Rebels’ first bowl game since 2014 | A look back at three bowl wins

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UNLV Football team celebrates after defeating Colorado State and clinching bowl eligibility for the first time in 10 years. Photo by DJ Cabanlong.

UNLV Football is heading to Phoenix, Arizona, to take on the Kansas Jayhawks in its fifth officially sanctioned bowl game in program history. 

This comes after UNLV finished with a record 9-4 to end the regular season following a loss in the Mountain West Conference Championship game to the Boise State Broncos 44-20. 

However, despite the devastating loss, UNLV had its best season since 1979 in Barry Odom’s first year of being head coach. 

The Rebels enter the Guaranteed Rate Bowl with three previous bowl game victories however, two are on record because the 1984 victory was forfeited due to a player eligibility violation by UNLV.

Here is a closer look at the previous Rebels bowl victories over the years.

California Bowl (1984): UNLV won against Toledo with a score of 30-13

Oddly enough, the first bowl game in program history came back in 1984 when the Rebels also had its best season as a program, with a record of 10-2 following the conclusion of the regular season.

The California Bowl game occurred in Fresno, California, against the Toledo Rockets, who ended its season with a record 8-2-1, enough to clinch a Mid-American Conference championship. 

The Rebels would go on to win this game by a final score of 30-13, led by quarterback Randall Cunningham, who recorded a stat line of 18-of-28 completions for 270 yards. He also posted three touchdowns, two through the air and an additional touchdown using his legs. 

However, the 30-13 victory over Toledo would be remembered as the conclusion of the invalidated season as an investigation conducted by the NCAA found the Rebels guilty of playing with ineligible players, forcing the program to forfeit all of its prior wins during the 1984 season. 

Las Vegas Bowl (1994): UNLV won against Central Michigan with a score of 52-24

The first official bowl victory in UNLV program history came in 1994 when the Rebels recorded a statement win 52-24 over the Michigan State Chippewas. 

This was the first time the Rebels were invited to play in their home bowl game, and they did not disappoint the home crowd. 

This came after the California Bowl was removed and replaced by the Las Vegas Bowl just two years prior in 1992.

The Rebels finished the regular season with a record of 6-5 under head coach Jeff Horton, and the Chippewas finished 9-2. 

For this reason, the win proved to be a massive upset, and the crowd backing the Rebels was a big reason why the game played out in UNLV’s favor. 

There were a lot of prominent performers in the contest, but none bigger than the Rebel defense, who helped account for 17 points for the Rebels in the first half coming off the back of three Chippewa turnovers. 

UNLV led 31-10 at the start of halftime and never looked back, putting up an additional 21 points in the second half, resulting in the final score 52-24 and a bowl victory for the Rebels.

This was the Rebels’ second victory in its second bowl game; however, this was the first trophy to be added to the program’s collection.

Las Vegas Bowl (2000): UNLV won against Arkansas with a score of 31-14

These prior two games all culminated in the most recent bowl game victory in the year 2000, again taking place on the stage of the Las Vegas Bowl. 

The Rebels took down the Arkansas Razorbacks in this game by a final score of 31-14 in what was the program’s third consecutive victory in three appearances. 

This was also the program’s first bowl appearance in the Mountain West after moving the prior year in 1999 and finding little success; it was a massive turnaround in year-to-year performance.

Head coach John Robinson helmed the 2000 Rebel squad, leading them to a better record than their previous bowl team by one win, entering bowl season at 7-5. 

On the other side of the field, the Arkansas Razorbacks were coached by Houston Nutt, who had taken over for the team in 1998 and became a two-time SEC head coach of the year in 2001 and 2006. 

That year, the Razorbacks finished their season with a record of 6-5, so the game was considered a reasonably even matchup that could provide substantial entertainment. 

However, as the dust settled, the Rebels came out victorious, led by quarterback Jason Thomas, who had 217 yards passing and three touchdowns on just 17 dropbacks. 

Not to be outdone, wide receiver Nate Turner was also responsible for eight of the twelve completed passes by the UNLV offense for 126 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Rebels to the 31-14 win.

The Present

All eyes now look forward to Dec. 26, 2023, as the Rebels (9-4) are set to take on the Jayhawks (8-4) for the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at 6 p.m. at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. 

The Guaranteed Rate bowl will be available to watch live on ESPN.

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