It is an annual trip during which the mind wanders through several small towns without a stoplight and over the minute dots of a Nevada map.
I’m just hoping the Sunset View Inn still offers cable TV and horse pens.
You never can have enough of both.
The final destination is a football field located at Broadbent Park in Ely, where for the eighth straight year UNLV has traveled for fall camp.
But during the nearly four-hour trip from Las Vegas on Friday — it takes that long if you follow the speed limit and are aware of all traps set by local authorities — it will be important to examine those storylines that best could define the coming season.
It all begins Aug. 29, when UNLV at Minnesota is one of several games that kicks things off and Bobby Hauck officially begins his quest to earn a fifth year as coach of the Rebels.
It’s a key local angle.
Here are some national ones to watch:
1. Ohio State … more wins or arrests?
It’s always fun to compare the number of victories for an Urban Meyer-coached team to those players incarcerated, given the 30 or so who were arrested in his time at Florida and the already handful of scoundrels discovered on his roster in Columbus.
But the Buckeyes went 12-0 during a bowl-banned season in 2012 and have a quarterback in Braxton Miller who is talented enough to win the program’s eighth Heisman Trophy.
If Meyer can get his defense to hit as hard on the field as some of his players reportedly do at bars off it, well, the Big Ten’s biggest bully might wrestle away that seven-year Southeastern Conference grip on the national championship trophy.
2. That’s a Clown(ey) prediction, bro.
Perhaps. Defensive players don’t win the Heisman. Charles Woodson seems forever ago.
But think about it: Manti Te’o finished second in the race last year to the most corrupt autograph signer in college history, and the Notre Dame linebacker compiled only 5½ tackles for loss and 1½ sacks.
Jadeveon Clowney is sure to have numbers far better again this season and probably will play with more focus than a guy dealing with a fake girlfriend.
Clowney had 23½ tackles for loss and 13 sacks as a sophomore for South Carolina and figures to rip his way into opposing backfields even more this year.
Put it this way — if Clowney played for the team Te’o did, he would win the bronzed statue in a runaway.
3. Is the best out West?
Could be. The SEC has the best team (Alabama), but the Pac-12 might own the deepest number of quality programs.
Oregon and Stanford are good enough to win a national title. Oregon State, UCLA, Southern California, Washington and Arizona State are good enough to own top-25 rankings for most, if not all, of the season.
Lane Kiffin is overrated enough to return 15 starters from recruiting classes that rated among the country’s top 10 the past three seasons at USC and still lose his job.
I digress …
It’s a long way from now to the Pac-12 being crowned the nation’s best conference, but not as long as the drive from Las Vegas to Ely.
4. Johnny Football Foolishness
I never imagined writing this sentence: Dez Bryant has become the voice of reason in football.
The Dallas Cowboys wide receiver is right. The NCAA is a hypocritical joke on disciplinary issues, and if Johnny Manziel escapes punishment from his autograph signing scandal, the fact Bryant lost the final 10 games of his Oklahoma State career for lying about having a legal dinner with Deion Sanders succinctly defines the mess that are those who govern college athletics.
Oh, a quick request: If a suspension is imminent for Manziel, let’s hope it comes after the Texas A&M quarterback leads his team against Alabama on Sept. 14.
That way, we get to see him against the Crimson Tide and the NCAA can uphold its reputation as one that regulates based only on the almighty dollars generated by TV ratings.
5. Calling coach Eric Taylor …
I’m not saying the fictional high school coach in “Friday Night Lights” could do a better job at Texas than Mack Brown lately.
I’m also not saying he couldn’t.
Those in Austin are sure this is it, the year their Longhorns return to the land of double-digit wins and a Bowl Championship Series game. Texas returns more starters — 19 — than any other school nationally and a nonconference schedule of New Mexico State, Brigham Young and Mississippi should have the team fat and happy and unbeaten before Big 12 play arrives.
But know this: Another eight- or nine-win season for Brown and not even some Vince Howard or Tim Riggins or Smash Williams magic will save the coach from getting sent off into a Texas sunset of (forced) retirement.
6. Finally, this is what will run through my mind as that authentic steam locomotive in downtown Ely comes into sight …
A year from now, college football will prepare for a season that will conclude with a four-team playoff, meaning the unjust and discriminatory cartel known as the BCS selection show long will be dead and buried.
I’m nowhere near convinced the new system will be any fairer to programs outside the Big Six Conferences than it has been to this point, but anything that even hints of better access has to be considered a major improvement.
As for the UNLV team working hard in Ely, let’s start with changing a blue cannon to red.
Progress, mind you, is relative.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.