Rebels in for rough time at Wisconsin despite past success against spread


Photo by Aaron Mayes | UNLV’s lone preseason All-Mountain West selection Phillip Payne is one of 14 seniors the Rebels will be leaning on if they are to improve on last year’s 2-11 record.

I don’t have a clue what agent represents UNLV football coach Bobby Hauck, but this much I do know: After what he accomplished last week—brokering a two-year extension of Hauck’s contract—he should see a significant spike in his client base.

I just secured a two-year contract extension for a football coach who went 2-11 in his debut season, losing his final three games by the combined score of 142-55. Imagine what I could do for you!

I only hope Hauck’s deal includes an unlimited number of sessions with a shrink of his choice. Because not only are his Rebels (who have just 20 upperclassmen on scholarship) almost certainly headed for an eighth straight losing season, but Hauck will be fortunate to match last year’s two wins. And if he somehow doubles it, he should be a contender for national coach of the year.

The carnage figures to commence Sept. 1 when UNLV travels to Camp Randall Stadium to face No. 11 Wisconsin. Forget about springing a monumental upset; Terrelle Pryor has a better chance of getting an honorary doctorate from Ohio State than the Rebels do of beating the Badgers (who have won 15 straight home openers by an average of 18 points per game). The question is, can UNLV just be competitive? Check that: mildly competitive?

The oddsmakers definitely don’t think so. They’ve established Wisconsin as a whopping 35½-point favorite, with only Alabama (-36½ vs. Kent State) and Oklahoma State (-37 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette) being bigger favorites on opening weekend. To put the UNLV-Wisconsin point spread into perspective (and further illustrate just how miserable this season could be for the Rebels), consider these three facts:

1) Wisconsin opened its season in Las Vegas last year and won by “only” 20 points (41-21), failing to cover as a 20½-point favorite. With that, UNLV has cashed in four straight meetings with the Badgers since 2003, all as a hefty underdog of between 15½ and 25½ points.

2) Wisconsin hasn’t won a season opener by 35-plus points since a 49-10 victory over Division I-AA Murray State in 1999.

3) Prior to last year, UNLV had actually won four consecutive season openers (albeit against Idaho State, Utah State twice and Sacramento State). The last time the Rebels started with a five-touchdown loss? 1996, when they went to Knoxville, Tenn., and got carved up by some dude named Peyton Manning, losing 62-3.

Throw in the fact that Wisconsin struggled to beat San Jose State 27-14 as a 39-point favorite in last year’s home opener, and of course I’m grabbing the big points with the Rebels, right?

Uh, no. As noted above, there’s a good chance UNLV, with just 10 returning starters, will be even worse than last year, when it lost by 28 at Utah, 39 at West Virginia, 33 at Colorado State, 48 at BYU, 34 at San Diego State and 38 at Hawaii. The Rebels failed to cover as a big underdog in each of those defeats, making them 4-13 against the spread (ATS) in their last 17 games as an underdog.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin went 7-0 ATS to end last season, including an 83-20 beatdown of Indiana and a 70-23 blowout of Northwestern (it also trashed Austin Peay 70-3 early in the season). So the Badgers aren’t against running up the score on an inferior opponent.

One final note: When the Rebels got destroyed 62-3 at Tennessee to kick off the 1996 season, they failed to cover … as a 53½-point underdog! This game in Madison could be every bit as ugly. With my bankroll now at $7,086, give me $330 (to win $300) on Wisconsin minus-35½ points.

Here are the rest of my picks for the first two days of the college football season (Sept. 1 and 2).

$77 (to win $70) on TCU (-6½) at Baylor (Sept. 2): The negative for TCU: It lost 14 of 22 starters (including four-year QB Andy Dalton) from last season’s team that went 13-0, beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finished No. 2 in the polls. The positive: Coach Gary Patterson has gotten his program to the point where it reloads rather than rebuilds, especially up front. And that advantage in the trenches will push the Horned Frogs to a double-digit win at Baylor, which has lost three straight to TCU by the combined score of 99-17.

$55 (to win $50) on Mississippi State (-27½) at Memphis (Sept. 1): Mississippi State blasted Memphis 49-7 as a 21½-point favorite in last year’s opener, and now the Bulldogs have 16 starters back (including their top skill-position players) from a squad that went a surprising 9-4 in 2011. By comparison, Memphis went 1-11 last year and returns just nine starters. This is UNLV vs. Wisconsin Jr.