UNLV football fans were riding high earlier last month after the team's record-breaking victory against Idaho State, and the nail-biting victory against rival Nevada the following week. UNLV was going into a pair of winnable games against Mountain West opponents San Jose State and Fresno State, and there was a very real possibility (and expectation) that UNLV could go 3-0 in Mountain West play and go into last week's Boise State game to determine first place in the conference. I don't think anybody expected that UNLV could have beaten Boise State, but Boise's debacle against Utah State certainly left doubts about that team's ability.

But it doesn't matter, UNLV managed to blow the games against San Jose and Fresno in the fourth quarter. A potential 4-3 start to the season fell to a pathetic 2-5, right in line with pre-season predictions from skeptics. UNLV has certainly shown that they have the ability to play well and win games, but in traditional UNLV fashion, they still can't muster up the discipline to pull through at the end of the game.

UNLV blew two fourth quarter leads to San Jose State and Fresno State to fall to 2-5 on the season.

The overtime loss to San Jose State was pretty heartbreaking. Watching UNLV completely fail to cover that last-minute screen pass for the game-tieing touchdown was a punch in the gut. A win would have given UNLV a respectable 3-3 record overall, but instead, they walked out 2-4. The team put up a good fight, especially considering the limitations of backup quarterback Kurt Palandech. The comeback effort was admirable, but UNLV just couldn't get it done in overtime. The following week's game was probably more disappointing. UNLV walked into the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead over Fresno State and looked to have the game well in hand. But the offense just couldn't execute in the fourth quarter, and the Bulldogs managed to put together a couple scoring drives to strip the victory from between UNLV's fingers.

A lot of the expectations for the team were squashed going into the game against Boise State, but I still held out some hope for a surprise upset. Starting quarterback Blake Decker was back from injury, and Boise looked vulnerable to mistakes. If UNLV's defense could contain Boise's offense, then UNLV might have a chance. Unfortunately, UNLV's defense just couldn't do enough. Boise cut through UNLV's defense like butter in the first quarter, putting together three scoring drives to open the game. In the meantime, UNLV's offense sputtered thanks to a proliferation of dropped passes.

Keys dropped pass
Dropped passes prevented UNLV from sustaining drives in the first quarter against Boise.

UNLV seemed to have given up on even trying to run the ball, as almost every play seemed to be a pass. It felt like UNLV went into halftime with three total rushing yards. Eventually, the defense made a big play, forcing a fumble that UNLV recovered in the end zone for UNLV's first touchdown...

[More]
Saturday, September 26, 2015 02:40 PM

Sanchez's UNLV breaks records in first victory

in Sports by MegaBearsFan
Sam Boyd Stadium 2015
The field at Sam Boyd Stadium has also been redecorated to match UNLV's new uniforms.

Expectations were high for UNLV's 2015 football season after the hiring of National High School Champion Bishop Gorman head coach Tony Sanchez. Sanchez spent the off season trying to rebrand the team with new uniforms (and a new field) that embrace the unique culture and history of the city of Las Vegas. But UNLV would have to survive a brutal non-conference schedule that included a nationally-ranked opponent.

Sanchez's team looked promising in the first half of its opening game, as they got off to a 17-3 lead in the second quarter against Northern Illinois. They also got off strong against 13th-ranked UCLA, holding them to only 10 points up until almost halftime. Unfortunately, the Rebels lost both those games due to second-half collapses, and they began to look like the same ol' Rebels. In fact, in the UCLA game, UNLV's starting quarterback, Blake Decker, left the game with an injury in the first half, and the offense wasn't able to do anything under the command of backup quarterback Kurt Palandech. UNLV also faltered against MIchigan, against whom the offense was only able to score a single touchdown. However, in all of these games, UNLV was far more competitive than they were expected to be. The defense played surprisingly well in all three games, but was worn down by their overpowered opponents and the inability of UNLV's offense to move the ball.

So I had no clue what to expect going into UNLV's home game against FCS opponent Idaho State this past weekend. I've witnessed some embarrassing defeats at the hands of FCS teams in year's past, and it was really hard to tell if UNLV's offense was completely incompetent, or if the teams that they played against in their first three games were just that much better. Hopefully, UNLV would be able to score against Idaho State. And score they did!

Devonte Boyd TD catch vs Northern Illinois
UNLV got off to a hot, 17-3 start in the opener against Northern Illinois, but the offense had floundered since.

After quickly turning the opening possession into seven points due to a blown coverage by Idaho State, UNLV's offense failed to do anything in its next couple drives. In the meantime, Idaho State put together some pretty impressive passes to wide open receivers, but was unable to score. The game blew wide open midway through the first quarter though, when UNLV blocked an Idaho State field goal and turned it into another touchdown. After that, UNLV ran away with the game, ending the first quarter with 35 points and going into halftime with a 52-8 lead. UNLV would go on to win the game by a score of 80 to 8, setting school records for most points scored in a quarter, most points scored in a half, and most points scored in a game. The previous school record was 72 points in a game. UNLV's 80-point night also sets a Mountain West Conference scoring record, beating Air Force's previous record, which was also 72.

I've certainly never seen such a dominating performance by UNLV, and it really blew me away. Maybe Sanchez really is turning the program around...

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One of the most glaring problems with Madden for many years now has been the passivity of offensive receivers. They've been completely unwilling to make any effort to track the ball in the air and go up and get it. Often, underthrown balls would be easily intercepted because receivers would mindlessly run their route and never make an effort to come back towards the ball to catch it. This, combined with defensive backs who always had eyes in the backs of their heads, lead to a lot of interceptions and a very frustrating experience in the passing game. This year's Madden finally makes some effort to address this problem, and I honestly thought that this might finally be the year in which things started to really come together for this series. I wasn't expecting Madden 16 to suddenly be the NFL 2k5 of our generation, but I was at least expecting to see a product that felt more complete, in which all the areas of on-field action seemed - at the very least - to be competent.

Madden NFL 16 - catching
Long-standing problems with passing, catching, and pass defense were points of emphasis this year.

But as the summer went on, and all I ever heard about was some silly new "Draft Champions" mode that sounded like a half-assed fantasy football season, I really started to lose any hope and excitement that I had. Normally, I'd buy Madden used in order to keep my money out of EA's greedy hands. Fortunately for EA, the first two stores that I went to were sold out of Until Dawn, so I decided to go ahead and splurg on Madden so that I'd have something to do that weekend.

The mandatory tutorial featuring a hypothetical Super Bowl 50 rematch between the Steelers and Cardinals is an absolute train wreck. A handful of players recorded unbelievably cheesy dialogue for this sequence that seemed to imply that this year's Madden was going to put some emphasis on the personalities of the players and include some smack talk (the kind of thing that Madden '05's "Storylines" feature was going for). I thought it was weird that I hadn't heard anything about this in any of the promotional material or previews. It seemed uncharacteristic for Madden and contradictory to the NFL's careful regulation of the public image of the league.

The tutorial proceeded to force me through a series of intolerably-scripted plays and highlights of its fictitious Super Bowl in an attempt to clumsily introduce me to its new passing and catching mechanics. This tutorial is ugly to watch, painful to listen to, is terrible at teaching the new mechanics, and is blatantly unrepresentative of the actual game content.

I hadn't even finished the tutorial or made it to the game's main menu yet, and I was already suffering buyer's remorse.

Table of Contents

Madden NFL 16 - drafting Randall Cunningham
Historic players can be drafted.

Ultimate Team fantasy draft

My feelings of buyer's remorse only grew as I looked through the new features and menu options.

There seems to be a bigger and bigger push towards Madden being an elaborately-crafted system of fantasy football. I already thought that Ultimate Team was trending painfully in that direction. As silly as I think that feature is, Madden players seem to love it - so much so that EA has decided to add another fantasy football-inspired game mode: Draft Champions. As always, all EA's efforts seem to be in trying to make Madden as "game-y" as possible instead of making any efforts to emulate the deeper strategy and nuance of real football. Ultimate Team, and now Draft Champions, are the ultimate expression of that.

Draft Champions is a modified 15-round fantasy draft in which you select from one of three available players in each round. You start by selecting a coach, which grants you a specific offensive and defensive play style for you team, and so you want to try to get players that best fit into those schemes - if you're lucky enough to be offered any. In the final round, you also get to chose one of three Hall of Fame historical players, such as Randall Cunningham or Rod Woodson. Once the draft is done, you play a sudden-death "season" of three games. One loss, and you're done.

I complained about the rushed pacing of games in Madden 15, but the "games" in Draft Champions are only half that time! Three minutes in a quarter is not enough time to play football at all. The game even taunts you by forcing you to have to chose a coach and team style in the first round, and you'd have to be masochistic to chose anything other than "long pass" or "medium pass". Chosing "ground and pound" was barely viable with six minute quarter; it's virtually pointless with three minute quarters. A twelve minute game isn't long enough to establish any kind of "pounding" running game. All you have to do is listen to the commentary to hear how screwed up such a fast game is. Every game, the commentators talk about how it's been a "defensive battle" going into the two-minute warning or halftime - because one team had the ball for the entire half! It's nonsense!

Madden NFL 16 - Draft Champions Rod Woodson
Draft Champions might be more worthwhile if you got to keep some of the players you drafted and add them to MUT.

I'll grant this to the game: the second two Draft Champion games are very tense. The short time time frame and insta-death nature of the mode means you have to play virtually perfectly. Of course, that's to be expected when you start the game in a four-minute drill.

And what do you get for your effort? What reward is worth this idiotic waste of time? You get some PSN trohies / XBox Live achievements, and some packs of Ultimate Team cards (most of which are just redeemable for points to buy other cards). You don't even get to keep the cards that you drafted in Champions mode - just random packs. Eventually, after you beat Draft Champions enough times, you get some elite MUT cards. Oooh... [hand waving] Why is Draft Champions even its own mode on the main menu? Why isn't it just an option in the MUT menu? It's basically just a fantasy draft and preseason for MUT, but you don't even get to keep the players! So what's the point?!

The question that I'm left with is: has Madden jumped the shark? Is this the point where I have to just give up on the idea that EA will ever want to pull Madden back to its simulation football roots? Has it so completely diverged from what I expect from an NFL-licensed football game that I just can't take it seriously anymore as an NFL-licensed football game? I'm tempted to just not even bother with the rest of this review if this is the kind of trash that EA is going to waste their time with. If EA thinks that this is the way of the future for football gaming, then I want no part of it.

But, for old times sake, I guess I can go over the actual football parts of the game, give it at least one more stab at being taken seriously, so click here to read the rest of the review...

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UNLV football - 2015 uniforms

Another year, another head coach, and another set of uniforms for UNLV's football program. The school, and head coach Tony Sanchez, recently unveiled new uniform concepts for the football team's 2015 season.

I, personally, liked the uniforms that were worn between 2009 and 2011 and was disappointed when Bobby Hauck changed them in 2012. The 2009 uniforms were simple and elegant and showcased school pride with the large-print "REBELS" across the chest and large logos on the sleeves and pants. Furthermore, the gray shoulders provided a good contrast against the red of the body of the jersey in the bright Las Vegas sun, and the whole scheme was unique in college football.

There was definitely some room for improvement. Some of the colors could have been tweaked. The helmets were also especially ugly. But overall I liked these uniforms. They were distinctly UNLV's.

The uniforms from 2009-2011 [LEFT] had a distinctive pattern and prominent school logos.
The uniforms in 2012-2014 [RIGHT] could easily be mistaken for Ohio State.

By comparison, the 2012 uniforms looked like hand-me-downs from Ohio State. On their own, the uniforms looked fine with their very retro-classic look, but they just weren't distinctive at all. The "REBELS" print on the chest was minimized, the school logos were removed, and the uniform lacked the school pride that I thought the previous ones showed so well. However, I didn't much care for the 2009 helmets, and I thought that the 2012 helmets were a stark improvement with the stripes and easier-to-read "UNLV" logo. I also liked the Reno variant helmets that included the Freemont Cannon under the logo, even though I hated the all-gray uniform variant itself.

I like that these new 2015 uniforms retain the large-print "REBELS" text of the 2009 ones. The large Hey Reb logo on the shoulders and the UNLV logo on the pants also helps to bring back the sense of displaying school pride that was absent from the 2012 versions.

However, I strongly dislike how monochrome all the uniforms are! I don't know what it is with football's current fascination with monochrome ...

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Years ago, back when I was much more into playing Madden NFL games than I am now (read: back when I was too young and naive to realize how much they sucked), I had proposed on the EA Forums that they should add the ability to create female player and / or coach models. I'd post a link to the forum topic(s), but I don't remember my login info to look them up. It's something that I'd still like to see as an option in future games, and with the recent news that the NFL may be hiring its first full-time female official, I thought now might be the time to bring up the topic again.

Sarah Thomas to become full-time NFL official
Sarah Thomas has reportedly been hired as the NFL's first female full-time official.

Sports games like Madden should have options to create female characters and (especially) coaches. Women play these games, and women do have an interest in football and other sports. But when they play Madden, they can't create themselves as a player or as a coach because the game doesn't allow them to. And when creating an avatar of yourself to play these games is one of the main selling points of features like Franchise, Superstar, and so on, then it seems unfair to prevent a large chunk of your audience from being able to play that feature as intended.

Madden 13 - J Grade on the sideline
I get to create myself as a coach.

After all, EA has a Game Face feature that allows you to scan your own face into various games. I was able to use this feature to create myself as a coach for my past Madden franchises. But my girlfriend or sister can't use this feature because there aren't any character models for female coaches (or players) in most major sports games. Unless she wants her head on a man's body...

As far as I know, the NFL doesn't have any rules actually prohibiting women from playing or coaching in the league. Yeah, sure, that's "Air Bud logic", but women are people, not dogs. So the fact that games like Madden don't even allow female characters to be created is actually not even representative of the actual rules. And from a more socially-progressive standpoint, having such a feature could help to make the game more accessible to female players, and possibly even encourage women to pursue playing or coaching the sport and breaking that respective glass ceiling. After all, seeing a digital version of herself competing with the male players might inspire young girls to pursue careers in football outside of sideline correspondents, cheerleaders, athletic trainers, analysts, or the other "off-field" jobs that they are currently restricted to.

Lingerie Football League all-star game
Perhaps my difficulty taking the Lingerie Football League seriously is an example of prejudice on my part,
but it is a thing, women do play it, and they supposedly take it very seriously.

I've heard people say that there just aren't any women who are interested in playing football. While it definitely seems to be true that there haven't been any women who have been ambitious enough to seriously try, I don't think it's necessarily true or fair to say that there isn't interest. Women do play football! There are, in fact, entire professional football leagues for women. I'm not sure how serious the Lingerie Football League is (I'm sorry, "Legends of Football League"). I don't know much about the league, so my assumption that it's mostly just sexual exploitation may be an example of the very prejudice that I'm hoping to confront. But the LFL is a thing that actually exists, and women do play in it. And from what I've heard, they take it very seriously...

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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