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‘It’s a blessing’: UNLV bowl destination, opponent revealed — PHOTOS

Updated December 3, 2023 - 5:35 pm

Amani Trigg-Wright has waited for this moment for a long time.

The sixth-year right guard predates UNLV coach Barry Odom’s arrival and the three-year tenure of Marcus Arroyo.

UNLV (9-4) will play Kansas (8-4) in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at 6 p.m. Dec. 26 at Chase Field in Phoenix. It’s the fifth bowl game in the Rebels’ program history, and the first since UNLV lost to North Texas 36-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl after the 2013 season.

“It’s a blessing,” said Trigg-Wright, who arrived at UNLV in 2018 to play for then-coach Tony Sanchez. “It’s been a long time coming. I’m very excited for the guys, for myself.”

The Rebels earned a berth to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl after losing the Mountain West championship game 44-20 Saturday at Allegiant Stadium against Boise State, which earned the conference’s automatic berth to the LA Bowl against UCLA.

UNLV is the only other Mountain West team playing a Power Five opponent in a bowl.

“Certainly excited for our football program and university to be selected to play in postseason play,” Odom said.

UNLV hasn’t won a bowl game since 2000, when coach John Robinson’s team beat Arkansas 31-14 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The Rebels are 3-1 in their postseason history. However, the 1984 California Bowl win is recognized as a victory by UNLV and Toledo. (The Rebels vacated their wins for the 1984 season for fielding ineligible players, though the school recognizes its Pacific Coast Athletic Association title as one of the program’s two conference championships.)

While UNLV searches for its first postseason win in more than two decades, Odom also has a chance to win his first bowl game as a coach. He took Missouri to two bowls during his tenure — the 2017 Texas Bowl and the 2018 Liberty Bowl — but lost both games against, like Kansas, a Big 12 opponent.

“You rely on all those experiences — assistant coach, director of operations, whatever your role was — and you piece it together,” Odom said “No. 1, once you get into game week, you want it to feel normal for your kids. But also, you need to celebrate it. There’s reasons that this team has earned these opportunities, and it will be a great experience for them.”

Kansas, in its third season under coach Lance Leipold, swept its nonconference schedule, including wins against Illinois and UNR. In Big 12 play, the Jayhawks lost 40-14 to Texas, which advanced to the College Football Playoff on Sunday, and conference runner-up Oklahoma State (39-32), but upset then-No. 6 Oklahoma 38-33.

Kansas lost two of its last three games, against Texas Tech (16-13) and Kansas State (31-27), before defeating Cincinnati 49-16 in its regular-season finale.

The Jayhawks are a familiar opponent for linebacker Jackson Woodard. He played for Arkansas when it beat Kansas 55-53 in triple overtime in last season’s Liberty Bowl.

Odom, who served as the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator, had already departed for UNLV, but said several former players and some of the members of his coaching staff, including Rebels defensive coordinator Mike Scherer, participated in the preparation for the game.

The bowl will also serve as a preview for next season when UNLV plays at Kansas.

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

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournalcom. Follow @ANYamashita on X.

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