The end of a long hot summer is finally within sight. June, July, and August are memories. September has arrived.
It's time for the two most beautiful words in the English language: college football.
The kickoff of the college football season provides a clean slate for the imagination of fans everywhere. Every team starts the season undefeated. Delusional fans are free to fantasize.
This is the year.
This is the year their team makes history. This is the year that will be so remarkable it will inspire a major motion picture. This is the year their college football dreams come true.
Sadly, by January reality will have knocked us all back down to Earth. Talk of potential and excitement eventually gets replaced by talk of injuries, missed opportunities, and egregious officiating errors. Inevitably, we succumb to the disappointment of what could have been.
Therefore, now is the perfect time to be a fan.
Throw logic and realistic expectations out the window. Invest ridiculous amounts of hope and support in your team now. Magical as a football season can be, it will never match the wild imagination of a die hard homer.
The following is a week by week preview of what could only occur in the mind of the most foolish of UNLV fans. Feel free to substitute your favorite team and their opponents.
Ultimately, it is much more fun to lie awake, salivating at the prospect of what could be, than to restlessly dwell on what could have been.
September 5, 2009 - Sacramento State vs. UNLV
Opening night arrives and Sam Boyd Stadium is buzzing with excitement. The buzz reverberates throughout the numerous empty metal bleachers. Coach Mike Sanford looks nervous, as his team can ill afford to lose their opener to “lowly” Sacramento State.
It wouldn’t take long for Sanford to calm down, as speedy Michael Johnson returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. It was all downhill from there, as Omar Clayton threw for a school record six TDs, picking apart the overmatched Hornets secondary before being pulled in the third quarter. The Rebels cruise to an easy 62-10 victory.
September 12, 2009 - Oregon State vs. UNLV
Week two brings a much anticipated matchup with No. 23 Oregon State. The Beavers looked sharp in a week one blowout of Portland State. The Rebels have their hands full with the Rodgers brothers, but Oregon State is unable to slow down the Rebel’s potent passing attack. Regulation ends with the score tied 34-34.
Each team nails a field goal in the first overtime. Jacquizz Rodgers scores his fourth TD to put the Beavers ahead in overtime two. After an Omar Clayton sneak makes the score 44-43, Clayton turns toward the UNLV sideline and holds up two fingers.
Coach Mike Sanford shrugs, and then nods. Clayton hits Ryan Wolfe over the middle for the game winner. Sanford would later admit he was confused about the rules of overtime, or he never would have gone for it.
September 19, 2009 - Hawaii vs. UNLV
The last time Hawaii came to town, Colt Brennan led his team to an easy 49-14 victory. This time around the roles are reversed. Omar Clayton tosses a pair of scores and the Rebels coast to a 38-13 win.
Ironically, after being cut by the Washington Redskins, Brennan has signed on to be the third string quarterback of the Las Vegas Locomotives.
September 26, 2009 - UNLV vs. Wyoming
The Rebels travel to Laramie to take on the 1-2 Cowboys. The Rebels led 10-7 at halftime, but after a holding penalty on the second half kickoff, they start at their own nine. On 2nd-and-9 from the ten, Clayton hands the ball off to freshman tailback Bradley Randle.
Randle breaks a tackle at the line of scrimmage and takes off up the right sideline for a 90 yard touchdown. In the 4th quarter, Wyoming refuses to go away, but with time winding down and the Cowboys driving, UNLV linebacker Jason Beauchamp’s sack and fumble recovery seal the victory, 20-14.
October 3, 2009 - UNLV vs. Nevada
Early season victories over Notre Dame and Missouri have Nevada ranked eighteenth in the country with the Rebels coming to town. Sanford enters winless against the Wolfpack in his four year tenure. He looks a little pale as he paces nervously during warmups.
A thrilling, back and forth shootout eventually comes down to the final play. With the Wolfpack leading 42-41, UNLV kicker Ben Jaekle lines up a 48 yard field goal with three seconds on the clock. The kick is blocked! Pandemonium ensues! Hundreds of Nevada students stream down onto the field. UNLV players head for the locker room, dejected.
In all the chaos, two little yellow penalty flags go unnoticed by the crowd. It takes nearly 20 minutes, but once order is restored, the official marks off the five yard penalty on the Wolfpack for jumping offsides. This time, Jaekle boots it right down the middle, and the Rebels emerge triumphant, 44-42.
Mike Sanford weeps openly in the postgame interview.
October 10, 2009 - BYU vs. UNLV
BYU, having upset Oklahoma in week one and easily defeated No. 18 Florida State two weeks later, has climbed to No. 6 in the rankings. Cougar fans file into Sam Boyd while visions of Sugar Bowl(s) dance in their heads. Their impressive run to start the season has even generated some legit "Hall for Heisman" buzz.
The sold out crowd was treated to a classic. Hall and Clayton combine for nine touchdowns through the air and one a piece on the ground. In a game that featured ten lead changes, BYU would have the ball late, driving for the tying score.
Down by seven in the waning moments, Hall spots Dennis Pitta breaking open in the end zone. Under heavy duress, Hall zips a pass, but Ronnie Paulo gets a hand on it at the line of scrimmage. The deflected pass falls right in to the arms of Quinton Pointer, who scampers up the filed behind a convoy of blockers for the game's final score.
Cougar fans file out of Sam Boyd Stadium bitterly disappointed. UNLV 59 BYU 45
We'll take a look at the second half of this magical, make believe season in the forth coming Part II.