On a team that has routinely provided a punch line for jokes, UNLV quarterback Rocky Hinds has the potential to turn things around and be taken seriously.
If Hinds is fully recovered from a right knee injury that handicapped him last season, the Rebels could exceed the relatively lofty expectations set for them at the Las Vegas Hilton sports book.
The Hilton posted UNLV's regular-season win total at 4 1/2, a number that seems too high -- and maybe laughable -- to many college football bettors.
The Rebels have won a total of four games in Mike Sanford's two years as coach. So the potential to implode also exists, and it's understandable that Hinds has few followers and several skeptics.
"I can't believe they can be this bad for a third straight year," said Hilton sports book manager Ed Salmons, one of the optimists. "I would think the coach's job is on the line. This is the year they have to show something.
"I see no reason why the Rebels can't be good this year. They have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. I think they can be 6-6 or 7-5, best-case scenario."
Bettors are banking on a worst-case scenario. The Hilton has accepted six limit bets of $1,000 apiece on UNLV to go under its win total, pushing the under to minus-160.
The 6-foot-4-inch Hinds, a transfer from Southern California, often hit bottom as a sophomore. But he has the ability to blossom as a junior.
The Rebels can expect to be underdogs in nine games -- Wisconsin, Hawaii, Utah, at UNR, at Air Force, Brigham Young, at Wyoming, at Texas Christian and at New Mexico.
UNLV is a 9-point favorite in its Aug. 30 opener at Utah State and could be favored in home games against Colorado State and San Diego State.
"You can't say the Rebels play Utah, BYU and Hawaii, so that's 0-3. They can win one of those games," Salmons said.
"Anything that could go wrong went wrong last year. It's not like the Mountain West is one of the superior conferences, and the bottom six teams are interchangeable."
In mid-July, the Hilton put up lines on 91 of the season's top games. UNLV is on the board twice as an underdog.
The Rebels are getting 18 1/2 points at home from Wisconsin on Sept. 8 and 7 points on the road from UNR on Sept. 29.
It's not often that UNLV and defending national champion Florida are linked, but bettors also are down on the Gators, who are minus-150 to go under 9 1/2 wins.
Florida coach Urban Meyer is breaking in a new quarterback, sophomore Tim Tebow, and nine new starters on defense.
The biggest point-spread move on the board went against the Gators. They opened as 17-point road favorites over Mississippi on Sept. 22, and the line dropped to 12 1/2.
"I know the bettors dislike Florida," Salmons said. "But too many people put too much into the returning starters. I like Meyer as a coach, and I expect him to get everything he can out of this team."
USC tops the regular-season wins chart at 11. The Trojans, double-digit favorites in most of their games, are laying 10 points at Nebraska and 12 points at Notre Dame.
Michigan is an 11-point home favorite over Notre Dame on Sept. 15 and a 7-point home favorite over Ohio State on Nov. 17.
With so much volatility involved in college futures, the Hilton has posted some bad lines. Finding them in August is the trick.
"There will be a line that is 20 points off," Salmons said. "It happens every year."
For a complete list of the Las Vegas Hilton's college football lines, see Scoreboard on Page 6C.