UNLV expectations for the 2013 season

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

A look at the best-case and worst-case scenario for UNLV.

Bobby Hauck came to UNLV in 2010 with great expectations. After all, he was fresh off of a dream run at Montana, where he led the Grizzlies to 80 wins in seven seasons and three championship game appearances. He seemed the perfect fit to resurrect a moribund Rebels program, which hadn't experienced a winning season in a decade. Hauck's UNLV teams went on to win six games from 2010-2012; two in each of his three seasons at the helm.

He's not the first person to bust in Vegas.

A closer look at the program reveals that things might not be as bad as they seem. The Rebels' average point differential in 2010 was -21.3 points per game (ppg). That actually worsened in 2011 at -22.2 ppg, but Hauck's 2012 squad showed vast improvement last year, finishing with an average point differential of -6.8 ppg, including close calls against Minnesota, Washington State, Nevada and Wyoming.

If the 2013 Rebels can convert some of those close losses into wins, UNLV may be on the verge of climbing out of the MWC basement.

There are some reasons to feel good about this UNLV team, the most important being continuity. The Rebels return 18 starters, nine on both offense and defense, including their best player in running back Tim Cornett, who should be leaving Las Vegas next year as the school's all-time rushing leader. His 1,232 yards and seven touchdowns were a bright spot for a team that finished 88th in the country in yards per game.

New offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach comes over from Montana, where his offense averaged over 452 yards per game last season. He inherits incumbent Nick Sherry at quarterback, who comes back after a redshirt freshman season where he passed for 2544 yards and 16 touchdowns, but also tied for the NCAA lead in interceptions at 17. Sherry showed a lot of potential in his first year as a starter, but will need to take care of the ball better if UNLV is to take a step forward in 2013.

He has solid targets in wide receivers Devante Davis and Marcus Sullivan with help from UCLA transfer Jerry Rice Jr. and true freshman Kendal Keys, a former Boise State commit. Junior left tackle Brett Boyko comes back after missing the last six games of 2012 with a knee injury.

There's a lot of brotherly love on the opposite side of the ball, where Tim Hauck, Bobby's brother, takes over after three years coaching in the NFL, and redshirt freshman Tau Lotulelei replaces his brother, last year's leading tackler John. Lotulelei will join returning starters Tim Hasson -- whose half-brother Tahj starts at cornerback -- and Tani Maka in the linebacking corps.

The real test for the Rebels defense is up front, which features a capable pass rusher in end Siuea Vaesau, but undersized tackles in Alex Klorman and Mark Garrick. The line needs to hold its own in the run game and harass a very good slate of quarterbacks on the schedule (2013 Davey O'Brien Award watch-listers Derek Carr, Cody Fajardo, David Fales and Chuckie Keeton) for UNLV to stand a chance. The secondary remains intact from 2012, with strength on the outside in cornerbacks Hasson and Sidney Hodge. Safety Frank Crawford, an Ole Miss transfer, will immediately challenge for playing time.

The non-conference schedule is somewhat manageable, but the MWC matchups are sure to be tough, even though the Rebels managed to miss Boise State this season. Road trips to Fresno State, Nevada and Air Force will be stern tests, as will home dates against San Jose State, Utah State and San Diego State. We'll see just how much UNLV has improved with the four-game stretch between the Sept. 14 contest against Central Michigan and the Oct. 12 matchup with Hawaii.

Best-case scenario: Sherry proves to be the real deal and combines with Cornett to lead a balanced Rebel offense. The defensive line is stout enough against the run to keep UNLV in close games. The Rebels pull off a mild surprise in the opener at Minnesota and start the season 5-1. Wins against rivals Nevada and San Diego State prove how far Hauck has taken the team, as he leads them to seven wins and the Rebels' first bowl game since 2000.

Worst-case scenario: Turnovers continue to plague UNLV's passing game, and opponents are able to stack the box against Cornett. The defense can't stop the run, and the murderer's row of quarterbacks take advantage of play action to torch the Rebels' secondary. The Rebels' lone win comes against lowly FCS program Western Illinois, where Hauck takes over after he's let go.

Outlook: We should see some improvement from the Rebels this year, but they won't challenge for a bowl game yet. Three wins at home -- against Central Michigan, Western Illinois and Hawaii -- and one on the road -- at New Mexico -- seem doable. Hauck doubles his win totals from his first three seasons and buys himself one more year in Sin City.

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