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UNLV quarterback battle could come down to 2 FCS transfers

UNLV and coach Barry Odom have a quarterback conundrum.

The Rebels don’t return their starting signal-caller. Jayden Maiava, the former Liberty High standout whose emergence powered UNLV’s offense in 2023, entered the transfer portal and is heading to the Big Ten with Southern California.

UNLV has options to replace him. Doug Brumfield, Cameron Friel and Bo Edmundson return, and incoming freshman Gael Ochoa signed with the Rebels in December.

However, the starting job could come down to a battle between two transfers from the Football Championship Subdivision: Holy Cross’ Matthew Sluka and Campbell’s Hajj-Malik Williams.

They each have one year of eligibility remaining. Only one can start.

“I think given the uncertainty, they took two FCS quarterbacks,” said Brandon Huffman, the national recruiting editor for 247Sports.com. “The cream’s going to rise to the top between the two, but you’ve got spring practice to kind of let that shake out.”

The new quarterbacks are among 15 players who’ve committed to transfer to UNLV for the 2024 season. The Rebels are adding an intriguing group of former Power Five players and FCS stars looking to take a step up.

Sluka and Williams offer proven productivity at the FCS level. The 6-foot-3-inch Sluka threw for 5,916 yards and rushed for 3,583 yards during four seasons at Holy Cross. He registered 97 total touchdowns against just 15 interceptions and was a two-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, given to the best offensive FCS player in the country.

The 6-foot Williams played parts of five seasons at Campbell. He passed for 8,236 yards and 58 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,600 yards and 24 touchdowns. He completed 70 percent of his passes during his final season.

Huffman said Sluka and Williams represent two transfer wins for the Rebels, especially considering the timing. Teams that lose quarterbacks to the portal when it first opens in early December have time to be selective about who they offer and recruit.

UNLV, in comparison, almost made it through the 30-day portal-entrance period before Maiava announced his departure in January. Huffman said it’s easy for programs in similar situations to panic or simply not have any good options remaining, often settling for a Power Five backup who has no significant film to evaluate.

Sluka has the slight edge for the starting job in 2024, in Huffman’s opinion, but he said having quality depth at the quarterback position is important for any team — especially in the portal era.

Huffman is impressed with the rest of UNLV’s transfer haul, too. The Rebels added some proven secondary quality in defensive backs Jalen Catalon, Malik Chavis and LaDarrius Bishop. UNLV also landed a commitment from linebacker Mani Powell.

All four previously played for Odom when he was the defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Arkansas. UNLV also got a commitment from defensive back Tony Grimes, a former five-star prospect out of high school, after flipping him from Michigan State.

Offensively, the additions of Texas wide receiver Casey Cain and North Carolina State running back Michael Allen can add new dimensions to UNLV’s offense.

Huffman said the Rebels’ successful first season under Odom has raised their appeal. Most high school recruits make their decisions during the summer between their junior and senior seasons, and therefore can’t take the team’s most recent campaign into account.

Transfers, on the other hand, get to watch the entire season unfold before choosing a new school. Huffman said Odom’s Southeastern Conference experience also adds some credibility to his staff and what he’s building at UNLV.

“Given what he inherited, what he came into, the general lack of buzz about UNLV from previous coaches, I think they have to be very thrilled with the class they have,” Huffman said, “But I think we’re going to see subsequent classes be much more aligned with what his hope is.”

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

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