It’s been a long and winding road, but with a 7-win season and a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl just days away, things are looking up for UNLV football. We’re not ready to put this season in the rearview mirror just yet, but we can’t help but to think ahead a little bit to 2014. Here are five things to look forward to next season:
1. More Hauck-ball
We heard the same thing over and over through Bobby Hauck’s first three two-win seasons at UNLV: Just wait until the coach gets his guys on the roster and his system in place. Season No. 4 was do-or-die time for Hauck. His young Rebels had taken some beatings, but they knew their roles and knew what to expect in Mountain West play. Hauck even brought in little brother Tim to shore up his defense. His perseverance paid off in 2013, as Hauck more than doubled his win total as UNLV head coach and led the Rebels to their first bowl appearance since 2000. With Hauck building the program from the ground up and not settling for a quick fix, there’s all the reason in the world to believe the Rebels can take another step forward in 2014.
2. Defending the Fremont Cannon
It will have been 10 years since UNLV has been able to roll a red Fremont Cannon out on to the Sam Boyd Stadium field for a game against their upstate rival, but that’s exactly what will happen when the Wolf Pack comes to town next season. There’s always passion when the two teams from Nevada square off, but there will be an extra bit of pride in those wearing Rebel red as their team takes the field to defend what belongs to them on their home turf.
3. BYU is back
We miss BYU like “Game of Thrones” would miss King Joffrey. Both of them usually come out on top, but man, are they fun to hate. Well, Cougar –haters, get ready. BYU isn’t returning to the Mountain West, but 2014 marks the first year of a home-and-home series between the Cougars and the Rebels. UNLV will travel to Provo on Nov. 15 and BYU will make the trip to Las Vegas in 2015. The animosity is not yet on the level of UNLV-BYU basketball, but we’ll take what we can get.
4. The cupboard isn’t bare
Senior QB Caleb Herring passed for 2,522 yards and 22 TDs this season. Senior RB Tim Cornett rushed for 1,290 yards and 15 TDs. It’s accurate to say the Rebels would not be where they are right now without the contributions of these two playmakers. So where will UNLV be next year without them? Maybe better off than you think. Junior Shaq Murray-Lawrence is generally regarded as one of the fastest, if not most exciting players on the Rebels’ roster. He averaged 8.7 yards per carry this season, and with workhorse Cornett moving on, Murray-Lawrence’s touches can only increase. At QB, Nick Sherry is only a year removed from one of the most successful freshman QB campaigns in Mountain West history. Sherry struggled in limited action this season, and he won’t be handed the starting job going into 2014, but he’s shown that he can play at this level. And, ohbytheway, wideouts Marcus Sullivan and Devante Davis will both be back as well.
5. Scheduling serendipity
The Rebels will host the first leg of a home-and home series with Northern Illinois University in 2014. Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch set NCAA records for most rushing yards by a QB in a season, most rushing yards by a QB in a game, most 100-yard rushing games by a QB in a season, most rushing yards per game by a QB in a season, finished third in this year’s Heisman Trophy voting and is by all accounts the best football player in NIU’s history. Jordan Lynch played his final college football game on Dec. 26. Sometimes things just work out.