It’s game day in Phoenix, where the 8-4 Kansas Jayhawks will take on 9-4 UNLV at 8 p.m. (central) tonight at Chase Field in the desert.
It’s been 23 days since the Jayhawks learned their bowl fate and even longer (a full 31 days) since they closed out the regular season with a convincing win at Cincinnati.
Remember when those road games weren’t so pleasant and bowl games were what other teams played?
Not any longer. The KU football arrow continues to point due north, with Lance Leipold and company proving that the turnaround they engineered rather quickly at KU is something that can be sustained, which was the goal all along.
While the program’s overall and overhauled culture plays a huge part in that, so, too, does individual talent. And Kansas has had plenty of talent during the past few seasons.
Some of that was evident right away. Some of it took a while to surface. And more of it is still emerging. There are, however, a handful of Jayhawks who face a golden opportunity to add to their legacies in today’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
That means different things for different players and there might even be a player or two who isn’t on this list but uses today to either add to or create his own legacy.
Looking at the players we know have a chance to add to their already existing legacies is where our final tune-up for kickoff will begin.
And we’ll have Matt Tait at Chase Field tonight to keep an eye on those unexpected surprises and all of the action in the Jayhawks’ season finale.
• Junior Running Back Devin Neal – If he decides to return to KU for his senior season in 2024, Neal will have an opportunity to cement himself as one of the greatest Jayhawks of all time. The career rushing record and touchdown record will be in sight. And his total yardage, individual impact and whatever team accomplishments he helps deliver will add to that. But if this is it for the Lawrence native and he chooses to turn pro instead of returning, the Guarnateed Rate Bowl will go down as his final game in a KU uniform. What better way to go out than by lighting up UNLV for one final 100-yard day and a touchdown or two in a KU win. He’s currently 69 yards away from taking over fourth place on KU’s career rushing list. And he won’t be able to move up higher than that unless he returns. This game either sets the stage for Neal’s one final run or serves as the exclamation point on a stellar KU career.
• Senior Quarterback Jason Bean – Bean has had one of the most interesting careers in recent memory. Brought in before the 2021 season as an answer of sorts at the QB position, Neal started out as KU’s starter and then fell into the role of veteran back-up as Jalon Daniels emerged as an elite option at the position. While that would’ve buried lesser people, Neal hung in there, remained committed to the team and proved to be a huge part of Kansas reaching back-to-back bowl games while filling in when Daniels was out. He also became one of the most beloved KU quarterbacks in recent memory and maybe of all-time. His importance and role in making these past two seasons as memorable as they have been will be remembered for a long time. But if he’s able to engineer one more victory and play a big part in delivering it, Bean himself will likely never be forgotten at KU.
• Senior Safety Kenny Logan Jr. – I don’t think you can say enough about what Kenny Logan has done at Kansas. Forget about the stats and the tackles — all those tackles — and how he came here when the program was down in the dumps, stuck with it and, in many ways, was the face of the program long before the rebuild even began. Logan did all of that and much more and now, after a whole bunch of ups, a few downs and the end nearly coming one year earlier than it has, Logan has one last shot to put his stamp and an exclamation point on his time at Kansas. Logan has talked passionately about how he knows that this program is on its way to big things and that he’ll forever appreciate being a part of the teams that set the Jayhawks off on that course. But in order for the rest of the world to really remember that, Logan probably needs a bowl win on his way out the door. If he gets it, with his potential for big time stats and a heck of a celebration, he too will likely be remember in Kansas lore for a long, long time.
• Senior Offensive Lineman Dominick Puni – The KU left tackle is not even playing in this game, but that, in and of itself, is a huge part of why this is a true legacy moment for Puni. After starting his career at Central Missouri University and then taking a chance on himself to be able to hang with the big boys in the Big 12, Puni delivered two stellar seasons at Kansas, first as a guard and then this season as the team’s ultra-important left tackle. Not only was he a mainstay on two really good O-Lines, he also was, statistically speaking, one of the best of the bunch and one of the best in the Big 12. All of that led to him being able to opt out of the bowl game to preserve his health for a suddenly very bright future that almost certainly will include a lengthy career in the NFL. The fact that he’s not playing in this game is big news and no small thing. But the fact that Kansas has a player like that — edge rusher Austin Booker’s doing it too but he was only with the program for one season — is the latest sign of just how far this program has climbed. Puni’s name won’t be called for anything he does on the field against UNLV. But you can bet it’ll be mentioned all the same. That is big time legacy stuff right there.
• Seniors Rich Miller, Mike Novitsky, Trevor Wilson, Dylan McDuffie & head coach Lance Leipold and a huge chunk of his coaching staff — By now, we all know the story about how these guys (and a few others) followed Leipold from Buffal to Kansas when he was hired by Travis Goff to make the jump to Power 5 football. And their impact and imprint on this program is immeasurable and hard to sum up into just a few words. In two years, they took a winless, bottom-feeder program to bowl eligible and respectability. One year later, they added to the win total by two games and put Kansas in true contention for a Big 12 title. That’s nothing short of amazing. And while several of these guys will be gone after this one, they’ll never be forgotten for the leap of faith they took and the passion, professionalism and winner’s mentality they brought to Kansas football. It would be cool for all of them to add the words “bowl victory in Year 3” to their legacy, especially for those playing their final games as Jayhawks today.
This week's KU Football Coverage:
— For tickets to all KU athletic events, visit kutickets.com