When it comes to home field, UNLV doesn’t have advantage

Paul Bessire is a wizard with numbers, a wunderkind when it comes to analyzing sports using mathematical principles. In June, the creator of PredictionMachine.com released a study on the home-field advantage in college football.

He used several elements to rank all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in terms of which owned the strongest edge when playing in front of its fans the last 12 years.

When the data was crunched, Oklahoma ranked first and Wisconsin second and UCLA third and UNLV … 26th?

Something we haven’t told you: The study considered performance against expected scores at home and on the road.

Oh. Now it makes sense.

The Rebels haven’t won a game away from Sam Boyd Stadium since 2009 and are 4-44 in such games since 2004, meaning the slightest appearance of a positive result at home helped them greatly in Bessire’s study.

Alabama ranked 106th and Louisiana State 108th.

Translation: The nation’s two best programs pretty much beat the snot out of people at home, on the road and in the parking lot. They’re dominant everywhere.

The Rebels play a fourth straight home game to begin this season tonight against Air Force, and the fast start many thought such a favorable schedule might produce has instead delivered more losing.

The bookend results – a
30-27 defeat in three overtimes to Minnesota and a 35-27 loss to Washington State – defined the sort of needed progress Bobby Hauck spoke about entering his third season as coach.

The nightmare novel in the middle, a 17-14 setback to Northern Arizona, didn’t.

It’s also what has people debating how long Hauck can keep his job.

Perception is crazy this way. I am convinced if the Rebels had beaten NAU, a Football Championship Subdivision team they had no business losing to, the other defeats would be viewed in a more positive manner and few would be debating Hauck’s status.

Minnesota could prove a bottom-feeder in a bad Big Ten Conference, and Washington State has every chance to be near last place in the Pac-12, but having an opportunity to beat both in the fourth quarter is improvement for UNLV over the last two seasons.

The joke against NAU isn’t.

“I’d be prouder if we were
3-0, but I am proud of the fact the guys have some persistence and determination,” Hauck said. “You find out a lot about yourself through adversity.”

The Rebels can count on more of it blocking their path in the coming weeks, when they play four of their next five games on the road after tonight.

I’m not certain, but Louisiana Tech, which hosts UNLV on Oct. 6, might already be up 14-0 on Hauck’s side.

That leaves a Mountain West Conference opener against the Falcons as perhaps UNLV’s best chance at victory for some time or, as they like to say around these parts, until New Mexico visits.

A positive: Hauck is 9-2 against the spread as a home underdog, which his team is by 10½ points tonight.

A not-so-positive: UNLV entered the season as the country’s seventh-worst home team since 2002 and is now
23-39 at Sam Boyd over that time.

The Rebels have posted winning records at home only twice in the last decade, and an 0-4 start to this season wouldn’t allow them a chance for a third.

Not to worry. If you believe Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, his team is about to encounter the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers.

“On defense, (UNLV) is as good as there is in the country, period, on third down,” Calhoun said. “In my gut, I think they’re better on third down than Alabama and LSU. I might be wrong.”

Might be?

Send in the clowns.

I now know the real reason Calhoun and his team didn’t speak to reporters following a close loss at Michigan, and it had nothing to do with getting back to academics.

If you’re going to say such foolish things, it’s better to keep them private. There is the typical weekly hyperbole by an opposing coach, and then there is the nonsense Calhoun spouted about UNLV this week.

He even said the Rebels have a good pass defense, which suggests those budget cuts for our armed forces included the videotape machines from which Calhoun would normally watch game film.

The Rebels might be 12th nationally in third-down defense, but they’re 99th in pass defense and 78th in scoring and total defense. Stopping people on third down doesn’t mean much when they’re scoring on first and second so often.

“We’ve had chances to win all three games and haven’t capitalized,” Hauck said. “We’ve come up short. But we’ve got to keep going, keep preparing.”

New Mexico doesn’t visit until Nov. 3.

If not tonight, it could seem like an eternity before the ’76 Steelers grab a win.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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