How starved are UNLV football fans for a winner?
Well, after the team's final scrimmage at Sam Boyd Stadium, many in the estimated crowd of 1,000 actually stood and applauded.
It's been a long time since any Rebel football team has garnered much applause. UNLV has gone a decade since its last bowl appearance, a 31-14 thrashing of Arkansas in the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl under Hall of Famer John Robinson.
New head coach Bobby Hauck, who compiled an 80-17 record and three trips to the FCS championship game in seven seasons at Montana, will try and change that.
It won't be easy despite the fact the Rebels return eight starters on both offense and defense from a squad that finished 5-7 in both 2008 and 2009.
Hauck is making the transition from spread offense to a more traditional I-formation team without the benefit of a true pocket passer or big-time running back. Heck, much of the spring practice was spent trying to find players who could excel at fullback or tight end, two positions that were pretty much extinct in former head coach Mike Sanford's offense.
Then there is the matter of having to play 13 regular-season games for the first time in school history, including nine against teams that played in a bowl game last season. Five of those teams -- Wisconsin, West Virginia, TCU, BYU and Utah -- could very well begin the season ranked in the Top 25.
So it's understandable if Hauck tried to low-key expectations after the spring practice finale.
"I don't think we've learned to play well yet," Hauck said. "The execution is not sharp enough. Certainly the way we played today wouldn't get us a win in the fall."NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback Omar Clayton, who has started for most for the previous three seasons, returns for his senior year. He enters the 2010 campaign ranked sixth in school history with 4,742 yards and needs just 256 more yards to pass Jason Thomas for fifth place. Randall Cunningham sits atop the list with 8,020 yards.
--Junior wide receiver Phillip Payne has already compiled 14 receiving touchdowns in his career. The all-time school record-holder is Henry Bailey with 24 (1991-94).
C John Gianninoto -- The 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior seemed to thrive in the transition to a more power running attack. He should anchor one of the Mountain West Conference's better offensive lines which features four returning starters including all-MWC left tackle Matt Murphy.
RBs Bradley Randle and C.J. Cox -- Both seemed to disappear last season after much preseason hype by ex-head coach Mike Sanford. But Randle (5-7, 190), the redshirt freshman son of former big leaguer Lenny Randle, appeared to be a legitimate home run threat after breaking off several impressive long runs in scrimmages while the 5-11, 190-pound Cox thrived as a between-the-tackles runner and was arguably the team's most improved player in the spring.
S Mike Grant -- The 5-10, 185-pound senior got lost at times in the team's cornerback shuffle last season but quickly adapted to the switch to free safety in the spring, filling a glaring weakness for the Rebels.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we've improved dramatically since day one. But I don't think we're playing well enough to play our schedule. But we're making progress." -- New UNLV head football coach Bobby Hauck after his team's final spring practice.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Rebels came up just a game short of the .500 mark in each of the two past seasons under ex-coach Mike Sanford. With 16 starters back, it would figure UNLV might be a dark horse to finally make it back to a bowl game in 2010. But the Rebels face a brutal 13-game schedule that includes nine teams that played in bowl games a year ago headlined by Big Ten heavyweight Wisconsin, Big East power West Virginia and in-state rival Nevada. Toss in road trips to BYU and Utah and a home date with TCU and the Rebels might be lucky to get to the five-win mark again in the first year of the Bobby Hauck era.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: New offensive coordinator Rob Phenicie will keep parts of Mike Sanford's spread option attack out of necessity. But the main focus in spring football was making the transition to a more traditional power running game featuring tight ends and a fullback again. Senior quarterback Omar Clayton and junior Mike Clausen seemed to become more comfortable with throwing from the pocket as the spring went on but neither displayed a big-time passing arm. However, keep an eye on redshirt freshman Caleb Herring (6-3, 175) who showed potential star quality both running and passing the football.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Rebels will run a 4-3 base defense under new defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson. Senior linebackers Starr Fuimaono and Ronnie Paulo both should vie for all-conference honors as well as senior defensive lineman Isaako Aaitui (6-5, 305), who could have an NFL future with a big senior season. The Rebels appeared to improve their tackling dramatically during spring drills. They needed to after allowing a dismal 220.6 yards per game on the ground a year ago.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Lots of questions here heading into fall camp. Nobody seemed to step up either at punter or placekicker to replace steady Kyle Watson (42.6 punting average, 9/14 FGs). Look for highly-touted true freshman Nolan Kohurst of nearby Green Valley High School in Henderson to get a strong look at both spots.
DE B.J. Bell -- The younger brother of 2007 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Beau Bell was expected to be a top pass rusher for the Rebels in 2009 after transferring from Santa Ana (Calif.) College. However, he was forced to redshirt after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.
RB Bradley Randle -- The son of former major league baseball star Lenny Randle redshirted as a freshman but should be an explosive addition to the offensive backfield next season.
WR Marcus Sullivan -- The 2008 Nevada state player of the year sat out last season after failing to meet school academic entrance requirements. He's an explosive runner and former prep track star who could also make a contribution on special teams.
--Junior quarterback Mike Clausen, who is battling senior Omar Clayton for the starting spot, missed the spring scrimmage finale with a concussion. Clausen did not attend the scrimmage which led to an ill-fated rumor that he had quit the team, a rumor head coach Bobby Hauck quickly laughed off. Hauck said Clausen had returned home for the weekend to attend to a "personal matter."
--DE B.J. Bell, who underwent shoulder surgery in November for a torn labrum, did not take part in spring drills but is expected to be ready for fall camp. The 6-2, 260-pound junior transfer from Santa Ana (Calif.) College was a J.C. All-American two years ago and is expected to add some life to a pass rush that managed just 15 sacks a year ago.
--Senior defensive tackle Ramsey Feagai suffered what was believed to be a partially torn left MCL in the team's final scrimmage.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010