putting any Mountain West team below New Mexico is intriguing. Unless you see something to indicate the Lobos will have lines that operate better than an on-ramp, why let the Lobos out of the prediction-cellar? They’ve abundantly earned it.

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