Sanford, LV Bowl have calls to make

The national glare on college football is its usual powerful November self, what with more BCS updates than holiday sales and those in South Bend buying out the town’s supply of toilet paper to wrap around Charlie Weis’ house and trees and car and anything else connected with the besieged and yet handsomely compensated Notre Dame coach.

But important things also are happening locally.

1. There is a telephone call UNLV coach Mike Sanford should immediately make.

2. Don’t count on the Las Vegas Bowl to select the best available Mountain West Conference team.

First, to a still aching leader of your 5-7 Rebels:

The area code to Albuquerque is 505. You have spent four seasons spinning that ”Price Is Right” wheel in search of a defensive coordinator who could make a difference. Three have tried and failed. It’s time to ask (beg) Rocky Long to be the fourth.

Long resigned as New Mexico’s coach after 11 seasons, saying he still wants to roam the sidelines as an assistant or coordinator.

He was a good enough head coach to make the Lobos bowl eligible seven straight seasons, but he’s at his best when exclusively running a defense. He did it at Oregon State and UCLA and couldn’t help but make the Rebels better when trying to stop others.

Returning eight defensive starters doesn’t mean much if few were good enough in the first place. The Rebels need to add more skill and be coached better everywhere, particularly on defense. They need someone who can quickly make junior college transfers into successful Division I players.

New Mexico finished 13th nationally in total defense in 2007 and 18th in 2001. It routinely sat among the league leaders in rush defense and sacks under Long. He can flat out coach that side of the ball.

Maybe better offers would come for Long. Maybe he wouldn’t be interested in UNLV. Sanford still needs to make the call, if he hasn’t already.

Think about it. Dennis Green is said to be in the running for the San Diego State coaching job (the former college and NFL coach has been teaching a sports management class at the university). Wouldn’t it be great if we were treated to a repeat of his most recognized rant following a UNLV win over the Aztecs next season:

"The Rebels were who we thought they were! A Rocky Long-coached defense! And we let ’em off the hook!"

Football coaches have bigger egos than Alaska has moose, but Sanford needs to put his aside and pick up the phone.

Maybe this time, that wheel will land on someone who can get the job done.

Next, to our favorite bowl executive director (Tina Kunzer-Murphy), who never shies away from a little healthy difference of opinion:

I understand all the reasons your committee probably will again invite Brigham Young to the Las Vegas Bowl, which will make it four straight years the Cougars and their fans spend pre-Christmastime here.

I understand they fill stadium seats like Springsteen and that Texas Christian would fill them like Lon Kruger does a notebook with fascinating quotes. I understand the bowl was created 17 years ago to ensure hotel rooms were occupied in a slow time and that no one is more eager to wait in check-in lines than BYU fans.

I get it. It’s one reason I never could serve on a bowl committee. I’d always want the best team available. That isn’t BYU out of the Mountain West this season, and it’s not close.

I prefer watching terrific teams when offered a choice. BYU isn’t terrific. It has a terrific offense, but it’s nowhere near the level of a great team. It defends much closer to the inadequacy of UNLV than first-place Utah, which is a good thing for whichever Pac-10 team the Las Vegas Bowl invites.

TCU beat BYU 32-7, and it wasn’t that close. TCU is terrific.

But while new blood is an appealing vision for those who have grown a bit exhausted of watching BYU make its annual winter trek this way, there are few sure things in such horrible economic times. The Cougars’ fans and their financial support of this bowl is one.

Which is why you know BYU is headed this way again, even though the selection committee won’t announce its decision until BYU and TCU are released from Bowl Championship Series consideration.

Which is fine, as long as our favorite bowl executive director doesn’t once insinuate she’s getting the best team.

She’s too smart for that. In fact, she’d be smart enough to call Rocky Long if he were available.

How smart is Mike Sanford?

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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