To Bill Young, Las Vegas is not about gamblers, showgirls, magicians and Wayne Newton.
It's about football and only football.
"I probably went there about five times my last year at SC. I was there working," said Young, Kansas University's first-year defensive coordinator who recruited the Las Vegas area during the 1999-2000 school year for the University of Southern California. "I can tell you where the high schools are located. I'd be the last person to give advice on anything else. You can talk to my wife. She can tell you all the great places to go. She's been there way too many times."
Young, who worked as defensive coordinator for Paul Hackett at USC from 1997-2000, said the oasis in the desert was a fertile recruiting ground for high school players. In fact, 10 players on this year's UNLV team played prep football in Vegas.
"They have very good high school football," Young said. "Several players they have now are players we looked at at SC. Everybody outside of that state that hasn't spent much time there probably thinks it's just a gambling mecca, but it's a beautiful town/city, with good football."
UNLV football grew in stature in 1999 when former USC coach John Robinson came out of retirement to rebuild the Rebels' program.
"Having coached at SC and following him into that job, I know a lot about coach Robinson and his ability," said Young. "His teams play hard-nosed football."
The Rebels, who have gone 3-8, 8-5 and 4-7 the past three years under Robinson, are led by senior QB Jason Thomas, a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder who attended USC one year.
"Jason Thomas was a freshman when I was at SC. He was our scout-team quarterback, as a matter of fact," Young revealed. "He's a big, strong guy who can really move around. He went up and down the field on our varsity several times.
"He was a real phenom in high school. He could have gone to school anywhere in football or basketball. He broke his ankle the middle of his senior year. It carried over into the fall. Carson Palmer won the starting quarterback job. He (Thomas) saw he was behind the 8-ball as far as being able to start so he transferred to UNLV."
The elusive Thomas gained 83 yards rushing on 10 carries and threw for 138 yards with two interceptions in last Saturday's 27-7 home loss to Wisconsin. He's similar in many respects to Iowa State's Seneca Wallace, who completed 10 of 15 passes for 126 yards and an interception and rushed four times for 16 yards in the Cyclones' 45-3 win over KU.
A key to Saturday's game might be the running game. The Jayhawks allowed 277 rushing yards and 234 passing versus ISU.
"We're disappointed when we give up one yard, much less 277 rushing," Young said. "We've got to work to improve. They (Rebels) are a strong running team."