Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
- The 2003 UNLV football team refused to back down against Wisconsin (8-31-2011)
- UNLV releases depth chart for Thursday’s season opener at Wisconsin (8-27-2011)
- Five signs that UNLV football is headed in the right direction (8-23-2011)
- Sophomore Caleb Herring officially named UNLV’s starting quarterback (8-21-2011)
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer take a look at UNLV football's Thursday night opener at No. 11 Wisconsin, where the Rebels will head to as a five-touchdown underdog. While Bobby Hauck's program tries to continue its upward trend, Dave Rice and the men's basketball staff kept theirs going on the recruiting trail. The guys discuss the Monday night commitment from Bishop Gorman power forward Demetris Morant and much more.
During the first weekly press conference of the UNLV football season Monday, sophomore quarterback Caleb Herring spoke in a confident tone about his upcoming first career start.
It will come Thursday night on national television. Against a top 10-caliber opponent. On the road. In front of 80,000 screaming fans.
“The big stage is where we dream to be,” he said with a smile. “I think this is what we all had dreams of as players, to be playing on the biggest stage we can. Right now, this Wisconsin game is the biggest stage we’ve been on.”
As far as nonconference games go, however, the Rebels might not put themselves on this type of stage again anytime in the near future.
There are positives and negatives to UNLV’s series with Wisconsin, which will likely end for the foreseeable future after this week’s meeting — the 10th between the programs.
On the plus side, there’s the payday. A figure for what UNLV will rake in after the trip isn’t finalized yet, but Rebels Athletic Director Jim Livengood said it will be in the neighborhood of about $500,000. It’s a much-needed check for an athletic department that has had to cut, trim and get as creative as possible in recent months to try to get into the black.
But for a football program that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2000 and is still trying to build a sturdy foundation under second-year coach Bobby Hauck, games like this just don’t make sense moving forward. Among the UNLV coaches and administrators, the opinion appears to be unanimous.
“When you look at people over the years who have tried to get their programs going, favorable scheduling or scheduling that gives you a chance to compete and be on a level playing field when you’re trying to get going has been a big part of that,” Hauck said. “When you look at Kansas State or Oregon State or people who struggled for a number of years then it got going, that’s kind of a common denominator.”
Added Livengood: “We’ve stayed away from the ‘buy game,’ and you notice the schedules moving forward. All of those games have a home-and-home component to them. We’ll (take on challenges), but we’re going to be very careful when we do that.”
Livengood was hired late in 2009, and the schedules for the 2010 and 2011 seasons were all but locked in. Last season’s brutal slate, which included Wisconsin, West Virginia, UNR, Idaho and Hawaii, was set by former athletic director Mike Hamrick, who figured a few years back that the program would be peaking by then under former coach Mike Sanford.
Sanford was let go after a lackluster 5-7 campaign in 2009, and in 2010, UNLV was forced to survive through a schedule that, frankly, it had no business playing.
Livengood did what he could with the 2011 slate, and his most savvy move was turning the return game against Wisconsin — which won last year’s opener at Sam Boyd Stadium, 41-21 — into as profitable an excursion as possible.
By moving the game from Saturday afternoon to Thursday night, it opened the door for ESPN to carry it. That will only add to UNLV’s payout, but how much won’t be known until the fiscal year closes next summer.
Even though the Rebels head to Madison as a 35.5-point underdog, any national exposure is good exposure. Also, the move gives Hauck’s team two extra days of preparation for its Sept. 8 trip to face Washington State — a game the Rebels believe they have a legitimate chance to win.
The Wisconsin game could end up being another bump in the road for Hauck and his young team as they build toward what is beginning to look like a brighter future. But with a deep, veteran-laden team projected to be back in 2012, combined with an easier-to-navigate schedule, could help the program finally gain some more respect.
“We want to give our football program a chance to get better in Year 3 and Year 4,” Livengood said. “Our schedules are built exactly to try and do that.”
Livengood’s method is tried and true. It worked to help resurrect Arizona’s program, which was dormant for roughly a decade before Mike Stoops, whom Livengood hired prior to the 2004 season, got the ship turned around.
The Wildcats played nine conference games a year in the Pac-10, leaving three open slots. Livengood scheduled one that his team should without question win as long as they showed up mentally, another against a foe with a strong name who it could hang with on a good night, and the third being a regional match-up with a team it should also beat.
In Year 5, Stoops’ team went 8-5 and won the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl. The Wildcats have been in bowl games each year since and should reach its fourth in a row this season.
UNLV’s upcoming nonconference schedules make that a pattern the Rebels could potentially follow.
Next season, the Rebels host Minnesota and Washington State — two BCS conference foes they could defeat — at Sam Boyd Stadium, and travel to face Utah State and Louisiana Tech — two programs on their level.
The 2013 schedule includes home dates with Arizona, Western Illinois and Utah State, along with the return trip to face Minnesota.
Plus, the Mountain West Conference schedule will lighten some in the coming years. BYU and Utah left the league after last season, while only one power program — Boise State — joined in return. Next season, TCU will be out as UNR, Fresno State and Hawaii jump on board.
More wins and bowl appearances likely mean more revenue and, moving forward under Hauck, UNLV should be in a prime position to win in bulk.
“Scheduling is a difficult thing for athletic directors, and it’s not easy to make it all work — there’s a lot of negotiation, a lot of trying to make pieces of a puzzle fit,” Hauck said. “I think, trying to be smart about it a little bit, (scaling down the schedule) would be most productive for us.”