UNLV Rebel football fans, it could be said, have grown accustomed to misery.
Wins have been sparse; prolonged success a myth. The season can be long and painful, only to give way to a seemingly endless, hot, Las Vegas summer.
The days creep by as Clark County residents sequester themselves indoors whenever possible, away from the sweltering, slow burn of the ruthless July heat wave.
But wait, what's that sound in the distance?
The unmistakable roar of a Rebel crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium after a picturesque fade pass for a Phillip Payne TD? Followed by the fireworks? The band? The fight song?
The start of a new football year brings a renewed optimism to the fans yearning for victory and longing for progress. With kickoff just a few short weeks away, the hope that this year could be different—could be truly special—is an idea that grows perpetually more prominent in the mind of the blindly loyal.
Perhaps this will be the year. Patience may pay off. A new coach with a solid track record is manning the controls. There is a reasonable amount of talent in place.
The consensus seems to be that the Rebels are still a year or two (or 20) away. UNLV was picked eighth in the Mountain West Conference preseason poll.
This time of year polls are about as accurate and meaningful as a hungry octopus, but the expectations—or lack thereof—are implicit.
There's one bit of silvery lining to the preseason gloom. Junior WR Phillip Payne was named to the Preseason All-Conference Team.
Payne is a definite fan favorite, and provides at least one 6'3", 205 pound reason to get excited about Rebel football.
Since the first time he suited up for UNLV, Payne has demonstrated a remarkable knack for hauling in TDs, often of the spectacular variety. Payne will need to step up his all around production significantly in order to replace departed pass-catching robot Ryan Wolfe.
The Rebels return enough offensive fire power to be fun, exciting, and even competitive.
The defense, however, will remain a large, murky question mark until UNLV can prove on the field that this is not the same unit that ranked among the nation's worst the last several years.
This year could be special. It could be the big breakthrough. It could be "the year."
It could also be nauseating, frustrating, embarrassing, or all of the above.
Honestly, it's too soon to say. For now, the fans at least have hope, which is more than could be said eight months ago.
Perhaps, for once, the positivity will linger into winter.
As a fan, one can only hope.
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