COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Mountain West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Bobby Hauck, 4-21 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Myers | DEF. COORDINATOR: J.D. Williams
Bobby Hauck hoping Rebels show improvement in his third season in Las Vegas.
For the second straight year, Bobby Hauck enters fall camp with an unsettled situation at quarterback. The difference this time around is that the third-year Rebels coach has some options. Caleb Herring returns following an erratic sophomore season that saw him complete 55 percent of his passes in eight starts. He’ll be challenged by redshirt freshman Nick Sherry, who appeared to have a slight edge in spring practice, and senior Sean Reilly, a two-game starter in 2011.
Whoever gets the starting quarterback job will be handing the ball to hard-nosed junior tailback Tim Cornett, who will be attempting to lead the team in rushing for a third straight year. Cornett improved his yards-per-carry average from 3.8 as a freshman to 5.6 as a sophomore. Junior Bradley Randle and seniors Eric Johnson and Imari Thompson provide solid depth.
The offensive line, a major rebuilding project when Hauck arrived from Montana three years ago, returns all five starters. The group is led by a trio of talented sophomores — left tackle Brett Boyko, a second-team Freshman All-American, left guard Cameron Jefferson and center Robert Waterman.
Hauck must replace two longtime starters at wide receiver, Phillip Payne and Michael Johnson. However, the Rebels regain the services of explosive sophomore Marcus Sullivan, who redshirted last season after emerging as one of the nation’s top kickoff returners in 2010.
Third-year defensive backs coach J.D. Williams was elevated to defensive coordinator and faces the daunting task of trying to fix a unit that allowed a pitiful average of 40.4 points (118th in the nation) and 443.2 yards per game (105th).
The defensive line, pushed around badly in Hauck’s first two seasons, appeared to be the team’s most improved unit during a physical spring practice. Senior Trent Allmang-Wilder and juniors Alex Klorman and Tyler Gaston provide a solid foundation to the 4-3 base defense at tackle, while end Parker Holloway, a highly touted junior college transfer, should help improve a pass rush that managed only 14 sacks. Another key addition is USC transfer James Boyd, who spent most of the spring battling for the starting quarterback job but later switched to defensive end.
Seniors John Lotulelei, who is the leading returning tackler with 60, and Princeton Jackson return to lead a veteran linebacker unit.
The big key on defense is the secondary. The Rebels have to show significant improvement on the back end if they hope to make a move in the Mountain West. Junior cornerback Sidney Hodge is the only returning starter.
Junior placekicker Nolan Kohorst, who was 9-of-14 on field goals, returns, as does senior punter Chase Lansford, the son of former NFL kicker Mike Lansford. The Rebels have excelled in the return game under Hauck and should be even better this year with the return of Sullivan, who averaged 27.9 yards on kickoff returns in 2010 before redshirting last season.
Hauck hasn’t taken any shortcuts in trying to build UNLV’s football program, sticking almost exclusively to high school recruiting. That has meant taking a lot of lumps with a young squad in back-to-back two-win seasons. Expectations around Glitter Gulch are for a run at bowl eligibility in Year 3. That, however, could be asking for too much too soon. The Rebels will be better, but they could be another year away from returning to the postseason.