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Rebels Football:

Anatomy of an upset: Five ways UNLV could beat Wisconsin


Chris Morris / Special to the Sun

UNLV strives to be tougher on road

KSNV coverage of the Rebels football team as it prepares to take on Wisconsin in a tough road game, Aug. 31, 2011.

The Rebel Room

Football heads to Wisconsin; Rice adds another 2012 commit

Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer take a look at UNLV football's Thursday night opener at No. 11 Wisconsin, where the Rebels will head to as a five-touchdown underdog. While Bobby Hauck's program tries to continue its upward trend, Dave Rice and the men's basketball staff kept theirs going on the recruiting trail. The guys discuss the Monday night commitment from Bishop Gorman power forward Demetris Morant and much more.

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There is hope for UNLV headed into Thursday night’s opening game at No. 11 Wisconsin.

Hope the size of a snowflake in the desert, but hope nonetheless. It’s not going to take the biggest upset in college football history for the Rebels to stun the Badgers.

It would only come in as the most improbable college football outcome of the past three years, according to oddsmakers, so there’s that. In 2007, two teams that had higher numbers than the +35.5 attached to UNLV in local sports books triumphed over supposed powers.

Syracuse, a 37-point underdog, beat No. 18 Louisville by a field goal that year. Later, Pac-10 bottom feeder Stanford shocked No. 2 USC as a 41-point underdog.

An upset of this proportion isn’t unprecedented. It can happen. In fact, ESPN.com’s AccuScore projections indicate the Rebels have a 1.8 percent chance to pull off a victory.

Let’s badger into five ways UNLV could become the talk of the college football world by knocking off Wisconsin.

Karma for the Badgers

If Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema were a peewee football coach, the way he has treated undermanned opponents might spark a national outrage.

Let’s just say Bielema isn’t going out of his way to not run up the score and, no matter the margin, he’s in no hurry to get his starters out of the game. Not every kid would get a trophy in Bielema’s league. The man is politically incorrect.

Because he’s a college coach, fans are only mildly turned off by this mentality. In two of Wisconsin’s last three games last year, Bielema embarrassed inferior foes by pouring it on when the result was clear.

Wisconsin beat Indiana 83-20 and followed it with a 70-23 smackdown of Northwestern. Some theories suggest that behavior should catch up to the Badgers in a wicked way.

The lights go out — and they keep playing

Aside from UNLV’s victory at Wisconsin in 2003, Rebel fans remember the series best for a 2002 incident when the lights went out at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Only seven minutes remained in the game, so officials called it off and rendered Wisconsin a 27-7 winner. Is it really that far-fetched to foresee a similar scenario happening at Camp Randall Stadium? Probably, but if handled differently, it could work in UNLV’s favor.

Imagine if the two teams decided to play on. Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson’s arm would matter less if he couldn’t see whom he was throwing to. The Badgers’ four returning starters in the defensive front seven would spend a lot of time whiffing on tackles.

In essence, it would increase the luck factor substantially. It’s only fitting for that to work in UNLV’s favor after all the Wisconsin tourists who come to Las Vegas, sit down at a poker table and exclaim the age-old cliché “better to be lucky than good.”

Repeat of last year’s first half

If the NBA is where caring happens, then college football is where wackiness happens.

There’s usually a game or two per week where the statistics and play don’t match the results. Take, for example, UNLV’s first half against Wisconsin in 2010.

The Rebels had 12 total yards — 267 less than the Badgers — and one first down, but trailed only 17-14 at halftime.

It all evened out in the second half, as Wisconsin went home with a 41-21 victory. If that kind of good fortune could fall upon UNLV for four quarters in Madison, Wis., anything’s possible.

Win turnovers and special teams

Let’s be honest: The Rebels out-gaining the Badgers is about as likely as the University of Wisconsin banning beer and cheese on campus.

Luckily for UNLV, that’s not a necessity. Looking back on upsets of this magnitude reveals that most of the time the favorite still has more total yards.

But the underdog almost unanimously wins the battle in turnovers and special teams. There’s reason for optimism in both areas for UNLV.

Wisconsin ranked in the top 10 in the nation in turnover margin last year. That’s a statistic that’s nearly guaranteed to regress this season because the Badgers posted an unsustainable rate.

The Rebels held their own special teams-wise last season, and actually fielded a better kick return unit than the Badgers.

The Incredible Hauck

UNLV coach Bobby Hauck hasn’t forgotten the last time he coached at Camp Randall — not even a little bit.

Hauck was a defensive assistant on the 1995 Colorado team that opened its season almost 16 years ago to the day at Wisconsin. The Buffaloes and Hauck scored an emphatic victory, torching the Badgers 43-7.

Not many teams have solved the Camp Randall riddle since, as Wisconsin is 32-3 at home over the past seven years with Bielema at the helm. Maybe Hauck will channel his inner wizard and show off some magic or a secret to serve as the Wisconsin antidote.

Stay tuned.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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  1. Five ways UNLV could beat Wisconsin:
    1. Wisconsin doesn't show up for the game.
    2. through 5. See Number 1

  2. Who the hell keeps scheduling Wisconsin as the first game of the season? How many years in advance is the schedule set? Time to schedule some teams at the beginning of the season the Rebels have a chance to be competitive against and try and get some momentum going. Why do you think Wisconsin loves playing UNLV first game of the season? It's a practice/warm-up game for them. Having played this game I can tell you there is nothing more embarrassing and deflating then getting blown out in your first game of the season against a known powerhouse, especially in your own home stadium that is filled up with the oppositions fans. I am not saying this will happen and I hope UNLV does well, but the odds aren't in their favor as far as a win. Come on UNLV scheduler give these guys a break and a chance.

  3. Does rope-a-dope work in football?

  4. UNLV will not score in this game.

  5. UNLV need's to break this contract & start over playing much much much easier schools to get something going. Maybe in 4-5 years when they start winning against smaller schools then move up to play a powerhouse. The only good thing about them Wisconsin right now, is that it is an easy pick to take the over in my parlay for the week!

  6. The reason this game is played is because of the financial gain that comes with playing powerhouses. If fans want better facilities then these types of games are a must. UNLV will likely earn as much from this game alone as all others combined especially given that it is broadcasted on ESPN.

  7. Did none of these commenters read yesterday's scheduling story? Anyway, yes, it's going to be a rough game probably, but there's always hope. The one that pops out to me the most is FBS Appalachian State at ranked Michigan with 109k Michigan fans. Appalachian won that season opener.

  8. Agreed UNLV should not be playing this but the 500k payday is a nice check for the athletic dept. Although UNLV will be a little better than last year so are the badgers. Adding Russell as QB makes them a better team than last years IMO. The badgers should hang around 250+ yards rushing tonight & mix in a QB that can go downfield every play & scramble, its a wrap. Games over before the rebels even get off the bus. I think they cover the spread but lose by at least 28pts.

  9. Unfortunately there are about 5 billion reasons Wisconsin will beat UNLV.

    It's Vegas, baby. Never about winning. Losing is how it goes here (otherwise the casinos wouldn't be here...).

  10. 1. Don't show up for the game. 2. Call in sick. 3. Fake injuries. 4. Blame the media. 5. Tell the coach your mother don't want you to get hurt.

  11. Honey Badger Don't Care!

  12. i was thinking the same thing Wade.

  13. With some very good luck The Rebels can win

  14. Haha..Honey Badger doesn't care it just takes what it wants! Hey, what are the badgers eating after rebels...Cobra!

  15. The only way they can beat Wisconsin is if the Badgers get lost on the way to the stadium.

  16. Two words to victory: Gillooly Stick