by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet,com Editor

Ater previewing the "Mountain" half of the Mountain West, we complete our look at the conference with a look at the "West" half of the loop, presented in predicted order of finish. Straight-up and pointspread records from 2012 are included for each team...


We’re going to ignore Fresno State’s (SUR 9-4; PSR 11-2) laid egg in last December’s Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, when the Bulldogs were surprising no-shows in 43-10 loss to SMU. After all, the game was played right before Christmas, and in Honolulu no less. Which bears little resemblance to the mostly desolate Central Valley landscape that surrounds FSU. We suspect that HC Tim DeRuyter had a hard time keeping the minds of his players on the task at hand rather than Waikiki Beach. Totally understandable. Besides, the opposing Mustangs had a bit of extra motivation, with former Hawaii and current SMU HC June Jones returning to the scene of some of his greatest triumphs at Aloha Stadium. We just wish we had some inkling before kickoff that the Bulldogs were about to go into a laid-back, Don Ho-like mode, as it would have spared us a losing recommendation.

But the bottom line in Fresno is that there was much more to smile about last fall, which can be traced directly to the arrival of DeRuyter, a respected defensive tactician at a variety of locales (most recently Texas A&M) before accepting his first head coaching assignment with Fresno. And 2012 was such a celebration at Bulldog Stadium that most of the famous “Red Wave” support group, as well as observers throughout the region, suspect DeRuyter might soon be off to greener pastures after making it onto short lists for vacancies at Cal and Colorado after last season’s Fresno revival. A renaissance that confirmed, if nothing else, that the Bulldog program had gone stale under predecessor Pat Hill.

Stale, however, is about the last description we would attached to the 2012 Bulldogs, who attacked with ferocity on the offensive end and with a keen disruptive ability on defense. Indeed, the thought these days around the Fresno boosters is to enjoy DeRuyter’s presence while they can.

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And, in truth, that lopsided bowl loss in Honolulu might have been the best thing to happen to the Bulldogs in their 2013 prep work, as that effort served as a rallying cry throughout spring, where regional sources report workouts were crisp and lively as DeRuyter’s troops acted as if they wanted to get back on the field as soon as possible (they’ll have to wait until August 31 and the opener vs. Rutgers) to erase the bad taste of the SMU defeat.

DeRuyter welcomes back a loaded arsenal on both sides of the line of scrimmage, as both the offense and defense return eight starters from last fall’s breakthrough campaign. Included in the mix is sr. QB Derek Carr, who resisted temptation to declare for the NFL Draft to instead return for one more season and etch his name into the Bulldog record books alongside such other past QB notables in Fresno as his brother David (a first overall NFL draft pick by the expansion Texans in 2002), Trent Dilfer and others. All Carr did in 2012 was pass for 4104 yards and 37 TDs while guilty of only seven picks out of the fast-paced spread that DeRuyter and o.c. Dave Schramm introduced last fall.

What is scary for MWC opposition is that all of Carr’s key receiving targets return, including homerun soph WR Davante Adams, who led the Mountain in receptions (102), receiving yards (1312) and TD catches (14) in his breakout frosh campaign. Speedball sr. Isaiah Burse and Plaxico Burress-sized target Victor Dean (at 6'6 even a bit taller than Burress) are also back in the fold after combining for 87 catches last fall.

DeRuyter also believes he addressed the one pressing issue with his offense by fortifying the OL with pre-cooked juco additions to fill three gaps in the starting lineup that were created by graduation losses. DeRuyter and Schramm are also aware that 2013 opponents might go to school on the blitz tactics used by SMU in the bowl game that could be mimicked by MWC foes this fall, hence the emphasis on OL upgrades. Regional sources also suggest the Bulldogs can withstand the departure of do-everything RB Robbie Rouse (1490 YR and 63 pass receptions in 2012), as versatile BYU transfer Josh Quezada and blazing soph Marteze Waller are likely to share carries and provide little overall dropoff for the infantry.

Indeed, we suspect the Bulldogs have a decent chance to improve upon their many impressive “O” numbers from 2012 that included 37.9 ppg (17th in scoring) and 478 ypg (good for 1th in total offense), at least as long as Carr stays healthy.

DeRuyter’s defensive chops had long been established before he arrived at Fresno, and he did nothing but put further gloss on his rep with the performance of last year’s heat-seeking stop unit that was near the top of the Mountain West in all meaningful stat categories while ranking high nationally in pass defense (2nd at a mere 167 ypg), forced turnovers (5th at 35),and sacks (9th at 40). Along with new d.c. Nick Toth, DeRuyter orchestrated the implementation of an attack-minded 3-4 scheme that gave Fresno a new identity.

All three starters return along the DL, led by All-MWC NG Tyeler Davison, and the depth and talent pool is deep enough at the LB spots that 2012 starters Patrick Su’ua and Jeremiah Tomma might not crack the starting lineup this fall. The secondary loses A-A safety Phillip Thomas (NFL Redskins draftee) but returns three other starters that include the MWC’s interception leader, FS Derron Smith, and both starting corners.

By the end of last season, and including the bowl game vs. SMU when Fresno was made a 12 ½-point favorite, the secret was out on the pointspread prowess of DeRuyter’s Bulldogs, who covered the number in 11 of 12 regular-season games and all six at Bulldog Stadium. Don’t be surprised if oddsmakers begin to place some hefty premiums on Fresno as was the case early in the preceding Pat Hill regime as well as the halcyon days of Jim Sweeney’s decorated tenure in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Also don’t be surprised if DeRuyter’s name is mentioned for more coaching openings after this season, as the schedule doesn’t appear to be overly daunting. Anything less than a 10-win season would be considered a disappointment by the Red Wave.

We weren’t convinced that Rocky Long was an especially inspired head coaching hire by San Diego State (SUR 9-4; PSR 8-5) after predecessor Brady Hoke made a quick escape to Michigan after the 2010 campaign. But Long, the former New Mexico HC and respected d.c at a variety of stops who was filling that same role on the Aztec staff before being quickly promoted as Hoke’s replacement, has mostly proven us wrong by keeping the Aztecs relevant and leading them to a pair of bowl games in his first two years on the job.

Now, he could have as many as 18 starters back from last year’s squad that scored a rare win over Boise on the Broncos’ blue carpet (and effectively ending Boise’s BCS chances) and closed the regular season with seven straight wins despite losing sr. Oregon State transfer QB Ryan Katz in late October with a broken ankle.

Long, however, realized that the challenge of 2013 (which includes a daunting early road test at Ohio State) would be better met by upgrading the aerial component of the SDSU offense, which seems an odd development considering the school’s football roots as the launching pad of iconic HC Don Coryell’s pass-happy attack in the ‘60s. The Aztecs ranked 103rd (only 176 ypg) in national passing stats last season, and jr. QB Adam Dingwell, who was more than serviceable in relief of Katz, also proved a bit mistake-prone and looked lost in the bowl game loss vs. the rugged BYU defense.

To that end, Rocky enlisted a former associate, one-time UCLA and Tulane HC Bob Toledo, who had filled the same o.c. role during the later stages of Long’s tenure at New Mexico. Toledo would like Dingwell to get more comfy throwing downfield (only 12 of his 144 completions from last season covered more than 20 yards), but losing the top three receivers from 2012 (including NFL Cowboys draftee TE Gavin Escobar) is cause for concern. It is hoped that sleek jr. WR Edzell Ruffin, a deep-ball threat who averaged almost 19 yards on his 17 receptions a year ago, can flourish in a more-featured role.

Long’s offensive philosophy has always stressed a punishing infantry, however, and to that end jr. RB Adam Muema (1458 YR and 17 TDs in a breakout 2012 campaign) will remain a valued component. One of Toledo’s goals is to also get Muema more involved in the passing game after catching just nine passes a year ago. Former Texas Tech RB and juco transfer Ronnie Daniels figures to add some explosive depth to the RB mix.

Of course, defense is always going to be the calling card of teams coached by Long, whose past pupils include Brian Urlacher from days at New Mexico. Long continues to employ the same, unorthodox 3-3-5 alignments that he used to great effect with the Lobos and elsewhere in a coaching career that included decorated stops as a d.c. at Oregon State and later UCLA (where, wouldn’t you know, Long worked for none other than Bob Toledo, most notably during the Bruins’ 10-2 year in 1997).

Among the nine defensive starters who return in the fall are the entire “front six” from the 2012 stop unit, suggesting that SDSU should at least be able to maintain the solid rush defense numbers (tops in the MWC at 133 ypg, and 28th nationally) from a year ago. As his platoons have done for the past 20 years, Long’s defense will continue to blitz from all angles and play man pass coverage. Expect more pressure after recording 32 sacks a year ago, with a seasoned LB crew that many in the region believe is the MWC’s best. Big-play LB Nick Tenhaeff recorded 13 tackles for loss a year ago, while 6'4 OLB Derek Largent could emerge as a pass-rush demon after recording 6 ½ sacks a year ago.

The main concerns for Long with his stop unit (for which he still serves as the d.c.) lie on the corners, where a pair of new starters will be on display as the Aztecs seek to replace another NFL draftee, big-play weapon Leon McFadden (Browns 3rd round pick).

Long, who sources say was thrilled (as were coaches in all sports at SDSU!) when the school wisely decided to withdraw from its proposed move to the Big East and stay in the MWC, will be tested by rugged non-conference dates in September at aforementioned Ohio State and at home vs. his long-ago employer Oregon State. But most of the key MWC battles (including those vs. Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada) take place at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Aztecs should have no trouble qualifying for a fourth straight bowl game, though their chances of getting involved in the MWC’s first title game as West champion will probably come down to QB Dingwell making necessary progress from the form he displayed in the bowl game meltdown vs. BYU.

Looking to catch some of the same lightning in a bottle as Stanford did six years ago when tabbing another U of San Diego head coach, Jim Harbaugh, to take over its football operations, San Jose State (SUR 11-2; PSR 11-2) also turned to the Toreros to find the replacement for departed HC (or was it miracle worker?) Mike MacIntyre, who moved to the Pac-12 and Colorado. "Coach Mac" climbed up the college football coaching ladder after last year’s breakout season in the Silicon Valley that has put the Spartans in much better condition to make the move from the WAC to the MWC than they might have been in most recent years.

While the connection to Harbaugh was not lost upon the long-suffering Order of Sparta booster group in the South Bay, new HC Ron Caragher’s hire was not met with universal approval in Spartan Nation, either. Some were expecting the new coach to come from MacIntyre’s staff in hopes of continuity after the school’s winningest gridiron campaign since 1940. Instead, AD Gene Bleymaier (a former UCLA TE in the Pepper Rodgers era who had also presided over the football renaissance at Boise State) opted for Caragher, also a former Bruin (as a backup QB) whose success at USD prompted Bleymaier to pull the trigger.

Caragher inherits a far superior situation than did his predecessor, but we suspect that eventual comparisons to MacIntyre might fall a bit short, as we rarely recall a dire situation being turned around as quickly as “Coach Mac” accomplished the past three seasons in San Jose. Inheriting a carcass of a program from Dick Tomey, MacIntyre quickly changed the entire culture of Spartan football, starting with an emphasis on weight training that enabled San Jose to better compete, and eventually control, the pits vs. most of the opposition. Even during MacIntyre’s 1-12 debut season of 2010, against a brutal non-conference slate, improvement was easy to notice. That updraft was confirmed in 2011 and especially 2012, when San Jose returned to bowl action for the first time since 2006, beating Bowling Green in the Military Bowl at Washington’s RFK Stadium.

MacIntyre’s Spartans were also pointspread powerhouses, covering 19 of their last 24 games on the board, including 11 of 13 a year ago. We know more than a few are going to be judging Caragher against those lofty accomplishments as well.

Still, Caragher has seen fit to tweak the formulas both offensively and defensively. The “O” will abandon the Pistol formation in which juco transfer QB David Fales was able to flourish a year ago when passing for 4193 yards and 33 TD passes. Caragher, noting the Spartans’ 106th ranking in national rush stats, would prefer a bit more balance offensively, and to that end installed a more pro-style attack in spring featuring a pair of RBs, a throwback concept not seen in San Jose since the last millennium. Easier said than done, perhaps, especially since 2012's leading rusher, Minnesota transfer De’Leon Eskridge (1025 YR LY), has graduated. Smallish Tyler Ervin, a 178-lb. kick returner of some repute but not durable enough for workhorse duty as was Eskridge, and spring sensation fifth-year sr. Jason Simpson figure to handle the bulk of the infantry workload in the new Caragher offense.

But a veteran and deep receiving corps that has amassed more than 500 career receptions might cause Caragher to consider a re-emphasis on the aerial fireworks that detonated throughout 2012, when the Fales-led attack ranked sixth nationally in passing. Accomplished wideouts abound, led by sr. Noel Grigsby, a smooth glider and already SJSU’s all-time leading receiver with 227 catches (82 of those a year ago) for 3015 yards. Deep threat Chandler Jones led the Spartans with 11 TD catches a year ago; junior Jabari Carr is an established possession receiver who caught 62 passes in 2012. Four starters also return along the OL, although a hole must be filled at the important LT spot (Fales’ blindside) after David Quessenberry was tabbed by the Houston Texans in the recent NFL Draft.

It was MacIntyre’s expertise on defense that was really reflected in upgraded performances from last year’s stop unit that bore no resemblance to the many previous Spartan platoons that had been routinely pushed around at the point of attack. Considering where it had ranked in previous seasons, SJSU’s ascent to 24th rankings in both scoring and total defense in 2012 are almost analogous to the many historic breakthroughs made in the nearby IT industry.

Although only five defensive starters return from 2012, much of the two-deep remains in the fold. No matter, new d.c. Kenwick Thompson, borrowing a change theme from the offense, has junked predecessor Kent Baer’s 4-3 looks, instead preferring a 3-4 alignment. Which in truth might be a better fit for the personnel on hand, especially after All-WAC DEs Travis Johnson (last year’s WAC Defensive MVP) and David Tuitupou both graduated.

The switch to the 3-4 should also better accommodate what appears to be the strength of the platoon at the LB spots, where returnees ILB Keith Smith and OLB Vince Buhagiar were 1-2 on the team in tackles last fall. Three new starters must also be plugged into the secondary, although ball-hawking CB Bene Benwikere (seven picks in 2012, ranking third nationally) can effectively cut the field in half. Former CB Damon Ogburn Jr. made a seamless switch to the FS spot in spring and could emerge as another playmaker in the secondary.

While the carryover and momentum from the MacIntyre regime should make for a rather painless transition to the Mountain West this fall, we are gong to withhold any judgements on the Caragher hire for a few years...unless, of course, the Spartans sink beneath .500 this fall, which would provide us with an early answer. But QB Fales and all of the offensive firepower should at least get San Jose back into the bowl mix, which should still be pretty big news in Spartan Nation.

The last time Nevada (SUR 7-6, PSR 4-9) replaced legendary HC Chris Ault on the sidelines in the mid ’90s, the Wolf Pack program descended into mediocrity under Jeff Tisdel and Chris Tormey before the “Little General” Ault, already inducted into the College FB Hall of Fame for achievements in two decades and a pair of prior runs as Nevada’s HC, decided to abandon his AD duties and instead return to the sidelines again in 2004.

It would be Ault’s third stint as head coach; he had first left the sidelines, following a celebrated 17-year run, after the ‘92 season, only to return after the following ‘93 campaign when replacement Jeff Horton quickly (and controversially) bolted to downstate UNLV after just one term. Ault merely won Big West titles the next two years in 1994-95 before moving back full-time to the AD office, where the Little General shepherded Nevada's move up the college FB food chain and into the WAC. But the on-field product had deteriorated before Ault (who was only 29 when first taking over the HC reins at his alma mater in 1976) once again rode to the rescue in 2004. By the following 2005 season, Ault had installed his progressive “Pistol” formation and the Pack would begin a string of eight straight bowl appearances, highlighted by a 13-1 campaign in 2010 and final ranking of 11th in the national polls, spearheaded by QB Colin Kaepernick (you’ve heard of him, right?).

But after the Pack mostly treaded water at 7-6 post-Kaepernick the past two seasons, and suffered a galling 49-48 New Mexico Bowl loss to Arizona last December when blowing a 13-point lead in the final two minutes, Ault decided to hang ‘em up. Some believe that a pending change in the AD position following Cary Groth’s retirement announcement might have had something to do with the timing of Ault’s decision, although many MWC insiders had suspected that the Little General was probably not going to stick around on the sidelines for more than another year or two anyway.

(Ault, by the way, hasn’t retired completely, hired by new Kansas City Chiefs HC Andy Reid as a consultant; Ault’s expertise in his “Pistol” creation, and role in the molding of Kaepernick into a potential superstar, almost guarantee that the Little General will be keeping himself busy the next few years).

Nevada, however, threw a bit of a curveball when naming Ault’s replacement, going outside of the program to tab Brian Polian for his first-ever head coaching assignment. If the Polian names sounds familiar, it should; Brian’s dad Bill has been an accomplished NFL front-office and personnel guru, and that connection to pro football was one of the factors in Polian’s favor when getting the job. Most recently, Polian had been coordinating the special teams for Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, after previous stints doing the same for both Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw at Stanford, and Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.

But many believe that Ault, who won 68% of his games with the Wolf Pack, was as close to indispensable as any coach in college football. With modest facilities and a limited budget, Ault nonetheless kept Nevada football afloat and relevant, not to mention avante-garde' as the creator of the much-mimicked Pistol The shared belief among many regional insiders is that Ault was able to mask many of the inherent shortcomings in the program. His act will be a tough one for Polian to follow.

To his credit, Polian immediately decided that Ault’s trademark Pistol offense, which had become so associated with the Wolf Pack (and, of course, former QB Kaepernick), had to be retained, and hurriedly went about wooing last year’s o.c. Nick Rolovich, once a Hawaii QB and well-versed in not only Ault’s Pistol but also the June Jones-influenced Red Gun, back into the fold. Upon Ault’s retirement, Rolovich had briefly accepted a similar position at Temple before doing a quick about-face and returning to Reno at Polian’s behest.

Thus, we’ll still see the familiar Nevada Pistol this fall, as well as the new face of the program post-Kaepernick, jr. QB Cody Fajardo, who has done a fairly good Kaepernick impersonation the past couple of years as the Pistol continued to fire live ammunition, ranking 7th nationally in rushing and 8th in total offense a year ago.

In fact, dual-threat Fajardo passed for 2786 yards and gained another 1121 YR in a Kaepernick-like effort last fall and might be the Mountain West’s most-exciting offensive weapon if he can remain healthy. Speaking of healthy, that would apply to homerun sr. wideout Brandon Wimberly, who returned from a life-threatening gunshot wound to lead Pack receivers with 70 catches last season. Along with jr. WRs Ricky Turner (60 catches LY) and Aaron Bradley (45 receptions in 2012), Fajardo has a plethora of established targets at his disposal.

If the Polian Pistol is indeed going to mimic the Ault Pistol, then it should be no concern that last year’s leading rusher Stefphon Jefferson, who ranked 2nd nationally with 1883 YR in 2012, departed early for the NFL and will be spending the summer in the Tenenssee Titans camp instead of Reno. That’s because a steady stream of RBs have flourished at Mackay Stadium over the past decade, and spring work indicated that high-profile juco imports Don Jackson and all-name candidate Superiorr Reid will be the lastest in a string of productive Wolf Pack backs. Jucos are also being counted upon to fill some gaps on the OL, where jr. C Matt Galas & sr. LT Joel Bitonio return as honors candidates.

While Polian has strived to do as little as possible to change the offensive formula, he has authorized new d.c. Scottie Hazelton (Southern Cal’s LB coach a year ago) to make sweeping changes on a stop unit that was could be graciously regarded as porous a year ago when conceding 34 ppg and routinely trampled vs. the run, conceding a whopping 212 rush yards pg (110th nationally).

Hazelton’s answer, at least at the outset, is to import many of the Monte Kiffin-influenced Tampa 2 schemes to Reno, although massive rebuilding is going to be required in the back seven, where only one starter (SS Charles Garrett) returns from 2012. Two graduated DBs were taken in the recent NFL Draft (S DukE Williams by Buffalo, and CB Khalid Wooten by Tenenssee), so there is some urgency attached to finding proper replacements, a process that will continue into fall camp. A couple of transfers from BCS schools, Ian Seau (ex-Kansas State) & Matthew Lyons (ex-Washignton), will compete for openings at the LB spots.

While the offense seems to be in good hands with QB Fajardo, the question marks on the defense qualify Nevada as a true X-factor in the MWC race entering the fall.

Polian’s special teams background will also come in handy as he looks to find a new PK for the departed Allen Hardison, a reliable 16 of 19 of FGs the past two seasons.

There’s also a chance that Ault took a look at the 2013 schedule and decided he had better things to do; road dates at ranked UCLA and Florida State will take place by mid-September, and most of the Mountain West heavyweights (Boise State, Fresno State, and San Diego State) will be played on the road. Polian, however, can at least endear himself to partisan local sports book patrons at the Silver Legacy or Harrah’s by reversing a recent downward spiral in Pack spread fortunes, including a 1-7 mark vs. the line the last eight at once formidable Mackay Stadium and just 6-13 overall the last 19 on the board.

When the smoke finally clears later this year, Polian will have done very well to simply get the Wolf Pack to a ninth straight bowl game.

It requires a long trip in the way-back machine to recall a coach who fashioned a winning record at UNLV (SUR 2-11, PSR 7-6). Try 1982-85 and the regime of the colorful Harvey Hyde, whose teams included a QB named Randall Cunningham. Since Hyde’s ouster, however, the Rebs have never lost fewer than five games in a season and have recorded just four winning records (and two of those at only 6-5) in the past 27 campaigns, causing some longtime regional insiders to wonder if UNLV can ever get its program straightened out...perhaps in time to save it from the gallows.

We’re not kidding.

If there’s a candidate among the current FBS membership to drop football entirely, it’s probably UNLV. It hasn’t helped that the on-field product has been so bad over the past quarter-century; how can a notoriously front-running group of local fans get excited about a program that hasn’t had a winning record or bowl visit since 2000, and has won exactly two games in seven of the past nine seasons? That the subject of dropping football entirely and moving the athletic program back into the Big West (where UNLV competed for much of the ‘80s and ‘90s) should come as no surprise; indeed, the idea has been championed by more than a few influential local sorts and might be gaining some steam among administrators who have also been forced to deal with Draconian budget cuts in recent years.

Many of the athletic department’s financial issues are directly related to the consistently poor football product put on the field by UNLV, which can be traced to a succession of blown coaching hires over the past 27 years. Of which, unfortunately, 4th-year HC Bobby Hauck might be the latest.

Well regarded in a prior highly-successful stint at Montana, and once a member of Rick Neuheisel’s staffs at Colorado at Washington, Hauck looked to be a worthwhile hire in the first official act of newly-minted AD Jim Livengood in December of 2009. In retrospect, however, Livengood might have been better-served to go with his second choice, the much-traveled Dennis Franchione, a noted program rebuilder who is currently in the process of resurrecting Texas State. UNLV’s program was admittedly barren after Mike Sanford’s dismissal following the 2009 season, but the Hauck hire has gone completely pear-shaped, as UNLV has won exactly two games on each of Hauck’s three seasons, and nary a one in 20 road efforts.

A score of two is great on a Par 3, but in regard to a football season wins, it’s the golf equivalent of three straight quadruple bogeys. Even those golf pros who had the most trouble in the knee-length rough at the recent US Open at Merion were able to score a little better.

Compounding Hauck’s dilemma are a series of off-season developments that cast an even-more ominous cloud over the upcoming season. They begin with respected AD Livengood, maybe the only person in Hauck’s corner in the entire city of Las Vegas who would have granted Bobby a fourth year on the job, resigning under pressure in the spring. And this after Livengood had issued a must-win edict (at least a 6-6 record and a bowl bid) for the fall; if Livengood was pro-Hauck and still issued that sort of ultimatum, how forgiving can interim replacement AD Tina-Kinzer Murphy expect to be? Sources also report that one of the reasons for Livengood’s departure was a dust-up with school president Neal Smatresk, who, according to well-placed sources, demanded an immediate upgrade in the football program and a dismissal of the coach if things didn’t turn around, reportedly by the third game of the season.

While no one in the region doubts the magnitude of the rebuilding job Hauck inherited from Sanford in 2010, and the signs of some palpable progress being made throughout the 2012 campaign, the Rebels collapsed once more at the end of last season, with humiliating road losses at Colorado State and Hawaii capping Hauck’s third straight 2-win effort. Another slow start from UNLV could put Hauck in lame-duck status or a candidate for dismissal before Columbus Day, in which case the Rebel season could go up in a mushroom cloud as the remaining staff sends out feelers for future employment and the players themselves wonder about scholarship renewals with a new regime on the way.

Hauck has yet to wave the white flag; indeed he made some last-ditch adjustments to his coaching staff in the offseason in hopes of somehow saving his career at UNLV (and perhaps the Rebel program itself). New o.c. Timm Rosenbach is a former decorated college QB at Washington State and NFL starter for the Cardinals, hired away from Hauck’s old employer Montana in the offseason, while the new d.c. happens to be Bobby’s brother Tim, who has worked on NFL staffs at Tennessee and Cleveland the past few years after a 13-year career as an NFL DB.

Rosenbach is tasked with eliminating some of the mistakes endured by promising QB Nick Sherry from his RS frosh season a year ago. A one-time Colorado recruit, Sherry provided a nice upgrade for the Rebel offense and was en route to setting conference passing records for a frosh before late-season injuries impacted him and an OL that could not stay out of the infirmary.

For Rosenbach, getting Sherry to cut down on his 17 picks is job one; increasing his promising haul of 16 TD passes in 2012 comes next.

The good news for Rosenbach is that Sherry’s supporting cast looks to be the best at UNLV since Hauck was hired, with a legit star RB in sr. Tim Cornett (1232 YR in 2012) and a squadron of deep threat wideouts led by rangy 6'3 jr. Devante Davis (61 catches last year) and explosive jr. Marcus Sullivan, also a top kick return threat. The OL is now manned by upperclassmen for the first time in Hauck’s tenure, and if nothing else the forward wall developed plenty of depth with the spate of injuries last fall.

Any offensive upgrades, however, could be all for naught if the “D” doesn’t make similar progress, which is asking a lot from a platoon that allowed 32.6 ppg a year ago (and that was an improvement from recent versions). In the offseason, Hauck hit the juco ranks hard as he looked to make immediate upgrades on the stop unit; several of those figure to be featured, including DE Efrem Clark & DT Pingo Moli.

What both Haucks need from the defense is for more playmkers to emerge after last year’s “D” forced only 17 turnovers, ranking a poor 95th.

While we expect the Hauck regime to extinguish, perhaps before the end of the season, it’s still worthwhile to highlight a few notable spread trends (from opposite ends of the success spectrum) at UNLV. Hauck’s road woes are well-documented, including the 20 straight road losses and 3-17 spread mark in those games. The Rebs, however, have been a righteous 11-3 as a home dog for Hauck, something to keep in mind when Arizona visits Sam Boyd Stadium on September 7. We’re not sure Hauck will be around the next time UNLV is made an underdog at home.

In relative terms, Norm Chow’s honeymoon as football coach at Hawaii (SUR 3-9; PSR 5-7) lasted about as long as the one experienced not long before by Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries. For years a bridesmaid when looking for head coaching jobs after a decorated career as an offensive coordinator, Chow finally got his shot in his home state last season, but was wondering what he got himself into by midseason when the Warriors (who have, by the way, reinstated the “Rainbow” nickname in front of “Warriors”) were getting blown out on a consistent basis, and locals began to grow wistful at the thought of the preceding Greg McMackin regime, never mind the glory days under June Jones earlier in the past decade.

Chow managed to finally steer Hawaii to a couple of impressive wins over admittedly limited opposition (UNLV and South Alabama) at Aloha Stadium at the end of the season, which at least gave partial hope to the islanders that Chow might have finally gotten the Warriors to turn the corner. But many Mountain West observers aren’t convinced and suggest that ’ol Norm doesn’t have a lot of time to win over a notoriously demanding support base that ran McMackin off the islands the previous year. Indeed, Hawaii football is one of the nastiest fishbowls in college sports, as there is nowhere for a coach to hide from the football-mad populace unless wishing to take refuge on the desolate former military bomb target island of Kahoolawee.

Chow also didn’t win many friends in Honolulu by junking the high-flying Red Gun offense that June Jones had first brought to the islands and was retained by his successor McMackin. Instead, Chow preferred a more-traditional look that would, among other things, employ a TE, once considered an extinct species at Aloha Stadium. No more of the four-wideout looks that had become commonplace for the Warriors the past decade, either.

Chow might have eventually regretted that decision, as the results were often unsightly last fall, as Hawaii ranked near the bottom nationally in total offense (118th at 297 ypg), and would have been close to the bottom in scoring, too, if not for the late-season eruptions vs. UNLV and South Alabama. Chow’s best alternative at QB was Duke transfer Sean Schroeder, who was under constant siege (suffering 35 ot the 40 sacks Hawaii allowed) and completing barely 50% of his throws.

There is hope that Ohio State transfer QB Taylor Graham (son of former Buckeye and NFL QB Kent Graham) can provide an upgrade in the fall, although Graham hasn’t taken a snap in a competitive game since high school in 2009.

Chow, however, has decided to go back to something more similar to the Jones/McMackin Red Gun looks with a full commitment to the spread, although the early August exit of new o.c. Aaron Price (son of former Washington State & UTEP HC Mike Price) puts Chow back in the play-calling role to help implement the more aggressive schemes. Chow's other staff additions of onffense include a new OL coach (Chris Naeole) and QB coach (Jordan Wynn, a recent Utah QB who played under then-o.c. Chow with the Utes in 2011). A ongoing concern, however, is if the WR corps can gain the sort of separation from opposing DBs that prior Warrior wideouts used to provide; the best of those, sr. Billy Ray Stutzman (35 catches LY), is more of a possession-type receiver. It is hoped that spreading the field will also allow more running lanes for slamming 240-lb. jr. RB Joey Iosefa, a classic downhill runner who has had problems staying healthy the past two seasons.

The issues were not much better a year ago for the defense, which was overrun on numerous occasions but admittedly got little help from the inept and mistake-prone offense. Defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer welcomes back eight starters, although one of those won’t be star CB Mike Edwards, a former Tennessee transfer and also a star kickoff returner who led the nation in that category a year ago, but instead left early for the NFL and is spending summer in the New York Jets camp. Pass defense, with Edwards in tow, was surprisingly good last season, ranking 11th nationally at 183 ypg, although opponents still moved easily most of the time because the rush “D” allowed nearly 200 ypg.

Kaumeyer, however, believes he has a bit more to work with than at the same time a year ago thanks to the experience on hand, and to that end expanded the playbook in spring. Kaumeyer was also experimenting with all sorts of LB combinations in his 4-3 looks; whatever Kaumeyer decides, rest assured Art Laurel, who missed spring while rehabbing from knee surgery after leading the MWC in tackles for loss with 13 ½ last season, will be somewhere in the mix.

Kaumeyer also might have some difference-makers at DE, where Beau Yap (expected to be 100% by fall after a foot injury suffered in spring practice) returns as a force and will be joined by UCLA transfer Iuta Tepa. But whether the “D” has enough playmakers to improve upon the very modest 19 TOs forced a year ago remains to be seen.

Unfortunately for Chow, the schedule provides him with no breaks, with five 2012 bowl teams on the slate at the outset, including Pac-12 foes Southern Cal (one of Chow's former employers, which visits Aloha Stadium) and Oregon State (at Corvallis) out of the chute.

It’s doubtful the Rainbow Warriors can be any worse than they were in 2012, but the key to any real improvement likely rests with new QB Graham, who remains something of a mystery.

After all, his head coach has had three different jobs since the last time Graham took a snap in a real game!


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