If speculation proves true, the magic number for Bobby Hauck is six. That’s how many games the UNLV football coach likely needs to win this season to keep his job.
Hauck will need a lot of good luck to hit .500, according to oddsmakers and common sense, over the course of a 12-game schedule. Over his first three years, Hauck’s record is 6-32. It’s a broken record that keeps replaying two-win seasons.
So, suddenly winning six in one season seems unrealistic. But how about three, four or five?
“I’ll say a best-case scenario is a possibility of five wins,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. “Definitely three or four.”
Steve Fezzik, a professional gambler and handicapper for Pregame.com, is banking on something resembling a magical season for Hauck. In early June, when Cantor Gaming posted the Rebels’ regular-season win total at 2½, Fezzik hammered the “over” with both fists.
“That is a 90 percent bet, in my opinion,” Fezzik said. “I see no way, realistically, UNLV doesn’t win four or five games. Maybe with terrible bad luck, they only get three. With 16 returning starters, it’s Hauck’s best team. It should be a five-win year.”
Cantor’s line opened at 2½ with the “over” at plus-110. The price was adjusted to minus-155, then minus-185, and then kept rising until the line was changed to three wins with the “over” at minus-170.
Sharp bettors expect the Rebels to exceed low expectations. Fezzik said the line should be 4½. I also bet over 2½, but my projection is four wins, and that’s on the optimistic side.
UNLV has seven home games and, according to Miller’s power ratings, will be favored in three. Siding with the Rebels on the road, where they have lost 22 in a row, is akin to betting on a donkey to win the Kentucky Derby. But Miller has them favored in one road game.
Hauck switched his offensive and defensive coordinators, moves that appear to be upgrades. UNLV’s defense was a mess last season, allowing 32.6 points per game. The offensive line could be among the best in the Mountain West, and led by sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry and senior Tim Cornett, who rushed for 1,232 yards last season, the Rebels should put points on the board.
“I think they can win three. I would be reluctant to think they can win four,” The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall said. “It’s a pass for me. It is fragile, especially if something happens to Sherry or Cornett. And the coaching thing is a dicey situation. Bobby almost has one foot out the door.”
Here’s a forecast for the Rebels’ schedule:
■ Aug. 29 at Minnesota — UNLV let the Gophers off the hook last season in a 30-27 overtime loss at Sam Boyd Stadium. Minnesota, which returns 15 starters, opened as a 13-point favorite at the Golden Nugget. Forecast: Loss by 15.
■ Sept. 7 vs. Arizona — Hauck caught a break when a deal to move this game to Phoenix fell through. The Rebels were competitive at home last season, going 2-5 with the losses by an average of 4.8 points. The Wildcats have one of the nation’s top running backs, Ka’Deem Carey, and a weak defense. Arizona opened as a 17-point favorite. Forecast: Loss by 10.
■ Sept. 14 vs. Central Michigan — The Chippewas, picked to finish near the bottom of the Mid-American Conference, are rebuilding after winning seven games. UNLV opened as a 4-point favorite. Forecast: Win by 8.
■ Sept. 21 vs. Western Illinois — After recent losses to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, it’s no guarantee the Rebels can handle the Leathernecks. Forecast: Win by 14.
■ Sept. 28 at New Mexico — Miller said he would make the Rebels 3½-point favorites in Albuquerque, where they last won a road game in October 2009. The Lobos, whipped 35-7 in Las Vegas last season, return only eight starters. Forecast: Win by 2.
■ Oct. 12 vs. Hawaii — The Warriors beat three teams last season — Lamar, South Alabama and UNLV. The players quit on Hauck in the first half of a 48-10 blowout. A four-game win streak seems way too optimistic, but ... Forecast: Win by 7.
■ Oct. 19 at Fresno State — Led by senior quarterback Derek Carr, the Bulldogs will battle Boise State for the Mountain West title. Forget about it. Forecast: Loss by 24.
■ Oct. 26 at UNR — Chris Ault is gone, replaced by new coach Brian Polian. Miller’s ratings make the Wolf Pack 7½-point favorites. Forecast: Loss by 11.
■ Nov. 2 vs. San Jose State — Off an 11-2 season, the Spartans will take a step back under new coach Ron Caragher. He inherited the conference’s second-best quarterback, senior David Fales. Forecast: Loss by 5.
■ Nov. 9 vs. Utah State — The Aggies also are off an 11-2 season and breaking in a new coach. At this point, it’s hard to predict if the Rebels will be a lost cause or a motivated team. Forecast: Loss by 7.
■ Nov. 21 at Air Force — A road game against a respectable opponent is an easy call. Forecast: Loss by 12.
■ Nov. 30 vs. San Diego State — The Aztecs return 16 starters, 10 on defense, from a nine-win team. Miller makes San Diego State a 9-point favorite. Forecast: Loss by 9.
And here’s a prop bet: Will Hauck be coaching the season finale?
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.