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Rebels try to balance bowl fun, business

DALLAS — Having coached in bowls as well as the weekly pressure cooker that is the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck has no doubt in his mind which system he prefers.

“The bowls are a reward,” Hauck said. “The playoffs are zero fun for everybody involved.”

Hauck wants his players to soak up the moment as they prepare for Wednesday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl against North Texas. The Rebels have been taking in the bowl experience by attending a welcome reception Saturday night and a Dallas Stars game Sunday.

But they’re also here to prepare for a game, and Hauck wants his players to be serious when it comes time to practice and study the game plan.

“One of the priorities for us is we have to go in and have some fun and enjoy the experience and enjoy the time together one last time as a team, and then be mature enough to lock in as we close in on game time,” Hauck said. “You’ve also got to have a mature team. We’re not veteran at doing this or we’re not senior laden, but we’ve got mature guys.”

The balancing act is a good problem to have, and Hauck wants to make the most of the Rebels’ first bowl trip in their fourth season under him.

Hauck has been an assistant coach at other schools that made bowl trips, so that experience helps him with this game.

“It’d be harder, that’s for sure,” Hauck said. “It’s hard to go into a situation and not know what to expect.”

■ CAN’T BEAT THE REBELS — UNLV has little postseason experience, but the Rebels know how to act when they get to a bowl. They are 3-0 in bowls, having won the 1984 California Bowl in 1984 and the Las Vegas Bowl in 1994 and 2000.

Not only are the Rebels perfect in bowls, they won each game in a rout. They beat Toledo 30-13 in the first bowl, and then in order defeated Central Michigan 52-24 and Arkansas 31-14.

Their victory in the California Bowl later was vacated by the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, as were the Rebels’ other victories that season, for playing seven academically ineligible players. But because the NCAA continued to recognize those victories, the wins count in UNLV’s record book.

■ NAME PLAYERS — Previous UNLV coach Mike Sanford stopped the practice of putting players’ names on the backs of their jerseys, saying he wanted to emphasize team over individuals.

His successor, Hauck, never bothered to add names to the jerseys, but with the Rebels now in a bowl, that has changed. UNLV players will have their names on their jerseys against North Texas.

■ HOME SUPPORT — Former UNLV linebacker Bryce Saldi, who suffered a severe brain injury because of a skateboarding accident in July 2009, will attend the game.

Tight end Austin Harrington and wide receiver Ryan Wolfe are among the former Rebels who will sit with Saldi.

Another ex-UNLV player, defensive end-fullback Beau Brence, attended the Rebels’ workout Sunday at Southern Methodist University’s practice fields. Brence, now a graduate assistant at Louisiana-Monroe, plans to attend the game.

■ ON THE GRASS — Not many teams play on natural grass anymore, but the Rebels are working on that kind of field at SMU in preparation for the game at Cotton Bowl Stadium.

“To be on grass when we haven’t been is a good thing for us, certainly,” Hauck said.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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