If Sanford has no rants, UNLV could win raves

Mike Sanford insists he is going to stay off the field more during games this season, which is a good thing considering UNLV’s football team has an opportunity to flirt with its first winning record since 2000.

The last thing the program needs is to be denied such 7-5 glory because the coach draws a crucial penalty in the season finale against a San Diego State team that hasn’t been better than the Rebels in recent years but beats them anyway.

I suppose every now and then it would be amusing to relive Sanford’s 2006 postgame rant at Iowa State, with him running around the field and tripping over cables and keeping his team on the field for 15 minutes to argue a last-play call while victorious Cyclone players already were showering and making party plans.

But we have YouTube for Sanford’s role in the “Coaches Gone Wild” series, and aren’t all these positive thoughts floating around the program better than dredging up those forgettable ones anyway?

“We are excited to get started,” Sanford said. “There is a balance between confidence and humility. I do believe we have reason to be more confident, but we also have hunger and humility with confidence.”

The Rebels’ quest to remind their fans and themselves what it’s like to still be playing in December begins tonight against Sacramento State, a Division I Football Championship Subdivision team (Division I-AA to anybody over age 5) that Sanford was able to discover things to speak about for more than three minutes this week.

That was two minutes too long.

He is right about humility. The Rebels are 11-36 in four seasons under Sanford and have as much right to look past any opponent as some teenage qualifier would Roger Federer.

But if UNLV is to take the step of competing in the upper tier of the Mountain West Conference and developing a program the Poinsettia and New Mexico bowls can squabble over, it shouldn’t need to be warned of the dangers of a Big Sky team that has lost its last six season openers against Division I teams by an average of 42-6.

For everyone — Sanford included — who tells you Sacramento State lost at Colorado State on a last-second field goal in Week 2 last season, remind them the Hornets also finished 3-5 in the Big Sky and lost to Northern Arizona by 32 and were Idaho State’s only victim during a dreadful 1-11 season.

If you’re UNLV, you schedule these games for a reason, and it’s not to give a second thought about winning. Of course the Rebels will win because, well, imagine if they didn’t.

I might never again write on another topic.

“We have been in the process for a long time to learn who we are and what our identity needs to be,” Sanford said. “That process continues against Sacramento State. We need to start off with a win.

“There is a fine line between preparation and emotion. You want to play with emotion, but a lot of it is taken out if you do a great job preparing. That’s where we want our focus to be.”

Sanford hasn’t asked my opinion about where his team might finish this season, which surprises me given I have respected the fact he is a farmer who is said to be in bed by 9 each night and I haven’t telephoned with any insignificant questions.

But of 12 games, I really only see two automatic losses. One is at UNR, although I can only imagine how quickly that nutty Chris Ault fired whatever poor sap handled the scheduling and forgot to give the Wolf Pack its mandatory off-week before the UNLV game.

Instead, UNR hosts Missouri the preceding week.

Ault treats preparing for the Rebels like Alexander the Great did the Persian Empire, and I’ll have to see to believe UNLV can outcoach and outplay the Wolf Pack. Or at least tackle Colin Kaepernick once in 60 minutes.

The other certain loss would appear to be at Texas Christian, no great shame given how skilled the Horned Frogs are annually.

That’s not to say UNLV is going 10-2. I’m not convinced the Rebels can go 8-4.

But if they are as improved as they claim, there is no reason they can’t have a chance to win home games against an Oregon State team that is never as good in September as November, a Brigham Young team they hung with last season and a Utah team not nearly as dangerous as the 2008 edition.

Win just one of those, and there are enough bad teams remaining to make 7-5 and a bowl game a definite reality for Farmer Mike and his team.

Yes, the days of desperate postgame rants appear over and the Rebels have a chance to be good and entertaining, which beats bad and boring every day.

It’s sort of sad in a way, no? Sure, nothing beats winning, but little also beats that 2006 YouTube clip from Iowa State:

“We’re staying out here! We are staying on the field! This game is not over! I need to speak to the athletic director! I need to speak to the athletic director! We’re staying out here, guys!”

Tonight, UNLV attempts to begin a new journey and prove those wacky times are over once and for all under Sanford.

But, oh, how we will cherish them.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He also can be heard weeknights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on “The Sports Scribes” on KDWN-AM (720) and www.infernosportsradio.com.

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