76 Days Until Kansas Football – UNLV Preview

The Guaranteed Rate Bowl rematch comes just nine months after the first matchup.
Dec 26, 2023; Phoenix, AZ, USA; UNLV Rebels wide receiver Ricky White (11) catches a touchdown pass against Kansas Jayhawks cornerback Cobee Bryant (2) during the second half at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 26, 2023; Phoenix, AZ, USA; UNLV Rebels wide receiver Ricky White (11) catches a touchdown pass against Kansas Jayhawks cornerback Cobee Bryant (2) during the second half at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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The Guaranteed Rate Bowl was a major cap on the 2023 Kansas Jayhawks’ season. It also got fairly chippy between KU and the UNLV Rebels. Well, we don’t have to wait long for a rematch. UNLV will be coming to Children’s Mercy Park to take on KU on Friday, September 13 as the Jayhawks’ final non-conference game. 

Pre-Game Notes

Last year’s UNLV season was a big upturn from recent years. The 9-5 record in coach Barry Odom’s first season was the Rebels’ first winning season since 2013 and highest number of wins in a season since 1984. And expectations are fairly high again. DraftKings has the UNLV at 7.5 wins for 2024, though the under is currently -175. 

The Mike Plank Four-Down Scouting Report

First Down 

The biggest challenge for UNLV in replicating its success last year is finding a new signal caller. Quarterback Jayden Maiava broke out as a freshman, throwing for 3,085 yards and 17 touchdowns, along with 10 interceptions. After having a slow start to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Maiava made some massive plays on his way to 291 yards, three TDs, and two picks. 

But Maiava capitalized on his success with a move to a power program as he transferred to USC to play for Lincoln Riley. 

Second Down

Odom’s solution for replacing Maiava was to bring in a couple of transfers, including veteran Holy Cross QB Matthew Sluka. Sluka broke out as a junior, throwing for 2,491 yards and 26 TDs to four INTs, and then followed it up with 1,723 yards, 20 TDs, and 5 INTs last year. 

Sluka is a dual-threat who also piled up 1,000-yard rushing seasons the past two years and 38 career rushing touchdowns. He’s been doing it at the FCS level but has proven himself worthy of being taken seriously. He threw for 286 yards and ran for 300 yards combined against Boston College and Army last year. 

Third Down

Leading rusher Vincent Davis is also gone, but the Rebels are bringing back Jai’Den Thomas, who ran for 503 yards and a team-high 12 rushing touchdowns, as well as four of five offensive linemen. 

Even bigger is the return of receiver Ricky Davis. Davis finished the year with 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns and led UNLV in the bowl game with 97 yards on seven catches and a touchdown. 

Fourth Down

The Rebels’ defense left something to be desired. Kansas scored 49 points and racked up 591 total yards and it was the sixth game where UNLV gave up 30 or more points. Odom went to the transfer portal for this need as well, bringing in a pair of SEC players (corner Tony Grimes from Texas A&M and safety Jalen Catalon from Texas). 

Final Whistle 

UNLV’s offense will be worth taking seriously, though the transition to a new QB could take some time. The bigger question is whether the Rebels will be able to stop KU or if Jalon Daniels will gash UNLV over and over like Jason Bean did. 


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Kyle Davis

KYLE DAVIS

Kyle Davis is an Editor for Blue Wings Rising where he provides features, breakdowns, and interviews for Kansas basketball, football, and other sports.