Next year is going to be a big year for NCAA Football.
The BCS is going away, and a playoff will take over as the determinant of the nation's best college football team.
But how different will things be for my alma matter, UNLV? Well, they certainly won't be competing for a spot in those playoffs, and they probably weren't going to any bowls either. So the big question is: will they have a new head coach?
If you had asked me that question prior to the start of this year, I would have given an emphatic "Yes!".
Heck, I was ready to say "fire him" after last year's heartbreaking loss to Nevada
Bobby Hauck's first 3 years calling signals for UNLV has been less than satisfactory. Each year, the team has finished with a measly two wins, he hadn't won a single road game, and UNLV was prone to giving games away in the second half - even to teams that they should have beaten. The best thing that you could say about UNLV over the past 3 years is that they made some players on some division AA schools very happy! UNLV showed no improvement during those first three years, and in fact, the team seemed to be going backwards. Any hopes of a turnaround season were dashed by the third or fourth week of the season.
After the first five halves of football this season, it was looking like UNLV had fallen even deeper into a tailspin, and I had doubts that Hauck would last through the end of the season - let alone survive long enough to see the fancy new stadium be built.
But then things changed.
UNLV came out in the second half of their week three contest against Central Michigan and did something that they hadn't done in a very long time: win a game in the second half. UNLV overcame a 21-0 deficit and dominated the second half on their way to a 31-21 victory. It was a nice treat for those of us who stayed in the stands past half time (even though we had all given up too).
Caleb Herring has almost single-handedly saved UNLV's season.
Unfortunately, both he and star running back Tim Cornett are seniors.
The turning point was when Hauck pulled starting quarterback Nick Sherry from the game and replaced him with senior Caleb Herring. Herring has since then single-handedly saved UNLV's season. Since he took over as starting quarterback, the Rebels have won four straight games including their first road win in Hauck's tenure. Their streak finally ended against an overpowered Fresno State team that was ranked 19th in the nation. This match-up, surprisingly, was for sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference.
So where will UNLV's season go from here?
In just a few short weeks, Hauck's Rebels have done all the things that we've been waiting for them to do over the past four years:
- Win more than 2 games.
- Win a road game.
- Win a comeback victory.
- Hold onto a lead.
- Win the turnover battle.
- Play penalty-free.
- Make clutch defensive stops.
- Make clutch offensive and special teams scores to win games.
- Show sings of improvement.
It would seem that Hauck has cleared the checklist of accomplishments needed to save his job - but only if the Rebels have a respectable second half of the season.
This weekend, the team will have an opportunity to make one of the biggest statements to save Hauck's job: beat rival Nevada for the first time in nine years! If UNLV can accomplish that, and also win two of their final four games, they will finish with a winning record of 7-5 and be eligible for a Bowl Game. And two of those final four games are, in fact, quite winnable if UNLV can play up to the level that they did against Western Illinois, New Mexico, and Hawaii.
But a winning season this year might only prolong the innevitable. Hauck might buy himself one more year off the arm of Caleb Herring and the legs of Tim Cornett, but both of those players are seniors. Next year, Nick Sherry will be back in the role of starting quarterback, and that's a scary proposition.
Nick Sherry will need to regain his composure if he expects to be able to reclaim his starting job next season.
Sherry looked like he had completely lost all his confidence by the time he was pulled out of the Central Michigan game. Despite playing well in the first half against Minnesota, Sherry looked uncomfortable playing out of a pistol formation for the three games that he started. He also didn't look like he could handle the read option plays that Hauck was calling so frequently. Sherry obviously seems to be an under-center, pocket-passer. I don't know why Hauck thinks Sherry can manage a pistol-based read option offense, but Hauck needs to change that mentality if he wants to have any chance at salvaging Sherry's potential as a player. Trying to turn Sherry into an option quarterback is doing him a huge disservice, as he has looked quite competent as a pure pocket passer.
UNLV cannot win with Nick Sherry under center; unless he's physically under center! And if Hauck doesn't realize this, then it won't matter how well UNLV finishes this season; he'll be right back in the hot seat next year.