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Kansas, UNLV seek elusive bowl win at Guaranteed Rate Bowl

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Two schools that aren’t frequently playing in late December will duel for their first bowl win in 15 or 23 years, respectively, when Kansas battles UNLV in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Tuesday night in Phoenix.

The Jayhawks haven’t won a bowl game since routing Minnesota 42-21 in the 2008 Insight Bowl, while UNLV was last victorious when it soundly beat Arkansas 31-14 in the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl.

This is the Rebels’ first bowl appearance since the 2013 season and just the fifth overall, while Kansas is playing in a bowl game in consecutive seasons for just the second time in program history.

Considering UNLV (9-4) was mired in nine straight losing campaigns before its breakout campaign this season, first-year coach Barry Odom is glad to see the dubious streak end.

“You need to celebrate it,” Odom said of making a bowl game. “There’s reasons that this team has earned these opportunities, and it will be a great experience for them.”

Kansas (8-4) also made consecutive bowl appearances in the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The first of those was a 24-21 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

The Jayhawks had aspirations of an upper-end bowl this season when they were 7-2, but back-to-back home losses to Big 12 opponents Texas Tech and Kansas State derailed that possibility. Kansas finished the regular season with a 49-16 romp at Cincinnati on Nov. 25.

Jayhawks star running back Devin Neal topped 100 rushing yards in each of those three games while scoring six touchdowns. Overall, he rushed for 15 touchdowns and added a receiving score.

Neal’s 1,209 rushing yards are the fourth most in a season in Kansas history. He also ranks fifth on the career ledger with 3,006 yards.

Though Neal is positioned to become the school’s all-time leading rusher next season, the second-team All-Big 12 selection is deliberating about declaring for the NFL draft. As of Thursday, he hasn’t announced a decision or opted out of the bowl game.

“It’s definitely unique weighing all the options,” Neal said recently. “I haven’t made any decision either way, so just talking with different coaches, talking with my family, just praying about it. Honestly, it’s really hard.

“So, I have everything here, too. So, that’s one thing that’s really important to me. And I’m super excited about this month.”

The Jayhawks also feature a strong player on the other side of the ball in defensive tackle Austin Booker, who has eight sacks and was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.

The Kansas defense has certainly been alerted to the talents of UNLV receiver Ricky White, who has set the single-season school record with 1,386 receiving yards. White has seven scoring receptions among 81 catches.

Helping matters was the play of quarterback Jayden Maiava, who passed for 2,794 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions and was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year.

“Once they settled in with their young quarterback, who had an outstanding year, they’re a dangerous team and we’ve got to be ready,” Jayhawks coach Lance Leipold said.

UNLV also is strong on special teams with Lou Groza Award finalist kicker Lou Pizano (25 of 27 field goals) — the Mountain West Special Teams Player of the year — and returner Jacob De Jesus (26.3 on kickoff returns, 16.1 on punt returns).

The Jayhawks were part of a thriller last season when they rallied from a 25-point deficit in the Liberty Bowl before eventually falling 55-53 in triple-overtime to Arkansas.

UNLV linebacker Jackson Woodard, the team’s leading tackler with 113 stops, was a member of the Razorbacks last season before transferring to UNLV.

“It’s going to be a big game,” Woodard said of facing the Jayhawks. “It’s a big opponent. This team is ready. This is going to be a fun game. We’re looking forward to it.”

This is the third all-time meeting between Kansas and UNLV. The teams split a home-and-home in 2002-03 with the Rebels winning on their field the first year and the Jayhawks returning the favor the next season.

UNLV has a 3-1 bowl record, while Kansas is 6-7.

–Field Level Media

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