We’re hours away from the start of UNLV’s 2013 football campaign. Here are 5 games — including Thursday night’s opener — that could make or break the season for the Rebels and Coach Bobby Hauck:
1. at Minnesota, Aug. 29
The first game of the season is always one to watch, but even more so this year for the Rebels. The general consensus is that this is Bobby Hauck’s most talented UNLV team. With that in mind, the Rebels are expected to go into TCF Bank Stadium and compete. A blowout loss to a middle-of-the-road Big 10 team would be a rough way to start the season for a program that claims to be on the rise.
2. vs. Arizona, Sept. 7
The home opener against the Wildcats could be as significant for what’s happening off the field as for what’s happening on it. UNLV must meet an average attandance minimum of 15,000 or face possible NCAA sanctions. Last season, with the UNLV-UNR rivalry game in Las Vegas, the Rebels averaged 15,208. The push is on, led by interim athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy, to make this the most highly-attended game of the year. A strong crowd could boost UNLV’s bottom line and help set the tone for the rest of the season.
3. vs. Central Michigan, Sept. 14
The first game of the season that UNLV should be expected to win. If the Rebels can’t handle the Chippewas at home, Hauck’s seat gets significantly hotter.
4. at New Mexico, Sept. 28
Much has been written about the road woes of the Rebels. Here are the facts: UNLV’s last road win came on October 24, 2009 when the Rebels defeated New Mexico 34-17. Hauck’s Rebels beat the Lobos handily at Sam Boyd Stadium last season, 35-7. The teams meet again on September 28. In Albuquerque. You do the math.
5. at Nevada, Reno, Oct. 26
As discussed, UNLV has been dreadful on the road in recent years. And the Fremont Cannon has been blue for the past 8 years. But 2013 could be the Rebels best chance at taking a game in this rivalry in recent memory. For one thing, Colin Kaepernick isn’t walking out on that field, but perhaps more importantly, neither is longtime Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault. If Hauck has his team clicking, and the Rebels can catch the Pack stumbling in their transition to a new coach and system, maybe, just maybe, the cannon gets a fresh coat of red paint. Anything can happen in a rivalry game.