David Fox Rivals.com College Football Staff Writer
UNLV hopes a coach accustomed to winning big will turn around a moribund program.
Administrators replaced coach Mike Sanford with Bobby Hauck, who amassed only two fewer wins last season (14) at Montana than Sanford did in his five-season tenure (16).
Of course, Hauck won big in FCS, not the Mountain West. Still, his resume is impressive. He won at least 11 games in five of the past six seasons and made three appearances in the FCS national title game. Hauck's worst season as Montana's coach (8-4 in 2005) is better than any mark at UNLV since 2000.
The Rebels will look to Hauck to turn UNLV into a competitive program in the Mountain West starting this spring. He will have 16 returning starters and some intriguing pieces on offense, but there's still a long way to go.
Here's a look at UNLV as it opens spring drills.
Quarterback Omar Clayton could be headed for a breakout season.
Coach: Bobby Hauck Last season: 5-7 overall, 3-5 in the Mountain West
Spring dates: March 15-April 17
UNLV returns two quarterbacks with starting experience, led by Omar Clayton. Clayton appeared to be on the way to a breakout season after throwing 18 touchdown passes in nine games in 2008, but he regressed last season, with 13 TD passes and 12 interceptions. If he can return to form, the offense should be dangerous. The Rebels return four starters on the offensive line and WR Phillip Payne, who could be poised for a breakout season as Clayton's No. 1 target.
HELP IS NEEDED
UNLV fielded one of the worst defenses in the nation, ranking 112th in rush defense, 115th in total defense and 117th in tackles for loss. The defensive front struggled to pressure the quarterback and now must deal with the loss of its best lineman, DT Martin Tevaseau. Payne's development into an unquestioned No. 1 receiver will be critical, too. The Rebels lost star WR Ryan Wolfe and two other senior receivers.
THREE GUYS TO WATCH
DE B.J. Bell: The Rebels hoped the junior college transfer would contribute last season, but a shoulder injury cut his season short in the fourth game. The need for a pass rusher still is there, so UNLV needs Bell to return at full health.
RB/WR Bradley Randle: He's a 5-foot-8, 190-pound dynamo who could become an important playmaker. He redshirted as a freshman last season to improve his blocking. He's also the son of former major-leaguer Lenny Randle.
TE Anthony Vidal: Under Sanford, UNLV had little use for the tight end. Hauck's more-traditional offense certainly will need one, but the tight ends combined for only seven catches last season. The Rebels signed Vidal, a three-star junior college prospect, to produce immediately.
ON THE SPOT
QB Omar Clayton: He is loaded with potential, but he could be looking over his shoulder this spring. First, he's going to have to learn to take snaps under center in Hauck's pro-style offense after playing in the shotgun in Sanford's spread option. The Rebels also have viable candidates behind Clayton. Mike Clausen has been solid in limited duty (2-2 as a starter) and redshirt freshman Caleb Herring may have the best arm on the team.
UNLV is starved for a winning football team. Sanford may have improved things slightly: The Rebels' 10 wins in the past two seasons was the best two-year total since 2002-03. UNLV will look to Hauck, a proven winner in FCS, to get the Rebels over the hump. Revamping the defense should take up a lot of Hauck's time this spring.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.