Minnesota football plays in the Big Ten Conference, whose 12 members are located primarily in the Midwest. The league reaches from Nebraska in the west to Pennsylvania in the east. Its headquarters are in Illinois.
It tends to snow some during late-season games.
In other words, it’s a really long way from Las Vegas.
The point: Had it opened the season with a victory against the Gophers last week instead of playing special teams with the competence of a toddler critiquing “War and Peace,” UNLV could have boasted for a bit and even used such a result as evidence of positive strides being made under fourth-year coach Bobby Hauck.
That’s about it. It would have snapped an oh-for-eternity road losing streak for the Rebels and saved a bit of face for a Mountain West Conference whose beginning to the 2013 season reached beyond laughable, but it’s not like UNLV and Minnesota make it a habit of recruiting against each other. It’s not like there are countless layers to the matchup.
The hockey and alpine ski teams from Minnesota aren’t shaking in their UGG boots at that thought of having to beat a team from the desert for talent.
It’s not at all like UNLV’s next opponent.
The Rebels haven’t time to fret about their 51-23 loss in the state with 90,000 miles of shoreline, not with Arizona visiting Sam Boyd Stadium tonight at 7:30. Hauck can talk all he wants about each of his team’s 12 games meaning the same — he did earlier this week — but that’s not necessarily true when it comes to the non conference.
It’s certainly not true when it comes to the Pac-12.
It’s a constant battle for the Mountain West, trying to prove their worth against the power conference closest in proximity, schools they most often recruit against. Hauck probably wouldn’t struggle convincing a local player to choose UNLV over Minnesota, but he has a heck of a time doing so when the Arizonas of the world are offering the competitor’s sales pitch.
“I think our entire league fights that perception,” Hauck said. “Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 — those leagues are hard to beat in recruiting. They have unlimited resources. We’re not going to win that battle very often. We try and, once in a while, we do.
“Most guys you recruit think they’re, ‘The Man,’ because they have everyone including their grandmothers telling them that. You don’t tell them, ‘Don’t go there, you’re not good enough, so come here.’ To me, the toughest guys to sell Las Vegas as a great place to be are the local guys. We have guys from other parts of the country begging to come here at times.”
The Mountain West is 36-60 all-time against the Pac-12 in football, hardly a picture of parity and competitive balance. For its part, UNLV has struggled against most everyone for nearly three decades now, and is 6-26 overall against teams currently in the conference. This is just its second meeting with Arizona. The teams haven’t played since 2001.
But any positive result against a Pac-12 team can aid a struggling program like UNLV, perhaps not in the initial recruitment of a player, but rather once he realizes the bright lights and massive stage of a Bowl Championship Series team aren’t meant for everyone.
Translation: He can find more playing time elsewhere.
Consider: Since joining the Mountain West in 1999, UNLV has attracted 20 former Pac-12 scholarship players, including such past transfers as Jason Thomas and Eric Wright from Southern California and Frank Summers from Cal. This season, wide receiver and graduate student Jerry Rice Jr. arrived from UCLA.
“I always tell kids in recruiting, ‘You never find out about (a school) until you tell them, ‘No,’” Hauck said. “We wish guys luck when they choose not to come here and maybe in some cases that pays dividends down the road.”
You could tell Hauck views this as even more a significant game than someone coaching for his job this season might, his weekly press conference on Monday defined by shorter-than-usual answers in a monotone voice presumably meant to spend the least time possible discussing his team.
He even took a few childish barbs at those posing questions, suggesting the pressure to produce wins has definitely tightened his collar.
“We played a Big 10 team on the road and now get a Pac-12 team at home,” Hauck said. “We knew the schedule going in. It is what it is. I think we have a good team. We’ll just approach it the same way as all of them and try to get a win.”
It’s never the same for a Mountain West side, not when facing a Pac-12 opponent.
This just in: Hauck doesn’t battle Arizona for any alpine skiers, unless the kid can also block properly on field-goal attempts or tackle someone on kickoff returns.
Then, it might be worth the gamble.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.