Our series previewing the opening opponent for each Big Ten team comes to a close with a look at what faces the league's reigning Rose Bowl participant. What can the Wisconsin Badgers expect to see Labor Day weekend? So glad you asked.
Week 1 Opponent: UNLV
Coach: Bobby Hauck (second year, 2-11)
2010 record: 2-11 (2-6, Mountain West Conference)
Returning starters: 11 (seven offense, four defense)
About the Running Rebels: UNLV played 23 freshmen last season (including 14 true frosh) in Hauck's first year, and the team will be young again this season, with just 15 scholarship seniors and only 10 juniors. They were in no shape to play Wisconsin, Utah, Nevada, West Virginia, TCU and Hawaii last year, and it showed in blowout losses to each of those clubs. Will things get better this year? Hauck has to replace his veteran quarterback and likely will do so with sophomore Caleb Herring. Leading rusher Tim Cornett and just about every receiver of note returns to an offense that struggled while transitioning out of the true spread run by former coach Mike Sanford. Only two starters and no seniors dot the O-line depth chart, and the defense will be -- you guessed it -- young at key spots.
Random factoid: Bryce Saldi remains listed on the UNLV active roster, and his locker is intact, but he's more of an inspirational figure to the Rebels than anything else. The senior linebacker suffered a serious brain injury in a skateboarding accident in 2009 and is continuing his rehab work in his native Texas.
Series with Wisconsin: Wisconsin leads 6-2. The Badgers won 41-21 in Las Vegas to open last season.
Totally unscientific percentage chance Wisconsin wins: 96 percent. UNLV is an FBS team that plays in a strong conference, so you can't completely count out the Rebels. But this is a program still in heavy rebuilding mode. Perhaps the players are too young to realize they shouldn't win in Madison. But odds are they will find out quickly why that is the case.
Previously in the series