You’ve been carrying the torch for a while, Lobos fans. And for good reason.

To be fair, your university has put you through a lot. Let us count the ways, starting a little more than a decade ago with a decorated football coach who got sick and tired of feeling unappreciated and beating his head against the wall, then happily taking a demotion at a rival school rather than sticking around for any more.

Then came his disastrous replacement whose tenure paralleled the heyday of men’s hoops when the Golden Boy led the Lobos to national prominence and the promise of so much more. He set your heart afire when he agreed to a nonbinding 10-year contract, but his immediate exit left a serious wound, one some of you (like my blushing bride) still haven’t recovered from.

The trust is gone and many of you refuse to open up again, justifiably so.

After that came a corrupt former athletic director who misused public funds, lied about it and will go on trial in 2020. Overspending in the athletic department then made it hard to rationalize the buyout for the basketball replacement who turned the bell cow into a dumpster fire.

After that came a new president, a new AD and their joint accounting staff that took one look at the creative book-cooking of the previous regime and suggested the sports guys put a few unlucky teams on the chopping block to make ends meet.

Finally, how about an apathetic football coach for an even more apathetic fan base, the architect of a program that might be one of the least attractive job openings in the country. Three rival teams in the Mountain West are in need of a coach and all three, Colorado State, UNLV and Fresno State, are big-fish enough to lure the kind of coach UNM can only dream about.

Happily, there is good news.

At 9-2, the Lobo basketball team has dramatically improved and has more than a puncher’s chance to win each of its next 10 games. No, seriously. By late January they have a realistic shot of being 17-4 at worst, 19-2 with a 14-game winning streak at best.

Minus a stumble in the final 10 games, a multiletter postseason tournament could be in the works, one that isn’t a pay-for-play kinda deal.

Dare to dream, dare to dream.

The fact is, the team is as good now as it has been since the Golden Boy’s forgettable replacement took over — maybe even better. The starting lineup is as good as any MWC rival in and the addition this week of Utah transfer Vante Hendrix makes the bench that includes Corey Manigault and Zane Martin that much more potent.

But here’s the thing: They’ll end up breaking your heart. They won’t win the league, they won’t make the second weekend of the Dance, they won’t sweep the Golden Boy’s new team that happens to include the captain of the S.S. Dumpster Fire. They’ll finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 27-9, give or take a hash mark in either column.

Just enjoy the ride while you can because the next month (or two) will be pretty darn entertaining.

Will Webber has covered sports in Northern New Mexico for nearly 20 years, covering everything from the Lobos to prep sports. Contact him at wwebber@sfnewmexican.com.

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