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Hauck makes progress on purging defeatist mindset

It’s true. There is something to be said for youth, for not knowing better, for minds and bodies not programmed to accept losing.

UNLV football is filled with youth and not knowing better.

It is one of the positives second-year coach Bobby Hauck can build on as he attempts to mold the Rebels into a reputable program, this sense that while UNLV endures many of the bumps and bruises that come with any transformation from bad to good, those investing aren’t weighed down by past failure.

Point being, the Rebels have endured nine straight nonwinning seasons, totaling 105 games.

The most any player recruited by Hauck to UNLV has experienced is 16 games.

“It’s a question of resilience,” senior linebacker Nate Carter said. “In the past, there were guys here who settled into the mindset that we’d lose every year and that’s how things were. Those guys are gone now, and the seniors and younger guys have the same attitude of working hard and expecting good things to happen.

“It’s good that the younger players don’t know better because we can train them in a way that they don’t have a mindset of ‘This is what we do here. We lose.’ Now, the mindset is ‘What we do here is win.’ “

The Rebels won in stunning fashion last week, making a mockery of an 18½-point underdog’s role to whip Hawaii, 40-20. It is an unexplainable phenomenon of college football, how a team can look as bad as UNLV did in losing at Washington State by 52 the previous week to as sound as it did against the Warriors.

Crystal balls are for fortune-tellers at county fairs, so there is only so much Hauck can deduce from such a swing of execution. What he doesn’t want is a letdown tonight when the Rebels host a Football Championship Subdivision team in Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds are good enough that any lack of focus could put the Rebels in some peril they neither need nor desire.

“You can’t compare scores and games week to week,” Hauck said. “None of it applies. You just know teams that do the right things consistently have a chance to win. That’s our mantra: Be consistent with our play and do things right. Our goals are our goals. We don’t set anything that is unattainable.”

Of the Rebels’ 22 scheduled starters tonight, nine are underclassmen and three are redshirt freshmen. The offensive line doesn’t have a senior starter. The quarterback is a sophomore, as is the running back.

Of 22 backups, 15 are freshmen and sophomores.

Hauck has done a good job putting pressure on upperclassmen to keep their jobs and not expect to play based on class standing, a theme across both sides of the ball that has held juniors and seniors accountable.

The Rebels aren’t as bad as they looked in Pullman and probably not as good as they looked against Hawaii, but something in the middle should be enough to compete most weeks this season.

There are five remaining games (tonight, at UNR, Wyoming and New Mexico, and home against Colorado State) in which anything less than a chance at victory in the fourth quarter should be deemed unacceptable for the team that won so impressively at Sam Boyd Stadium last week.

The hurdles that will be games against Boise State and Air Force and San Diego State and Texas Christian still might be too high to scale, but the 40-point swing of a betting line that was last week’s showing proves there is ability within the UNLV roster.

Young as it is in many spots.

“Finding consistency with young teams can be difficult, but the thing about young teams is, the improvement from Game 1 to Game 10 can be dramatic,” Hauck said. “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’d like to improve each week. You try throughout the year to convince your guys we have a chance to be a good team, and having evidence on the scoreboard is a huge dividend for us.”

He and UNLV also hope it pays off as a huge dividend in the seats at home games. UNLV is a basketball school until proved otherwise, but young football teams that develop before the eyes of others have a way of endearing themselves to even the most apathetic of fan bases. The announced crowd for Hawaii was 21,248.

“There are football fans everywhere,” Hauck said. “My sense is those in Las Vegas want us to win. They do. If we can get it going, people here will wildly support us.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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