The best time of the year is finally here and all will seem right in the world on Friday night when the opening whistle kicks off the Arizona football season.
There will be several new faces on both sides of the ball for both teams. The Wildcats will start redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, a Las Vegas high school standout who only lost three games in his four-year career at Bishop Gorman High School.
The Rebels will also be giving a quarterback his first Division-I snaps when junior college transfer Blake Decker takes the field. Decker, like Solomon, has had some success in his past, throwing for 4,241 yards and 47 touchdowns last season at Scottsdale CC.
The inexperience isn't the only storyline for the game, as two Wildcats have ties to the Rebels. Solomon was strongly considering playing for his hometown team before signing with the Wildcats.
"I know three or four guys on the team and I keep in touch with them here and there," Solomon said. "There’s three guys that went to Bishop Gorman and we are pretty close.
"UNLV was one of my top five schools. It was pretty cool going there last year as well. Polynesians run deep. I might need everybody’s tickets for Friday."
The other Wildcat with more at stake in the game is former UNLV running back Adonis Smith, who is listed at second on the depth chart. Smith transferred from UNLV early in the summer and was eligible to play at Arizona right away, but that doesn't mean that there isn't any bad blood between him and his former school.
"I know they are coming after us with some heat because of what happened last year, but it’s going to be a game," Smith said.
"Personally I love that and wouldn’t want it any other way. I know they are pissed off at me and will come after me. I am going to give it all I have and I am surrounded by good people."
While Smith claims not to hold a grudge against UNLV it seems that the Rebels' head coach Bobby Hauck may see things a little differently.
When asked if Smith could be giving Arizona special hints about what UNLV will be doing Hauck replied, "You're inferring he was paying attention while he was here."
Even without the transfer drama, there is the thought of revenge for UNLV after the Wildcats won 58-13 a year ago in Las Vegas.
"We took a beating last year from their offense," UNLV defensive back Peni Vea said. "This year we just have to go down there and try to hold them from giving us the same beating as they did last year. We just have to go down there and play as one."
It will be a tall order for UNLV to come to Tucson and knock off the Wildcats. Even if the Rebels can overcome the inexperience, they will still have to match the firepower from the Wildcats.
Players to Watch:
#81, WR Devante Davis: The senior is the best player on the field for UNLV regardless of position. It is possible for him to hurt the Wildcats defense in a multitude of ways and Arizona will need to know where he is at all times.
#42, SS Peni Vea: The safety gets all over the field. As the leading tackler for the Rebels, Vea is the most likely to make a big play for UNLV and should be handled as such by Arizona.
#17, CB Kenneth Penny: With Solomon starting his first game of his Arizona career, it will be important for him to get in a flow quickly. Penny can be a menace for quarterbacks when he is on his game.
Keys to the Game:
1. Spread the ball around: It's going to be the first game for plenty of Wildcats on offense. Arizona needs to get players as many touches as possible to keep the defense guessing all night.
2. Force an early turnover: Decker won't make many mistakes on Friday night, but if Arizona's defense can get in his head with pressure and take advantage of one of those mistakes, it will go a long way towards the defensive efficiency in the game.
3. Keep track of Josh Shirley: The star defensive end for UNLV is going to wreck havoc for the Wildcats. He can blow up running plays and put a hurting on Solomon during passing plays. Arizona will need to contain him and limit his effect on the game.