When asked at his Monday news conference about the upcoming four-game stretch that is critical for UNLV’s football team and its coaching staff, coach Bobby Hauck said he and his players would answer questions only about this week’s opponent.
That’s the right approach to take.
If the Rebels (0-2) don’t take care of business against Central Michigan (1-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, it probably matters little how the rest of the schedule looks.
But meeting expectations as 7-point favorites and beating the Chippewas would add even greater meaning to the next three games.
“We need to go and cut it loose and be the team that we all think we can be,” Hauck said. “It’s not just me. I think everybody on our team thinks that way.”
Bruce Marshall, The Gold Sheet editor and handicapper, said UNLV should be favored in at least three of the next four games and might be a slight underdog Sept. 28 at New Mexico.
“These are games Bobby’s got to win,” Marshall said. “There won’t be any excuses after this if he can’t get there.”
Given the difficulty of the second half of UNLV’s schedule, Marshall said he thinks the Rebels need to win at least three of the next four games for the team to have any real hope of success.
It’s also critical for Hauck, who is in his fourth season, and his staff. Hauck is 6-34 at UNLV and has won just two games each season.
“If (Hauck) loses this game, this is bad,” Marshall said. “Then you have to start worrying about if he’s going to make it through the season. It can really turn sour quick. That’s what I’m afraid of.”
This is how the next four games shake out:
Redshirt freshman Cooper Rush, the third-team quarterback when the season began, makes his first career start for Central Michigan. But Rush has ability, throwing for 326 yards and three touchdowns to rally the Chippewas to a 24-21 victory over New Hampshire on Saturday.
However, a team that barely got by a Football Championship Subdivision school a week after getting crushed 59-9 by Michigan would seem to be the ideal opponent for UNLV.
The Rebels, in fact, probably would be more than a touchdown favorite over the Chippewas if they hadn’t spent the first two games failing to get out of their own way. UNLV allowed three touchdowns on interception returns and two on special teams plays, and another TD was set up by a fumble returned almost all the way to the end zone.
Marshall expects the Rebels to be double-digit favorites over the FCS team in this Sept. 21 home game, and a good clue on what kind of matchup to expect could be provided Saturday when Western Illinois plays at Minnesota. UNLV was competitive against the Golden Gophers, but made three crucial mistakes to turn the game into a 51-23 loss.
Considering the Rebels lost to FCS teams the past two seasons, a victory in this game might not be a given.
The general thinking before the season for this road game was that UNLV would go in as the favorite, but circumstances have changed.
Part of it is the Rebels’ struggles, but the Lobos also are playing better than expected and are coming off a 42-35 overtime victory at Texas-El Paso.
Also, given the Rebels’ 23-game road losing streak, believing UNLV will win away from home might be difficult until it actually happens.
The picture of UNLV’s season will be much clearer by the time the Rainbow Warriors visit Oct. 12. At this point, Marshall expects UNLV to be a 3- or 4-point favorite.
Hawaii is still trying to rebuild, and it was the only team picked below the Rebels in the West Division by the Mountain West media. But the Warriors are playing better defensively than expected, allowing a combined 63 points to Pac-12 Conference schools Southern California and Oregon State.
UNLV also needs the proper mindset and probably will only have it with success in the other three games.
So, by mid-October — if not sooner — UNLV fans will know whether to pay serious attention to football or continue the annual practice of moving on to basketball.
They should better know more by Saturday night.
“If they win only one of these next four games, the handwriting’s on the wall,” Marshall said. “Even two, certainly the odds are against (Hauck) sticking around. I can’t see him surviving (eventually) if he doesn’t win this game.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.