Winds of change could be gusting in Honolulu on Saturday night, when Bobby Hauck, a beleaguered football coach on the hot seat, guides UNLV into one of his biggest games of the season.
By definition, the Rebels have no truly big games remaining, as this season swirled the toilet bowl and got flushed long ago. There is this game, there is the rivalry against UNR, and then there is the waiting game to see if Hauck gets fired. In this one, Hauck heads to Hawaii with something to prove. He’s running out of chances.
Nearing the end of his fifth season, Hauck is 15-47 and close to posting his fourth two-win season. That’s pathetic, even by UNLV’s low standards.
“The Rebels are just awful,” said John Avello, Wynn Las Vegas sports book director. “The Rebels are a strange team. If you follow them, there are some spots you can see where they are a good play with the points. But I don’t know if I’ve got a good feel for them this week. It’s possible they will cover, but there’s also nothing to play for this week.”
But there is something to play for, and it’s Hauck’s job, which could be saved if he beats the Warriors and Wolf Pack to close November. It’s also possible he’s gone regardless.
Norm Chow is another coach on the hot seat. His three-year run at Hawaii has produced seven wins, 28 losses, speculation of the program being shut down and rumors of June Jones’ return.
Still, it says a mouthful that the Warriors are 10-point favorites over the Rebels (2-9) in the bottom game on Saturday’s betting board. With an 8 p.m. Pacific time kickoff, it’s the get-out game, and gamblers looking to salvage the day will be running to the windows late to wager on Hawaii.
UNLV quarterback Blake Decker, knocked out of a lopsided loss at Brigham Young last week, is banged up and leading a limping team to the islands, where two years ago the Rebels trailed 31-0 at halftime in a 48-10 humiliation.
“That might have been Bobby’s worst game two years ago,” said Bruce Marshall, handicapper for The Gold Sheet. “The Rebels have played poorly over there. If Decker takes a good hit and goes out, UNLV could lose touch. Chow is still fighting for his job. I lean to Hawaii.”
The Warriors, 3-8 overall and 2-4 in the Mountain West, are a strange team, too. A week ago, Hawaii stopped a 17-game road losing streak with a 13-0 win at San Jose State. The box score was bizarre to read. The Spartans never punted and had a 462-240 advantage in total yards, but they also missed three field goals and blew every scoring opportunity.
While the College Football Playoff committee members won’t be watching one second of the UNLV-Hawaii game, it will be one of the day’s most intriguing decisions at the books.
After Avello opened the Warriors as 9½-point favorites, the first limit bet he took was on the favorite. The line has moved to 10½ at some spots, which again says a lot about the beleaguered Rebels.
The weekly gossip surrounding the playoff rankings is becoming more relevant to handicappers because of the need for style points. The four teams in (Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State) need to keep winning big. The first six teams out (Texas Christian, Ohio State, Baylor, Mississippi, UCLA and Georgia) need blowout wins, too.
It’s time to run up scores, something Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer relishes. Ohio State has been bet to a 34½-point favorite over Indiana. Art Briles likes fat scores, too, and Baylor is laying 28½ points to Oklahoma State. The oddsmakers are adjusting to the scenarios.
“What’s happening is the bettors are taking it a step further and saying if Ohio State wants to make the four-team playoff, they need to win impressively,” Avello said. “I put it in the line a little bit.”
Florida State simply needs to continue winning, and no opponent in or out of the Atlantic Coast Conference has been able to prevent it. The Seminoles (10-0) sit behind two one-loss teams in the rankings because they never impress for four quarters.
“Florida State is playing inferior competition in a league that’s worse than the Big Ten, and that’s saying a lot,” Westgate sports book manager Ed Salmons said.
Jameis Winston has directed a series of stirring comebacks by the Seminoles, who are 17-point favorites over Boston College.
“Florida State has the best quarterback in college football,” Avello said. “That kid likes to live on the edge, on and off the field. But he’s poised, and when they need something, he gets it done.”
Hauck is living on the edge at UNLV. He went to a bowl last season and got a suspicious contract extension. I mistakenly thought he could win five games this season. Now, he’s twisting in the wind, and by midnight Saturday, his failed run might be done.
■ CLOSING NUMBERS — Arkansas and Northwestern boosted me to a 4-1 record in this spot last week. At 46-32 against the spread for the season, here are five picks for Saturday (home team in CAPS):
TENNESSEE (-3½) over Missouri; Northwestern (-1) over PURDUE; ARKANSAS (+3½) over Mississippi; NOTRE DAME (-3) over Louisville; UCLA (-3½) over Southern California.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.