KU headed to Guaranteed Rate Bowl, will face UNLV

Kansas head coach Lance Leipold watches a replay on the video board during the second quarter on Saturday Nov. 11, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. Photo by Nick Krug

The Kansas football team will seek a long-awaited bowl win in the same place it got its last one.

KU is headed to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix on Dec. 26 at 8 p.m. Central Time (7 p.m. local), the school announced Sunday afternoon. The game will be played at Chase Field, the baseball stadium that is home to MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks, and will air on ESPN.

In something of a twist, the Jayhawks will be taking on UNLV (9-4, 6-2 Mountain West Conference) rather than the expected Big Ten Conference opponent. The Rebels had a resurgence this season under new head coach Barry Odom but lost in their conference championship game to Boise State on Saturday.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are to be selected to play in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, have an opportunity to spend Christmas in beautiful Arizona,” KU coach Lance Leipold said in a press conference Sunday. “Our players have worked extremely hard over the last three years and to have the opportunity to be bowl eligible two consecutive years and have a chance to play in a bowl game such as this is extremely exciting times for our program.”

Added running back Devin Neal: “It’s definitely unique playing after Christmas, but at the end of the day we’re excited to keep playing football in December. Not a lot of teams get the luxury of doing that.”

Kansas enters the game at 8-4, the first time reaching eight wins since its 2008 Insight Bowl season. This is just the second time the Jayhawks have ever reached back-to-back bowl games in their history, after 2007 and 2008 under Mark Mangino.

Fifteen years ago, in that Insight Bowl, the Jayhawks beat Minnesota 42-21 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. After brief stints with four different title sponsors, the game, which is run by the same organization that puts on the Fiesta Bowl, is now set to hold its third matchup under the name of the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

The bowl moved to Chase Field eight years ago during renovations at Sun Devil Stadium and never went back.

UNLV will bring its threatening “Go-Go” offense, a triple-option/spread hybrid led by young coordinator Brennan Marion that has produced some of the nation’s best scoring numbers. That’s part of what has helped Odom revive the program in his first year coming over from the Southeastern Conference, where he spent three years assisting at Arkansas after 17 working in various capacities at Missouri.

Leipold texted Odom not long after he heard the news of the matchup.

“I said I thought we slipped him last year when he was a defensive coordinator at Arkansas and he took the job out there before we played Arkansas in the (Liberty Bowl) game last year,” Leipold said.

The Jayhawks will face the Rebels again just nine months after this matchup when they host them in Lawrence in nonconference play on Sept. 14. Neal said that makes this game “a head start in a way.”

Of note, Leipold did not comment Sunday on Andy Kotelnicki’s departure for Penn State or KU’s forthcoming plans for the offensive coordinator role Sunday, saying he wanted to limit questions to the bowl game. Recently promoted co-offensive coordinator Jim Zebrowski would seem the apparent favorite to lead that side of the ball in Phoenix.

Leipold did say that he expects all of KU’s prominent contributors to take part in the bowl game.

“Though each and every player has to make decisions for their best interests and their futures,” Leipold said, “I sure hope and expect everyone to be available that is.”

The Jayhawks are looking for redemption after losing in triple overtime to Arkansas in last year’s Liberty Bowl.

“Now it’s not just getting to the bowl game, it’s winning it,” Neal said.


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