In seven of the past nine seasons, the UNLV football team has managed just two victories, including the past three years under coach Bobby Hauck. The Rebels have doubled that total only halfway through this season, and they’re on the precipice of matching the five-win seasons of 2008 and 2009 — the halcyon days of a lost decade on the gridiron.
No one saw this coming a month ago, after a 51-23 blowout loss at Minnesota, followed by a 58-13 home shellacking by Arizona. Then UNLV fell behind 21-0 to Central Michigan, again at home, and it seemed an 0-3 start was all but guaranteed, along with another two-win season — if the Rebels were lucky. Mr. Hauck’s job status was facing fourth-and-long.
Then UNLV scored 31 unanswered points to beat Central Michigan. The Rebels followed with a 38-7 win over lightweight Western Illinois and a 56-42 shootout victory at New Mexico on Sept. 28, ending a 23-game road losing streak. Last weekend brought the most dramatic victory yet. UNLV led Hawaii 36-17 early in the fourth quarter, then fell behind 37-36 with less than a minute remaining. Thoughts of a Rebel collapse from seasons past were erased when UNLV drove down the field and won 39-37 on Nolan Kohorst’s 44-yard field goal as time expired.
Mr. Hauck and his resilient players should forgive fans who don’t quite know how to react to this run of success — the Rebels hadn’t won four straight games since 2000 (capped by a Las Vegas Bowl win) and hadn’t won four straight regular-season games since Ronald Reagan was campaigning for a second term. (The 1984 Rebels went on to win seven straight for the Gipper).
Two more victories over their last six games, and the 4-2 Rebels will be in the mix for a bowl bid. USA Today’s midseason bowl projections have the Rebels playing in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21, opposite Arizona State. That’s conjecture at this point, but the fact that any postseason berth is a possibility is great progress for this program.
UNLV is back on the road, facing 17th-ranked and unbeaten Fresno State tonight. Regardless of the outcome, Mr. Hauck and company should be lauded for their efforts over the past few weeks, reviving what looked to be another lost season and rewarding long-suffering fans.