NCAA FB

Preview: Kansas and UNLV ready to square off in Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field

Dec 25, 2023, 4:30 PM | Updated: 5:38 pm

UNLV Rebels...

Vincent Davis Jr. #5 of the UNLV Rebels celebrates with this teammates following his touchdown in the first half of the game against the Hawaii Warriors at Allegiant Stadium on September 30, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Louis Grasse/Getty Images)

(Photo by Louis Grasse/Getty Images)

PHOENIX (AP) — UNLV had a breakthrough in its inaugural season under Barry Odom, ending a long stretch of mediocrity with its first bowl appearance since 2014.

The opponent in Tuesday night’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl knows all about program rebuilding.

Once the laughingstock of Power Five football, Kansas has turned things around under third-year coach Lance Leopold with consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in 16 years.

“Coach Leipold has done a terrific job of building that program in a short time,” Odom said. “They are well-coached. They’ve got great players, so it will be a great matchup.”

Before Odom took over the program, the Rebels had one winning season since playing in the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl — 7-6 and a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2013 — and never seemed gain any traction no matter who was the coach.

Odom quickly changed the culture after taking the job, leading the Rebels (9-4) to their most wins since the Randall Cunningham-led 1984 team went 11-2. UNLV beat Vanderbilt on Sept. 16 for its first win over an SEC opponent and had four road wins for the third time in program history.

“The habits that they created for themselves became confidence and then confidence became wins early on, which really developed true validation in what we were doing,” Odom said. “Our team embodied that.”

The Jayhawks (8-4) have seen a similar turnaround under Leipold, who spent the previous six seasons as Buffalo’s head coach.

A program that went winless in 2015 and 1-11 two years later, Kansas won six games in Leipold’s second season a year ago and took a huge step this season.

The Jayhawks beat No. 18 Oklahoma State last year after losing their previous 43 games against ranked opponents and took down No. 6 Oklahoma on Oct. 28 this season. Kansas has its most wins since going 12-1 in 2007 and was ranked in the College Football Playoff standings for the first time earlier this season.

“The key for us really was a group of young men that wanted to get this turned around,” Leipold said. “It was an opportunity. It was a unique hiring time. But a young group of players that wanted to embrace something new, and I think our style of doing it was a good fit at the right time.”

REPRESENTING VEGAS

The Rebels are thrilled to be in a bowl game, but a mass shooting on campus earlier this month is still on their minds.

The Dec. 6 shooting by a business professor who officials said was turned down for a job took place on UNLV’s campus, killing three faculty members and critically wounding a fourth.

“We understand in the game of football and this opportunity for us, we get to represent something that’s so much bigger than ourselves,” Odom said. “The community of UNLV, the city of Vegas, the state of Nevada, and for us, those memories on a tragic event that we can hopefully continue to galvanize our campus together, and that’s something that we take very, very personal.”

DYNAMIC OFFENSES

There should be plenty of offense at Chase Field, home of baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks.

Kansas kept pace in the high-octane Big 12, averaging 434 yards and 33.6 points per game. Running back Devin Neal was eighth nationally with 211.3 rushing yards per game and ninth with 15 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Jason Bean has been solid since Jalon Daniels went out with a back injury after three games, throwing for 1,681 yards and 12 TDs with four interceptions.

UNLV had the Mountain West Conference’s highest-scoring offense at 34.3 and set a school record with six 40-point games, including four straight.

Quarterback Jayden Maiava threw for 2,794 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions to earn Mountain West freshman of the week honors five times. The Rebels were second nationally with 37 rushing touchdowns — Liberty had 39 — and has three players with at least 450 yards rushing, led by Vincent Davis Jr.’s 722.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Kansas: QB Jason Bean. The sixth-year quarterback has been solid since Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year Jalon Daniels went out with a back injury after three games. Bean threw for 1,681 yards and 12 TDs with four interceptions in nine starts. He’s also a threat to run, adding 259 yards and three TDs rushing.

UNLV: KR Jacob De Jesus. A threat anytime he touches the ball, De Jesus led the FBS in combined kick return yards with 1,019 — 157 more than the next closest player. He was third in punt returns at 16.1 yards per attempt and 12th in kick returns at 26.3 yards.

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