Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 | 2:15 a.m.
- Wolfe’s UNLV career ends early with broken foot (11-20-2009)
- Franchione emerges as potential early candidate for UNLV football post (11-19-2009)
- Sanford places blame elsewhere for UNLV’s shortcomings (11-16-2009)
- Players graduating, returning share thoughts on coaching turnover (11-16-2009)
- Sanford firing sets interim AD apart in UNLV search (11-16-2009)
- Sanford won’t return as UNLV coach in 2010 (11-15-2009)
- All stories on UNLV's coaching search
- See the current odds on who will be UNLV's next coach
- 2009 UNLV Football Stats
- Opponent: San Diego State
- Date: Nov. 28, 6 p.m.
- Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
- TV: The Mtn. (Cox Ch. 334)
- Radio: ESPN 1100 AM
- All-time series: SDSU leads, 11-7
- The line: UNLV by 4
Both teams are 4-7, meaning both UNLV's and San Diego State's seasons officially come to a close on Saturday night, no matter the outcome of their regular season finale at Sam Boyd Stadium.
It's already known that Mike Sanford is no longer the Rebels' coach once it's done.
It's a holiday weekend, so students are mostly with their families.
The early forecast has temperatures dipping into the low 40s come game time.
There are enough factors that could keep most casual onlookers away, but the UNLV players still have a game to play. That won't change this week.
"I don't think it's really any different than any other week," junior quarterback Omar Clayton said. "We still get to play football on Saturday and play football all week in practice. After this week, our seniors are going to be gone, so we're just trying to get the most out of this week we have left, have a good time with each other and go hard in practice."
The oddsmakers don't think UNLV is blowing smoke when it says it's focused for the finale, which will be a rematch of last season's heart-breaking 42-28 loss for the Rebels at SDSU, which kept them from going to the program's first bowl game since 2000.
UNLV is favored by as many as four points early in the week.
Sanford said he felt his team went hard on Monday, but the rust from both a physical sabbatical and a mentally trying week took its toll on almost everyone.
"To win the game, we've got to practice better than we practiced today," Sanford said. "I do feel like the attitude is good, but as far as the lack of execution or any of that today, I will attribute it to rustiness. We can't do that tomorrow, though."
Even with an uncertain future lying immediately ahead following this weekend, both the coaches and players have put themselves in a vacuum of sorts.
Sanford said the coaches are sinking themselves into game-planning this week since it's what they're accustomed to doing, then will look toward the next chapter following Sunday's season-ending banquet.
For the team's returning players, it's about building a launch pad for next season, which will be beyond challenging. Aside from adjusting to life under a new coach, UNLV has a brutal 13-game schedule that includes home dates against Wisconsin, TCU, UNR and Air Force, plus road trips to face Hawaii, West Virginia, BYU and Utah.
"I'm definitely thinking about the future, but that's out of my control," junior tackle Matt Murphy said. "I don't know who we're going to get or anything as of now. Right now, all of the focus is on trying to be an example for the younger guys, showing that it shouldn't matter what the situation is, you should want to go out there and win."
Added junior linebacker Ronnie Paulo: "It exposes a lot of character. We'll see who the real McCoys are."
The Rebels are also playing this game with sentimental feelings. Aside from playing for the seniors who will hit the Sam Boyd Stadium turf for the final time, the futures of UNLV's assistant coaches are up in the air.
No one wants to honor them more than Clayton, who wouldn't be at UNLV had it not been for his long-standing relationship with offensive coordinator Todd Berry, who knew Clayton as a prep star and gave him a glimmer of hope by bringing him to the desert as a walk-on before the 2007 season.
"I definitely think playing for the coaches is important, too," Clayton said. "Playing for coach Sanford, the position coaches, guys who recruited them, guys who gave them an opportunity to play football, guys want to go out on a good note with them, have a good performance."
Clayton is one of those who will more than likely be leaned upon next season as a senior and two-year starter at quarterback.
His ascent from walk-on to reliable offensive leader is one example of why Sanford believes that, despite what people say about his record at UNLV, the new regime will inherit a program in better shape than what he took on in 2005.
"Obviously, people evaluate by record, but every year, this team has gotten better quality players, better speed, better depth," said Sanford, who is 15-43 at UNLV with one game to go. "This team will have that next year as long as they have a decent recruiting year.
"The character of the players has improved. I would say, yes, it's much better than when I came in."