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November 26, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

Serious contender: Could this be UNLV football’s year to win the Mountain West?

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck argues for a call against Air Force in the first quarter of a game at Air Force Academy, Colo., on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013.

UNLV football coach Bobby Hauck was only a minute or two into his press conference Wednesday when I was certain he misspoke.

Will the Rebels be bowl bound again?

Will UNLV football reach a bowl game in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history?
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No — 30.4%

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“We have a legitimate chance to compete for a Mountain West championship,” Hauck told reporters at the Cosmopolitan during the Mountain West media days.

What? In 2014? Maybe my ears were deceiving me. This is UNLV football, after all.

Until last season’s 7-6 winning record and bowl appearance, the first in more than a decade for both feats, the Rebels were a perennial two-win program.

Until last year, when UNLV posted a winning record on the road, the program had a 23-game losing streak away from home.

Until last year, when they won seven games, the Rebels had just six wins since Hauck took over the program in 2010.

Winning a league title has never been part of the equation. It was never a legitimate accomplishment to strive for. The goal has been to have a winning season, make a bowl game and beat UNR. Most seasons, they failed miserably on each.

In the program's 40 years, UNLV has made a bowl just four times. It is still searching for consecutive seasons with bowl game appearances, which seems more realistic to strive for this year.

I immediately took to Twitter to post Hauck’s comment. Seconds later, one of my followers responded, “Lol when?????” Yes, the bar isn’t that high.

When you’ve endured so many losing seasons, it’s tough to transform into a consistent winner. Having one winning season was nice, but give credit to Hauck for setting the bar higher. If the Rebels can’t have an encore performance, it would be easy to call the success of last season a fluke.

Saying his team will compete for the league title isn’t some prediction to motivate his players. Nor is this Hauck making a statement they can’t deliver on — that’s not his style.

In past years at the media days, especially when UNLV was undermanned in Hauck’s initial seasons, he was brutally honest when asked to assess his team's chances. They had none.

At last year’s media day, though, Hauck was singing a different tune. He knew he had a good team and wasn’t bashful in letting others know. Sure, he was coaching for his job, told by bosses to make a bowl or he’d be replaced.

But this wasn’t lip service to gain public support. The Rebels had turned a corner. They had good players and a good team.

This year, he says it will again be his best team. So good, in fact, they could win the league title. While that’s likely a little too ambitious, you can’t dispute his logic, especially when the Rebels’ West Division of the league — Fresno State, San Diego State, UNR, San Jose State and Hawaii — is packed with parity.

“Everybody in the West has a chance, especially us for the first time,” Hauck said.

Hauck raves about the commitment of his players, referring to how they stuck together in the spring when UNLV was temporarily banned from postseason play because of a poor APR rating. Two players used the ban as a reason to transfer. The others stayed.

A few months later, the ban was reversed. The Rebels will be able to compete in the postseason, which includes playing for a league title. The roller coaster of preparing for a season with no bowl to play in made the players stronger. It’s an adversity greater than anything they’d face on the field.

“All the stuff about team, unity and commitment, all of those things are not just words,” Hauck said. “They actually apply in our case.”

The only way to prove doubters wrong is to keep winning. Just like when UNLV beat New Mexico last season to break the road losing streak or UNR to finally win back the Fremont Cannon, Hauck has slowly transformed the program into one that competes.

Last year, the Rebels became bowl eligible with a win at Air Force. It snowed that Thursday evening in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the wind chill was below zero. Other UNLV teams would have folded. This one, was different.

“One team was not fazed by the weather,” Hauck said.

Maybe the coach is right. Maybe his comment isn’t that far-fetched.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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