|Where's Moses Scurry?|
The Gophers open the 2012 season under the Thursday night lights (great show) at Sam Boyd Stadium. Since I'm going there to watch the game and potentially Ben Sanderson myself, I'm going to have to hit you with the game preview early in the week.
In many ways the UNLV football team is the Mountain West version of the Gopher football team. They're young and scuffling to make it out of the bottom of their conference standings and into respectability. Except that the Mountain West Conference seems to change each time you look at it and some of the better teams (BYU, Utah and TCU) have run off to other conferences. Hawaii, Nevada and Fresno State join the conference for 2012 and Utah State and San Jose State will join in 2013 after Boise State and San Diego State bolt for the Big East of all places.
The Sagarin ranking for UNLV is #140, while Minnesota is slotted at #82. Vegas books have Minnesota at a 8 or 8.5 point favorite. So, the Gophers are bound to roll, right? There are a lot of reasons to think that is possible or even probable, but if you're not gun-shy for this non-conference tilt you've probably drank away all memory of September 2011. Props to you for finding a way to obliterate those memories.
|Check the slacks!|
CoachesHead Coach Bobby Hauck enters his 3rd season after winning only two games each of the first two seasons.They've shuffled around the other coaches in a confusing game of musical chairs. The former DC is now assistant head coach and linebackers coach. Former assistant coach, defensive backs coach and "pass-game coordinator" J.D. Williams is now the defensive coordinator. The TE coach Brent Meyers is now the OC. If you didn't understand any of that, just know that they're the same dudes, but with different titles, which ALWAYS works.
|Marcus Sullivan Flails at an Errant Pass|
OffenseCaleb Herring has been beaten by RS Freshman Nick Sherry for the starting quarterback position. Sherry is big (6'5", 240lbs) and is more of a traditional pocket passer than Caleb. That could prove useful since UNLV was 118th in passing with just under 110 yards per game. *puke* UNLV has a couple of Junior RBs that are effective with Tim Cornett and the smaller Bradley Randle. Similar to the Gophers, there are a lot of young WRs looking to step forward, most notably Marcus Sullivan, Taylor Spencer and Marquis Thompson. Sullivan has been off the practice field of late due to injury and if he plays Thursday will not be 100%. The line is also very young with Boyko, Jefferson and Waterman starting as freshman last year; but at least they have experience now.
|Sidney Hodge will tackle your neck off.|
DefenseThe defense was 118th nationally in points allowed per game at 40.4. They were especially stinky in pass defense. Kellen Moore likely pleasures himself to his game tapes against UNLV. They do return a decent defensive back in Junior Sidney Hodge, so he can try and shut down one side of the never-ending waves of Gopher receivers that will be thrown at the Rebels. Senior John Lotulelei was the leading tackler at linebacker and has too many vowels in his name. UNLV also has this odd thing about moving QBs to the defensive side. A backup LB is a former QB and James Boyd, a transfer from USC is a DE. Boyd apparently has some upside at his new position. Tyler Gaston is a DT that is supposedly pretty good. I know this because I looked at the "blue ribbon preview" and he's the only UNLV player listed on the All Mountain West team.
|His mustache ride will end you.|
Who Wins?This game is less about the opponent and more about how much the Gophers improved in the off-season. This is an early litmus test, but it could set the tone for the entire season. A loss here and it's last season all over again -- a win sends them to a home opener against New Hampshire who just uses their football team as a proving ground for making the checking line on their pucks squad. Let's not get ahead of ourselves too much, but if the Gophers have a 2-0 start maybe the student section will stay for four quarters for game three vs. Western Michigan before jell-o shotting themselves into oblivion.
Can the Gophers show composure traveling to Las Vegas and imposing their will despite some potentially tough conditions? We've heard how much bigger and stronger the offensive line is. If this is the case, they should dominate on the ground and a more experienced MarQueis Gray should be able to use that to carve up the secondary through the air. The defense should be in Nick Sherry's face early and often. The veterans at linebacker and the man-beast that is Ra'Shede Hageman should control the run. This is a Rebels team that should not be able to match up. It's time for all of the work and preparation that the players and the staff and the media have all been talking about to show results on the field.
I expect the travel and first game jitters to make much of the first half too close for comfort for most Gopher fans. However, eventually I think the Gophers settle into control and take over this game. If you're joining me in Vegas I think the smart play might be a UNLV bet on the 1st half line if it's around +6 or +7 and a bet on the under 56. If the line stays at -8.5 or better, I'd even plunk something down on the Gophers, but that might be because I have a horrible addiction.