Ron Kantowski:

Rebels’ win raises a few what-ifs

Imagine what would happen if UNLV were to win its last two scheduled games


Sam Morris

UNLV quarterback Omar Clayton scrambles under pressure from Colorado State defensive back Elijah-Blu Smith during the first half of their game Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Rebels won, 35-16.

Colorado State vs UNLV

UNLV beats Colorado State 35-16 in Las Vegas Saturday night for the Rebels' first home win over the Rams in school history, keeping their bowl hopes alive.

UNLV vs. Colorado State

UNLV quarterback Omar Clayton scrambles under pressure from Colorado State defensive back Elijah-Blu Smith during the first half of Saturday's game at Sam Boyd Stadium. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

CSU POSTGAME: A successful snoozer for UNLV

Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Rob Miech break down a 35-16 victory for the Rebels over Colorado State which was a bit tough to watch at times, but at the end of the day kept UNLV's 2009 season relevant for at least another week. Plus, a sneak peek ahead to next week's test at Air Force, where it's do-or-die all over again.

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UNLV kept its bowl hopes alive against CSU. Can it do the same next week at Air Force?

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Next game

  • Opponent: Air Force (6-3)
  • Date: Nov. 14, 3 p.m.
  • Where: Colorado Springs, Colo.
  • TV: The Mtn. (Cox Ch. 334)
  • Radio: ESPN 1100 AM
  • All-time series: Air Force leads, 10-4

As I sat in the Bono seats — the rickety bleachers at the summit of the stadium, which, with rare exception, get occupied only when U2 is in town and never, ever get occupied when the UNLV football team is in town — I had a thought that might be frightening to whatever devoted Rebel football fans remain.

The UNLV football team was doing what it was expected to do for the second time in three weeks — three if you count getting blown out at TCU. The Rebels actually were routing an inferior opponent, putting a 35-16 beatdown on hapless Colorado State (where art thou, Sonny Lubick? Where art thou Bradlee Van Pelt?) two weeks after putting a 34-17 beatdown on hapless New Mexico. Suddenly the Rebels weren’t looking so hapless themselves.

UNLV’s record has inched ahead to 4-6 — which, true, is not what you want at this time of the year. But it looks a lot better than a lot of us thought it was going to appear after the Wyoming, Nevada-Reno and Brigham Young debacles, which is what I was thinking from my perch atop the Bono seats.

I was in the nosebleed section and so my nose began to bleed. And my head began to spin. And nearly explode.

Usually Mike Sanford and Ryan Wolfe manage to confuse and confound us once a year by beating somebody they have no business beating, such as Utah two years ago or Arizona State last year, even if, at the end of the day (and especially at the end of the season), the Arizona State win didn’t seem all that impressive. The Sun Devils would go on to lose six consecutive games. But, if you will recall, a lot of us were ready to proclaim the UNLV program fully turned around the morning after that victory in Tempe and anoint Sanford a college football deity, or at least one of its fairly decent coaches.

So with the Rebels meandering closer to the edge of the road to respectability than they have been since splitting close games against Oregon State (which isn’t that bad) and Hawaii (which isn’t that good) way back in September, what happens if they go into shock-the-world mode and win at 6-3 Air Force on Saturday? And then come back from the bye week and beat San Diego State?

That’s the scary thought. That’s what made my head spin and nearly explode.

That would make Mike Sanford and Ryan Wolfe 6-6. That would make Mike Sanford and Ryan Wolfe bowl eligible. That would cost UNLV money, because if you think UNLV fans are going to purchase the 12,000 tickets or whatever the Penny Ante Bowl requires from its participating teams so one can finish 6-7 on the Mizlou sports network you weren’t sitting in the Bono section against Colorado State and examining the broad expanse of empty aluminum bleachers below.

But should the Rebels finish 6-7 it also would give President Neal Smatresk and interim athletic director Jerry Koloskie or his full-time successor something to think about.

Everybody reckons that should Mike Sanford and Ryan Wolfe go to a bowl game it would be a great reward for the latter, who quietly has become one of the most outstanding pass receivers in UNLV history, although, if I’m doing the reckoning, not quite as outstanding as Keenan Mc-Cardell.

And everybody seems to reckon that would enable Sanford to keep his job for one more year. Frankly, I don’t remember anybody with the authority to make such a decision actually saying it. It could be just a presupposition. It could be that we in the press just made that up.

Maybe David Ashley said it, but the former UNLV president is gone. Maybe Mike Hamrick said it, but the former UNLV athletic director is gone, too.

The last time Neal Smatresk weighed in on Sanford’s job approval rating, he said he was considering it week by week. That was, well, weeks ago. Jerry Koloskie said his position was he wouldn’t have one, at least not while the Rebels are still bowl eligible. He still doesn’t have one. He also didn’t say, at least not that I recall, that Sanford’s job was safe if he produced the minimum requirement of victories recommended by the Penny Ante Bowl committee.

It shouldn’t be, not when you consider all those empty seats and that the Rebels are no closer to respectability — at least not against the good teams and Wyoming — than they were when Sanford took over five years ago.

But think about this: Had Sanford and Ryan Wolfe not stubbed their collective toes at Wyoming and were they to play UNR, BYU and Utah at the end of the season instead of in the middle of it, they might be, like, 7-3 now, and somebody might be extending Sanford’s contract again for no apparent reason, as Hamrick did last year.

It’s a scary thought that can make your nose bleed and head spin and/or explode, if you let it.

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Previous Discussion: 26 comments so far…

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  1. I certainly don't want to root against the Rebels any week as the young men who play here are worthy of our support. However I worry the history of low expectations will prevail at UNLV if they go 5-7 or 6-6; and Sanfrod will stay. I have no personal animosity towards him as many seem to, but I believe he is not only a poor football coach, but a poor communicator and leader. He has lost all respect and support of the fans and boosters. I can say there is zero chance I would buy another 2 season tickets next year if he comes back, which I believe is the sentiment of many. No BYU or Utah games at home next year to boost attendance either.

  2. Even if UNLV did magically get to 6-6 (which they won't) the president should step in and reject the bowl bid. The team doesn't deserve to go to a bowl game with the way they have performed this season, no 6-6 team deserves to go to a BOWL GAME EVER!

    Sacramento State is a win that shouldn't even count. They aren't even in our division. It is an exhibition game at best.

    Hawaii is horrible and we barely beat them by 1 point at HOME. Terrible team.

    New Mexico is the worst program in Division IA (FBS). To even consider that a win is disgraceful.

    Colorado State is a team that has given up and already are firing members of their coaching staff and looking towards next year. Colorado State is a miserable team.

    If UNLV beats SDSU that is nothing to brag about. The Aztecs have a 1st year coach and are one of the worst teams in the country.

    If UNLV did get to 6-6 the only real win would be over AIR FORCE and no way is UNLV going to beat Air Force. UNLV won't even stay within 20 points of Air Force! You can kiss any bowl ideas GOODBYE this Saturday when the Falcons roll us at their place.

    UNLV is a very bad team. VERY BAD. With horrible coaching.

    I say we reject a bowl bid now and make it clear that even if barely eligible at 6-6, UNLV will not be going to any joker bowl game. We don't deserve to go and the kids shouldn't be rewarded for the miserable play they have shown on the field this season. This bowl talk is a joke. They won't even have 5,000 UNLV fans at Sam Boyd Stadium for the final game vs. SDSU and we are talking about going to some worthless bowl that we don't even deserve?

  3. To paraphrase Jim Mora;
    Bowl game? You kiddin' me? Your talkin' to me about a

  4. Sanford's made a nice comeback. Give him some credit.

  5. No 6-6 team should ever be going to a Bowl game. Since when has it been considered a victory to reward medocrity? Yes the Rebels did beat CSU, but they are still a very bad football team coached by a very bad staff. Does anybody actually believe that UNLV can stop Air Force's rushing attack or stop the verticle passing attack of SDSU? One thing that UNLV has never showed they can do under Sanford is stop the option, the dive play, or anyone who passes the ball beyond 20 yards.

    Even if there were a miraculous finish and somehow the entire cosmos was alligned perfectly and the rebels win out Sanford still needs to be fired. I know I speak for thousands of Las Vegan's when I say I meant it when I said I will never spend another penny on a unlv football game as long as Sanford is coach. After the Wyoming loss that was it for me, that was the final straw that broke the camels back. I am sick of his pre & post game talks, I am sick of seeing his coaching blunders every game, I am sick of him not playing the players that should be starting and starting the players that should be polishing the bench, I am sick of seeing his teams underachieve, quit, and get blown out, I am sick of all of it. I am results oriented, 5 years is 3 years too many to build a winning football program with todays talent around the country at the prep & JC levels!!

  6. I know coaches at NYFL that are better preparers and coaches then Sanford!! Until UNLV has a President that is results oriented and demands nothing less then 9-12 wins a season unlv will never succeed at football.

  7. I hope they win out and if they do, absolutely they deserve to go. The kids have played their hearts out on the field, for the most part, and deserve to be rewarded for it.

    The dysfunction of their coaching staff and administration isn't the kids' responsibility or their fault. If they get invited, UNLV should play, even if it's a money losing proposition for the school.

    Seems like wishful thinking though. AFA is overrated, no doubt, but seems more than good enough to handle a UNLV team that has been playing better the past few weeks than it did in October.

  8. Even if the Rebels go to Colorado Springs and beat Airforce, with a bowl game on the line against SDSU there will be LESS than 10,000 fans in the stands. Half of which will be SDSU fans. And this is the reason and only reason RUNNIN' REBELS vs. Louiville that same day at 1 pm. Not too many are going to go down to Sam Boyd after watching the Runnin' Rebels beat down louiville. GO REBELS!

  9. Louisville will work UNLV this year. If it stays in single digits it will be a miracle.

  10. If somehow, by the grace of Randall Cunningham's ministry, UNLV wins out, they should go to a bowl game. Believe me, there are plenty of "undeserving" teams out there who will get that opportunity with mediocre records. But, seriously folks, who are we kidding? Air Force will blow through the Rebs like an F-14 down a runway. The season ends on Saturday, as should Sanford's coaching career. Although I'll never root against the Rebels, and was happy to see them win a winnable game last weekend, it's too little too late. I'm hoping the AD interviews consist of questions regarding who will replace Sanford as head coach.

  11. What if Old English (of malt liquor fame) sponsored the No Self Respect Bowl for .500 teams? Wouldn't that be great for the Rebels to go to a bowl game. Hooray, hooray! After all, any bowl game means that our hero Sanford is a great success. After all, isn't the dirt parking lot all the example you need for decades of institutional apathy? If the Rebels get a bowl game, the UNLV administration will have some green seats installed at the 'Silver Bowl'.

  12. Let me first say, I do not believe UNLV will beat Air Force. I think they have a shot. They've been playing better lately, but I don't see it happening.

    However, IF they do win out, it creates an interesting predicament. Some of the fan base will come around if they pull the upset. I can only speak for myself, but if they are 5-6 with bowl eligibility on the line, I'll be there for the SDSU game.

    If they somehow went to a bowl game and won, they can't fire Sanford, and they shouldn't fire Sanford. Taking the team from how low it was after three straight blowouts, to 7-6 with a bowl win and a fourth place finish in conference would be a remarkable turnaround performance.

    We all think Sanford is a poor coach, but the door is still open for him to prove us wrong.

    Having said all that, I fully expect a loss to Air Force, probably by about 15, and Sanford will be shown the door after the season.

    I would love to be proven wrong.

  13. UNLV still gave up 200 yards on the ground to a pourus CSU rushing attack. Sanford still has no clue, I was listening to him today on 1100am and the guy is clueless. He made this statement on the air, "remember when I took this job we were a bad footbll program". I couldn't believe I heard that. What do you mean "WE WERE" a bad football program we still are. Since when has UNLV arrived?

    Just because you play your heart out you dont deserve crap no team deserves anything. Bowl games are priveleges that must be earned by elite universities not for teams that are underachievers. A 6-6 team is completely lowering the standard of excellence and it does not make teams push to be the best they can be. What's next stop keeping score so that there are no losers and we all can feel good about ourselves?

  14. actually the "Bono" seats had quite a few people in them for the all the preceding games until Sat. night.

  15. Sanford's handicaps as a Head Coach are:

    1. Sanford is a poor leader. He doesn't communicate effectively, nor does he hold people accountable when necessary. He provides no inspiration and plays the excuse card virtually every week.

    2. Sanford does not understand the value, nor the concept of defense in any capacity (nor do his hired assistants), as demonstrated each of the five years he's been here.

    3. Sanford goes haywire in pressure situations and mismanages games, i.e. calling for the fake on 4th down when nobody was being fooled, or getting delay of game out of a time out to kick a game-winning FG.

    4. Sanford intentionally neglected contacting Rocky Long about running the defense in Las Vegas. Whether Rocky would have accepted the UNLV position or not is irrelevant, and we'll never know. But as a fan, that bothers me.

    5. Sanford set the bar higher than anyone when he first arrived here, so what does that tell you??

  16. I also will never root against the Rebels, be it in football, basketball or tiddly winks. I also don't realistically think we will beat the Falcons. I think Sanford is a good offensive coordinator, but a horrible head coach. There are a lot of coaches, for both college and pro teams, that should not have the head job.

    I hope the next "regime", i.e. AD & football coach, can turn things around.

  17. CSU, with a losing record, had more students at the game than UNLV.

    The "fans" sitting next to me, right behind the Rebel bench, left at halftime because it was "too cold" at 65 degrees.

    The "fans" in the concourse following the game mocked and name-called the CSU coordinators who had just descended from the tower showing them the class of Las Vegas fans.

    I've never seen worse fans at any school in the NCAA and I've seen games in over two dozen different stadiums. The denizens of Las Vegas doesn't deserve a winning program.

  18. NEVER BEATING AN IN-STATE RIVAL in 5 attempts would get a coach lynched in other states. That is grounds enough for firing in my book. I want UNLV to win every game every year, including these last 2 games, but Sanford has to go either way. Besides, the script is the same this year as in the last few years. No matter the outcome at Air Force, they'll loose to SDSU...

  19. Sam Boyd is smeared with drunken thugs every game.

  20. This would be the worst team to ever play in a college bowl game should it by some miracle actually happen.... which it wont.

  21. The Prophet just had a revelation. Half time score this Saturday will find UNLV winning by 7 in a low scoring game. The game will go down to the wire. If Clayton scrambles EVERY TIME he can't find an open receiver instead of forcing the ball into coverage, (waiting for defenders to go 20 yrds down field) on the final drive, UNLV will win. For you betters, here is your lock, take UNLV. They will win or come close tying. Let it be written, let it be done!

  22. We beat a bottom-feeder team. So what? People are acting like we have a shot at a BCS bowl game or something. The coaching still sucks, and Sanford and his staff still need to be fired.

  23. Its not the kids all should be ashamed of call yourselves rebel fans? most of yall dogging our team...never give up....and i shouldnt be rewarded with mediocrity...but for UNLVitll be a dream come true....yes mike sanford isnt the best coach...but you still have to support this team..hell be gone anyway...and you call yourself fans? its terrible when you only get 15'000 in a 36,000 stadium..and its been like that too......everyone needs to step up/.....rebels/air force was a great game last year..i expect unlv to pull thiis out...GO REBELS

  24. As far as the comments about 6-6 teams going to bowl games, face the facts that PAC 10 and other conferences who go 6-6 are not turning down a bowl invitation.

    Right now, the focus on San Diego State vs. Wyoming has as much to do with a bowl bid than anything UNLV does. Wyoming finishing at 6-6 is a more attractive team than UNLV and has already beaten them head to head. SDSU, the team that makes a Coaching change and is smart enough to hire Rocky Long as D Coordinator, comes from only winning 2 games last year and now is competing for a bowl bid.

    That is progress. UNLV getting in really is not progress, it was expected and should not have been a sweating it out situation.

    Note SDSU understands that they need to improve their defense and they hire someone who always had his New Mexico teams in games due to his defense. Why Sanford did not understand that a hire like this would make sense is beyond comprehension.

    Air Force is 17 point favorites. Do they get better recruits than UNLV does? Or is it that they are always better Coached than most teams?

    The bubble will burst this weekend for Sanford and we can move on with making this Coaching change.

    Nevada is going to a bowl which only makes it more important to make this move right now.

    The numbers that Ryan has put up should be commended. We all hope for him to have a great bowl season hopefully getting an invite to the Senior Bowl. That is a more important bowl game for him than going to any with UNLV as far as his career goes.

    When you have the PAC 10 playing only 3 non conference games and a team goes 6-6 going to a bowl game should not be frowned upon. When you look at Rutgers - getting 5 non conference games against Army, Howard, Florida International, Texas Southern, Maryland - lay the points against them in any bowl matchup as they dont deserve to be in a game. That is a joke.

    Las Vegas Bowl - Cal vs BYU anyone? Jahvid Best playing his final game in Vegas. That is a game worth saving money to go see instead of UNLV SDSU with the Rebs out of it.

  25. Ron - I cannot tell from this article, but do you have a problem with Ryan Wolfe? All of the "Mike Sanford and Ryan Wolfe" comments seem to be out of place. How can anyone have an issue with someone who obviously has a great work ethic. I can see having an issue with Sanford - I think he should go myself, but I for one would never root against the team? Or single out a great player the way you did. I used to like the Sun (thought it was better than the R-J), but after this article, I can see why the Sun is little more than an a half-dead insert in the R-J.

  26. Rebelfan:

    I love Ryan Wolfe. Not sure how you arrived at the conclusion I don't. The reason I used Mike Sanford and Ryan's names together is that they have become the headliners of this season, for entirely different reasons.

    And even if you didn't like the story, it would be unfair to judge the Sun on the basis of just one story, doncha think?