NCAA Football Preview - UNLV Rebels

2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: UNLV football has been simply dreadful since the John Robinson era came to a close almost a decade ago now. Robinson was at the helm the last time the Rebels didn't have a losing record back in 2003, but even then the team was only .500 at 6-6. The last time the program actually finished with a winning record was in 2000 when it was 8-5, thanks to a perfect 6-0 home mark.

In 2012, the third season under head coach Bobby Hauck, UNLV continued to have issues in virtually every facet of the game, posting a record of just 2-11 overall and 2-6 in conference to finish eighth in the league standings. UNLV opened with three straight defeats before finally capturing a narrow 38-35 home win against Air Force in Mountain West Conference action at Sam Boyd Stadium on Sept. 22. Unfortunately, the good feelings from that close call were short-lived as the Rebels went on a five-game slide immediately after, beginning with a 35-13 blowout loss at Utah State and culminating with a 24-13 defeat at the hands of San Diego State in southern California.

Hauck was able to get his team over the hump versus New Mexico with a 35-7 romp the first week of November, but it should be noted that the Lobos lost their final six games of the campaign after getting off to a 4-3 start. UNLV was subjected to three more setbacks to close out the season, bowing to the likes of Colorado State, Wyoming and Hawaii which means Hauck is now a mere 6-32 with the program after winning 14 games in his final season with Montana at the FCS level before accepting the position in Sin City.

Outside of the outcome against UNM, the Rebels surrendered no less than 24 points in all but one other outing, with the run defense being the biggest issue for the squad as they gave up 207.1 ypg to rank 106th in the country. The team heads into the 2013 campaign having lost not only three straight overall, but playing on the road the last several years has been a wild ride unto itself, having gone winless away from home in each of Hauck's three seasons at the helm. At this point, the team has bowed in 22 consecutive road tests, the second-longest drought in the nation behind only Akron which has weathered 26 straight road defeats. The last conference road win for UNLV took place on Oct. 24, 2009 in Albuquerque with a 34-17 victory over New Mexico. In fact, that's the only road conference win for the program since slipping by BYU (24-20) on Oct. 8, 2004.


OFFENSE: With nine returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, the Rebels have to think that they can improve on last year's numbers, but that remains to be seen. A lot of that will depend on the growth of quarterback Nick Sherry who last season, prior to being slowed by injury, could have easily set the MWC freshman record for passing yards, but still finished with 2.544 yards, ranking him fourth in league history and seventh on the school's single-season list for any signal-caller, regardless of class.

Sherry's 16 passing touchdowns were the most for the squad since 2008, but those scores were offset by his 17 interceptions. The good news here is that Sherry has a host of qualified receivers at his disposal, most notable of them being Devante Davis who was first on the unit with 61 catches for 854 yards and four touchdowns. Davis was matched in the scoring department by Marcus Sullivan who tallied 55 grabs for 659 yards. After the pair, there's a handful of returners who are expected to make even bigger gains in 2013.

Although the team has lost Bradley Randle, the leader in rushing touchdowns a year ago with eight, the unit still brings back Tim Cornett who has been one of the most reliable performers since landing in Las Vegas. Credited with 1,232 yards and seven TDs last season, Cornett needs just 700 yards to become the program's all-time leading rusher.

The offensive line doesn't include a single senior, but there is still some quality to be found in the trenches for the Rebels in Brett Boyko and Robert Waterman who are hoping to return to form after dealing with injuries. Waterman, selected for the 2012 Rimington Award Watch List, was named honorable mention All-MWC in both 2011 and 2012.

DEFENSE: One of the biggest changes for the Rebels on defense moving forward is the hiring of a new defensive coordinator in Tim Hauck. If the name sounds familiar it should, he played safety in the NFL for 13 seasons and just happens to be the younger brother of Bobby, now his boss.

"We are certainly fortunate to convince someone with Tim's experience and pedigree to come here and work with us," Bobby Hauck says. "The other thing that is important is cohesion in the staff and Tim is certainly someone that this coaching staff knows and is comfortable with. He had numerous other opportunities but chose UNLV because he wants to be part of what we're doing here."

Tim Hauck has his hands full for sure, trying to piece together a group that can get the job done after sputtering the last several years. Considering the sort of numbers the unit has allowed under Bobby Hauck, improvement should be in the cards because there's not much room for the program to drop at this point.

The Haucks have their work cut out for them as they try to fill the void left by John Lotulelei who was by far the top tackler for the program with 120 stops a year ago. A distant second on that list was Tim Hasson (76 tackles). a former walk-on with the program who started all 13 games for the team at strong-side linebacker last season and has appeared in all 38 games during his career.

Defensive end Sonny Sanitoa, just a freshman last year, showed tremendous promise as he led the group in sacks with five in only nine games and his further development should open doors for teammates Mark Garrick (nine tackles for loss) and Parker Holloway (seven TFL) to also get more opportunities to disrupt plays.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Nolan Kohorst was a solid performer for the Rebels as he knocked through all but two of his 14 field goal attempts a year ago and figures to be a key factor for the program again this season after being named to the All-MWC First Team in 2012.

Chase Lansford was the punter for the program a year ago, filling a need that was heavily used, but now the team has to find a replacement and it looks like former transfer Logan Yunker will have the edge after sitting out all of 2012.

With the loss of kick returner Eric Johnson, who averaged 17.7 yards on 28 opportunities, it only makes sense that Marcus Sullivan take over those responsibilities on a full-time basis, while also showing up as a running back from time to time. Sullivan averaged 23.5 yards per kickoff return and was also the primary punt returner a season ago, although there were very few of those due to the inability of the defense to slow down most opponents.

OUTLOOK: "There is a lot of optimism on our team," coach Hauck noted during the first week of August. "It's a different feeling finally having a lot of guys that have done it before. We have pretty good depth for the first time. I like what's going on."

Unfortunately, optimism doesn't win games and there are a lot of tough ones on the schedule this year. Right off the bat the Rebels go up against Minnesota on the road, followed by three straight home dates which include a visit from Arizona.

UNLV also has to play both Fresno State and Nevada, the latter being a huge rivalry event, on the road in consecutive weeks, but at least the Rebels don't have to travel to Hawaii, and they don't have Boise State on the slate at all.

Should the team be able to come up with more than two wins again this season? Absolutely. But don't expect many more than that.