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Rebels not satisfied despite praise in preseason poll

UNLV picked by media to finish fifth in Mountain West — its highest preseason league ranking since 2004


Sam Morris

UNLV head football coach Mike Sanford speaks to the media during the Mountain West Conference Media Day on Tuesday at Green Valley Ranch. The Rebels were picked by the media to finish fifth in the league. It’s UNLV’s highest ranking in the preseason poll since 2004.

Mike Sanford

UNLV head football coach Mike Sanford speaks to the media during the Mountain West Conference Media Day on July 21, 2009. Launch slideshow »

2009 MWC preseason media poll

  • 1) TCU (15 1st place votes) -- 207 points
  • 2) BYU (6) -- 190
  • 3) Utah (3) -- 179
  • 4) Air Force -- 130
  • 5) UNLV -- 108
  • 6) Colorado State -- 107
  • 7) New Mexico -- 60
  • 8) San Diego State -- 53
  • 9) Wyoming -- 46

2009 preseason All-MWC team

  • QB -- Max Hall** -- BYU
  • WR -- Ryan Wolfe* -- UNLV
  • WR -- Rashaun Greer** -- CSU
  • WR -- Vincent Brown -- SDSU
  • RB -- Harvey Unga** -- BYU
  • RB -- Matt Asiata -- Utah
  • OL -- Zane Beadles* -- Utah
  • OL -- Nick Charles** -- AFA
  • OL -- Shelley Smith** -- CSU
  • OL -- Erik Cook** -- UNM
  • OL -- Marshall Newhouse** -- BYU
  • TE -- Dennis Pitta*# -- BYU
  • DL -- Jan Jorgensen* -- BYU
  • DL -- Jerry Hughes*# -- TCU
  • DL -- John Fletcher** -- Wyoming
  • DL -- Koa Misi** -- Utah
  • LB -- Daryl Washington -- TCU
  • LB -- Jason Beauchamp** -- UNLV
  • LB -- Stevenson Sylvester**# -- Utah
  • DB -- Chris Thomas** -- AFA
  • DB -- Rafael Priest** -- TCU
  • DB -- Nick Sanders -- TCU
  • DB -- Robert Johnson -- Utah
  • P -- Anson Kelton -- TCU
  • PK -- Mitch Payne -- BYU
  • Ret. -- Jeremy Kerley* -- TCU
  • Offensive POY -- Max Hall
  • Defensive POY -- Jerry Hughes
  • Special Teams POY -- Jeremy Kerley
  • Freshman of the Year -- Ed Wesley -- RB -- TCU
  • # denotes unanimous 2009 preseason selection
  • * denotes memober of 2008 All-MWC first team
  • ** denotes member of 2008 All-MWC second team

Tears in a football locker room aren't soon forgotten.

And eight months later, the UNLV football team still remembers those it shed on a Saturday night in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.

"I told them in the locker room — we had guys crying after that San Diego State game — I told them, the guys that are coming back should remember that feeling," Rebels coach Mike Sanford said at Tuesday's Mountain West Conference media day. "It's a horrible feeling."

His players listened.

"It still (stings) now," senior linebacker Jason Beauchamp said. "It's not gonna go away until the season's over this year."

And if the 2009 season plays out like the media has predicted, Beauchamp and his fellow seniors could have a much better memory to hang their hats on come winter time.

In the preseason poll released on Tuesday, the Rebels received 108 voter points, good for fifth place out of nine teams.

It's the highest UNLV has been picked to finish in the poll since 2004, when they were chosen fifth alongside BYU.

Still, it's easy for the Rebels to put in perspective, given the sour taste left from 2008.

"I am encouraged that the media would see that we've made progress, but on the other side of it, it doesn't mean anything," Sanford said. "It's before the season and it's all about what we do in the season and what we do on the field. The most important thing is where we are at the end of the season."

The media, however, has every reason to believe the Rebels will finish the 2009 season in a more positive fashion than they did in 2008.

A 3-1 start last year — including victories at then-ranked Arizona State and Iowa State — fizzled into a 5-7 finish. The Rebels had a chance to clinch a 6-6 regular season record and a bowl berth against San Diego State in the finale, but crumbled in a 42-21 defeat.

"You've gotta see it as a positive," senior receiver Ryan Wolfe said of the fifth-place prognostication. "It's a good thing to have some good things said about this program within the conference, but in no way, shape or form are we satisfied with fifth place. The goals of this team are much better than that. At the same time, it is better than past years, and we'll take that compliment."

Landing in fifth place — the Rebels took that spot by one point in the vote over Colorado State — ends a run of four years in which they've been picked in the preseason to finish no better than eighth in the nine-team league. That includes last-place spots in the last two preseason polls.

Sanford was signed to a three-year extension following the 5-7 campaign — which was an improvement from 2-10 finishes in each of his first three seasons at UNLV.

However, Mike Hamrick, the athletic director who originally brought Sanford to campus and signed him to the extension, left Monday to take the same position at his alma mater — Marshall University.

With a new administrative regime set to come into play, Sanford said, it will put no added pressure on him to live up to his new deal, which features a $225,000 buyout that the University can apply at any time.

"To me, that's one of those things that's taken care of on the field, and that's what I'm all about, is what we do on the field," he said. "I don't think it's an issue. No matter what, I have very high expectations for our team this year, so I'm putting that pressure on myself and my coaches and our team."

The table sets up well for UNLV, which has seven home games on its 12-game schedule. They also return several pieces of what last season was one of the league's most efficient offenses, led by quarterback Omar Clayton and Wolfe, who could own several Mountain West receiving records by season's end.

The top spot on the poll was nabbed — as expected — by TCU, which returns the core of a team that went 11-2 and defeated Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl.

The Horned Frogs took 15 of the 24 first-place votes, while six were grabbed by BYU and three by defending Sugar Bowl champ Utah.

Air Force is one spot ahead of the Rebels, while they're followed by CSU, who went 6-6 and was victorious in the New Mexico Bowl last season.

The final three spots are filled by the three MWC programs that underwent coaching changes in the offseason — New Mexico, San Diego State and Wyoming.

However, Sanford and his players repeatedly pointed out that their highest preseason slot in five years will not go to their heads.

But somewhere deep down, they could quickly admit that it's nice to look at.

"It just shows that the hard work hasn't gone unnoticed, that we're making changes and what we're doing is actually being shown now," Beauchamp said. "With coach Sanford being here for going on five years, it's a good thing to see him be successful, and the seniors like myself. It's good to see all those guys have something to show for their hard work and what they've put in."

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  1. Fifth?

    What an achievement.

  2. A preseason poll does not imply achievment.

    Did you even read this article or did you just go straight to the bottom to comment.

    Considering where this program has been recently, it's a step up from being picked last. Even if the typical Rebel football pessimist refuses to see it that way.

  3. I kinda think that was sarcastic...

  4. Thanks syderm...but maybe you should read my comment again. It was based on his sarcasm.