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UNLV Rebels wide receiver Ricky White (11) carries the ball against the Wyoming Cowboys after a pass receptions during the first half of an NCAA football game at Allegiant Stadium Friday, Nov. 10, 2023.

It’s beginning to look a lot like…bowl season for the UNLV football team.

Barry Odom’s squad arrived Friday in Phoenix ahead of Tuesday’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Kansas is in town as well, and both teams will appear at a media day event on Sunday.

The UNLV program is having a moment. Odom led a turnaround 2023 campaign that saw the Scarlet and Gray go 9-3 in the regular season and host the Mountain West championship game. And then to top it off, he just secured the top-ranked incoming class in the conference on Signing Day.

After all that, it may seem like the matchup with Kansas is an afterthought or a bow on top of an already successful season, but there are many interesting storylines surrounding the game.

Maiava’s moment

If there’s one UNLV player who could be in store for a big day, it’s quarterback Jayden Maiava.

The season must have felt like a blur to Maiava, as the Liberty product took over for an injured Doug Brumfield in Week 3 and had to grow into the starting role in a hurry. The freshman showed poise beyond his years, leading comeback wins against Vanderbilt, Colorado State and Air Force, and even when Brumfield got healthy, Maiava remained the No. 1 quarterback.

Now, maybe for the first time, Maiava has had a chance to catch his breath. Since the MWC championship game on Dec. 2, he has had a few weeks to study and reset before getting back on the practice field with his teammates this week.  

Junior receiver Jacob De Jesus has been impressed with Maiava’s progress throughout the season.

“He’s grown a lot,” De Jesus said. “Jayden, starting from where he was at and seeing him now, he has become a more mature football player. He’s still young, but he’s still the same guy. He’s a hard worker. That’s the thing that elevates him.”

Maiava’s grasp of the offense is now at an all-time high, and Brennan Marion has had a long time to diagnose the Kansas defense. The result could be a signature performance from Maiava on Tuesday.

De Jesus wouldn’t be surprised.

“He’s a phenomenal quarterback,” De Jesus said. “That’s my guy.”

White’s finale?

Speaking of signature performances, junior receiver Ricky White has stacked up too many to count this year. When you post a school-record 1,386 receiving yards and seven 100-yard games, there are plenty of memorable games from which to choose.

But could this be White’s final game in Scarlet and Gray?

White hasn’t given any indication that he plans to enter the NFL Draft, but it’s got to be a consideration. Several draft sites have him projected as a potential Day 3 selection, and while that may seem modest, he would be the first UNLV player chosen in the draft since 2010, and the first receiver since 1995.

White knows that draft stock can fluctuate based on things that are out of a player’s control. Last year, in a different offensive scheme, he had 619 receiving yards, so there’s a chance his stock will never be higher than it is now.

If White comes back for another year, UNLV will throw a parade. For now, fans should savor his production in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

Go-go staying or going?

White isn’t the only UNLV star on an upward trajectory. Offensive coordinator Brennan Marion is one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel, and with good reason. Operating with a freshman quarterback, Marion was able to turn UNLV into one of the most productive offenses in the country, featuring a rushing attack that ranks No. 2 in touchdowns (37) and 24th in yards (2,334).

Marion interviewed for several head-coaching jobs toward the end of the season, including openings at San Diego State and UTEP, but has so far remained at UNLV.

The first wave of head-coach hires has mostly run its course, but offensive coordinators are still moving around, with LSU becoming the most recent job to open. Could a power-conference team lure Marion with a big contract? He makes $336,000 at UNLV, which a team like LSU could easily triple or quadruple.

Look for those rumors to heat up again after the bowl.

Defense stand up

It was a tough finish to the season for the defense, as UNLV stumbled on that side of the ball in losses to San Jose State in the finale and Boise State in the MWC title game. Big plays were a particular issue, as SJSJ and Boise combined to score five touchdowns of 25 yards or longer.

All told, UNLV allowed 81 points and 1,009 yards in the two losses. San Jose State’s Kairee Robinson and Boise State’s Ashton Jeanty combined to average 8.5 yards per carry.

Kansas has the kind of firepower to make it another long day for the defense. Devin Neal will make it three elite rushers in a row, as he has run for 1,209 yards and 15 touchdowns this year, so the Scarlet and Gray will need to play one of their best games up front.

Junior linebacker Jackson Woodard said he has been deep in study for the past three weeks, preparing for the explosive Kansas offense.

“We’re all in on Kansas,” he said. “As soon as [the game was announced] I’ve been watching their film.”

UNLV is capable of winning a shootout, but Odom would surely like to mix in a few defensive stops, if only to carry some momentum into the offseason.

Dr. Jerrae

The good news is, the defense could be gaining some reinforcements.

Senior cornerback Jerrae Williams was on pace for a monster season before a foot injury sidelined him in Week 4. To that point, the 5-foot-11 whirling dervish had racked up 3.0 sacks, 7.0 tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble return for a touchdown. UNLV got along without him, but his big-play ability was missed.

Williams finally returned to the field in the Mountain West championship game, though his impact was muted. That’s to be expected for a player coming off such a long layoff, but now that he’s got some game action under his belt and an additional three weeks of recovery time, Williams could be ready to return to his impact role against Kansas.

If Odom sends Williams on a blitz early in the game, that’s a good sign that he’s back at 100%.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun