Bronco Beat

Mountain West spotlight: UNLV hopes to continue historic turnaround

Note: For 11 straight days, I’ll post a brief team preview for each school in the Mountain West (except Boise State). I’m going in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the West Division.

UNLV REBELS

Coach: Bobby Hauck

Record: 13-38 (four seasons); 93-55 overall (11 seasons)

Last year: 7-6, 5-3 in MW

Last bowl: 2013 Heart of Dallas (L, 36-14 to North Texas)

Returning starters: 7/6/1 (offense/defense/specialists)

Story line: The Rebels won seven of their last 10 regular-season games last season to get into a bowl game for the first time since 2000. Now they’ve got their eyes set on back-to-back winning seasons — heights the program hasn’t reached since 1983-84. Three starters return on the offensive line and three more at wide receiver, but the top passer and rusher are gone. “Two years ago we were a pretty good team and just couldn’t win,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “To get over the hump and (hit) a lot of milestones at UNLV last year it was a good thing. We had only had three winning seasons in 30 years here. It set us up for this year.” Hauck, in fact, says this team could contend for the championship in a conference that lacks a clear-cut favorite this year. “For the first time, we can have it as a realistic goal to compete for a Mountain West championship,” he said. “We always had a goal to win the Mountain West but we never talked about it because it wasn’t possible. It was just words.”

Star player: Devante Davis (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) is the No. 5 senior wide receiver in the country, according to ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. Davis made 87 catches for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.

Quotable: “All that stuff about team and unity and commitment aren’t just words with our guys. It showed up. Their program is important to them. Their teammates are important to them.” — Hauck, on losing two players but no more when the NCAA ruled the Rebels were ineligible for a bowl for academic reasons and players could transfer without penalty (the bowl penalty was overturned)

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Email me at ccripe@idahostatesman.com.

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