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UNLV has not won a homecoming game since the 2001 season. This year, the Rebels will honor the 1984 team
Among all this week’s homecoming festivities, Saturday will be a big night for all UNLV fans — but the game is also crucial to Rebels’ season.
First and most obviously, Utah is playing UNLV in the homecoming game. It is a chance for UNLV to right the season, but also a chance for head coach Mike Sanford to stick it to a school he used where he used to be employed.
Next, it is the chance for UNLV to win their first homecoming game since 2001.
Finally, it is a celebration of the 1984 Rebel football team.
But focusing on the game, this is the chance for the team to get on the same page and make the most of what is almost a lost season, and what better foe than Utah?
Last year the Utes made easy work of the Rebels en route to an undefeated season and a Sugar Bowl win. But two years ago, when Utah came to Las Vegas, the Rebels had one of the biggest wins in Sanford’s tenure. The Rebels blanked the Utes 27-0. That win ended an 11-game winning streak Utah had over UNLV. It ended a streak then, and the Rebels need a win to end a streak to a three game skid this season.
Another underlying tone to the game with be another face-off between two coordinators of Utah that moved on to take head coaching jobs after their 2004 season under Urban Meyer. Kyle Whittingham was the defensive coordinator and Sanford was the offensive coordinator at Utah during the same time.
Utah went with Whittingham and Sanford took the head coaching job in Las Vegas. Head-to-head, Whittingham has gotten the best of Sanford, leading him 3-1.
Whittingham was more or less given the keys to a fine-tuned machine, where Sanford had to fix up a clunker, which supposedly is still in process. The numbers Whittingham has had may have been embellished since the program has been established, but he has led Utah to a bowl game in each of his four seasons and looks to be on track for another bowl game this year.
Other than Sanford facing off against his old employer and UNLV trying to make the season right, UNLV will also try to get their first homecoming win since 2001. They have met Utah once in that homecoming stint, in 2003 when Utah rolled 28-10.
But Saturday night will be the perfect time for the Rebels to turn it around — what better time than in front of the greatest quarterback to play for UNLV, Randall Cunningham. The 1984 Rebels will be honored between the first and second quarters of the homecoming game.
They were one of the best football teams in the history of UNLV by far. In 1984, they went 11-2, including winning the California Bowl over Toledo.
But it wouldn’t be typical UNLV without controversy. It was found that some of the Rebels were ineligible and the season would have to be forfeited in the conference, but are still recognized by the NCAA. So the bowl win still counts.
This season is not lost yet, but a loss on Saturday will definitely hurt the potential that is left.
A win, however, not only will turn the Rebels’ season around, but also can end a homecoming losing streak and put a smile on the face of the greatest quarterback in UNLV’s history, who will be watching his Rebels.