The Early Glimpse: WSU vs. UNLV

AS FANS, we are big into comparisons. Washington State vs. Washington. The SEC vs. the rest of college football. The BCS vs. the bowl system. And an inevitable comparison figures to come up Friday when Washington State travels to Las Vegas to face the Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium. That is, Mike Leach vs. Paul Wulff.

I know, I know. Some of you have moved on. Don't ever want to read or hear Wulff's name ever again. There's a place on Leach Beach where you can bury your head for the rest of this column. But for others, WSU's game at UNLV is a realistic measuring stick.
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  • Wulff's Cougars hammered UNLV 59-7 last year. If WSU struggles Friday against this year's Rebels – or gasp, lose! – all hell figures to break loose in Cougar Nation.

    IT SAYS RIGHT HERE we don't expect a loss, or probably a close outcome, although the game is in Vegas. But after two less-than-stirring performances to start the 2012 season, a poor result against the Rebels is not going to go down well.

    UNLV is a must win for the Cougars, at least in the short term. Most Cougar fans signed on for at least a 2-1 start to the season. Anything less, particularly after a too-close-for-comfort win over Eastern Washington, and talk of 2012 being a bowl season will be muted.

    Sure, it's possible to win six games after a 1-2 start to the season. But if you can't defeat UNLV and struggle with Eastern Washington, beating Oregon State and Utah and others hardly seems reasonable.

    Frankly, my thinking on Leach and 2012 is short-term pain for long-term gain. I think the Cougars will be much better in six weeks than they're showing now.

    Growing pains with a radically new approach are to be expected. As long as progress continues, a win over UNLV – no matter how close – should be good enough.

    But be warned. Anything short of a runaway victory over UNLV is going to embolden the Wulff supporters (any who remain, anyway.) It's a fair comparison, but the true measure should be six weeks from now, when good teams play their best football of the season.

    The Kickoff: Washington State (1-1) at Nevada-Las Vegas (0-2), 6 p.m. Friday, Sam Boyd Stadium. ESPN to televise. The betting line is Cougars by 11½ points.

    About UNLV: The Rebels could easily be 2-0 this season, having lost both games by a field goal. Then again, UNLV hasn't exactly lined up against Alabama and USC. The Rebels fell to Big Ten doormat Minnesota in three overtimes, then lost 17-14 to the Big Sky's Northern Arizona.

    This is one sad sack program. UNLV has eight consecutive losing seasons, following a 6-6 campaign in 2003. The Rebels' collective record over the past eight-plus seasons is 22-75.

    There has been no improvement in performance since Bobby Hauck took over the program in 2010. The Rebels are 4-23 under Hauck, with losses to FCS schools (Southern Utah, Northern Arizona) the past two years.

    UNLV goes with a freshman at quarterback in Nick Sherry, who this season has completed 50 percent of his passes for 355 yards, one touchdown and three picks. The running game is led by junior Tim Cornett, who has cracked 100 yards in both games this season -- and over three seasons, he's averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

    Last year: Marshall Lobbestael threw for 361 yards and five touchdowns in the Cougars' 59-7 rout of UNLV in Pullman. Washington State led 35-0 at halftime, and was on the verge of a pitching a shutout until Cornett's 95-yard kickoff return during the fourth quarter.

    The series: Washington State leads the series 5-0. In the Cougars' lone trip to Las Vegas, WSU beat the Rebels 40-13 in 1991.

    Familiar faces: UNLV has two players from Washington on its roster, junior offensive lineman Brad Overand (Yakima) and freshman tight end Andrew Price (Blaine). Hauck has a loose tie to the state as he was a former assistant coach at Washington, under Rick Neuheisel. In fact, there's a lot of UW running through the coaching staff, as assistants Brent Myers, J.D. Williams, Brent Hundley and Dominic Daste all previously spent time on the Husky coaching staff.

    Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at

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