Not much was expected of UNLV when it opened last football season against Minnesota.
The Rebels were 8½-point underdogs in the home game, but took the Big Ten Conference foe to three overtimes before losing, 30-27.
Now they face even greater doubts. UNLV is a 14-point underdog heading into Thursday’s opener at Minnesota. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. PDT.
But the fact UNLV gave the Golden Gophers such a tough game last season could help entering this meeting.
The close call could provide added confidence, give UNLV clues about what to expect, or simply supply good old-fashioned thoughts of revenge.
“If that isn’t somewhat motivational to find a play here and there to get you over the hump, then we’ve got the wrong guys in our offices and our meeting rooms,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said Monday.
Senior linebacker Tim Hasson certainly hasn’t forgotten that defeat.
“It did leave a nasty taste in everybody’s mouth,” Hasson said. “Then again, the older guys always try to stress last year’s irrelevant now. We can’t keep basing this game off how we played them last year. We’ve got to come ready to play this year and look to get a win this time.”
For UNLV, last season’s opener was a microcosm of what was to come. That defeat was the first of three games the Rebels lost after leading in the fourth quarter. They would go on to finish 2-11.
Minnesota went 6-6 in the regular season to earn a trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Texas Tech beat the Gophers, 34-31, in what was Minnesota’s first bowl trip since 2009. The appearance also came just a season after the team went 3-9.
“I think we’re better,” Hauck said. “I think they’re better, too. They went to a bowl game last year, and we didn’t. They’re moving forward, progressing like their staff would like them, too.”
Having played Minnesota a year ago and then reviewing the Gophers’ other games that season can provide hints about their tendencies.
Hauck and his staff have spent months devoting attention to this game, but Minnesota coaches also have had the entire offseason to do their homework, so in that sense, the extra preparation time could be a wash.
Expect some surprises from both sides on Thursday, hoping to catch the other off guard.
Minnesota made perhaps the first move in gamesmanship, refusing to release its depth chart until today. UNLV then held off on releasing its two-deep.
That’s a minor detail, however, compared to the greater issue of the Rebels’ struggles on the road.
Yes, the Rebels gave Minnesota all it could handle last season, but that was at Sam Boyd Stadium, where UNLV was considerably more competitive.
The Rebels take a 22-game road losing streak into this week’s game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Two players attended Monday’s news conference, and they sounded determined to discover the joy of finally winning away from home.
“We’ll see that soon,” senior running back Tim Cornett said.
Then Hasson quickly added, “We’ll have that feeling this year.”
■ NOTE — UNLV hoped to have freshman wide receiver Kendal Keys available, but he is still waiting to be ruled eligible by the NCAA and probably won’t play Thursday. He signed with Boise State in February, but received a release and enrolled at UNLV.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.