LINCOLN, NEB. Kansas University's football season begins -- or ends -- next Saturday.
The Jayhawks, losers of three straight after a 63-7 throttling by No. 5 Nebraska on Saturday at NU's Memorial Stadium, must win three of their next four games to qualify for a bowl bid.
The first of the four is next Saturday against Iowa State in Ames.
"Iowa State is the biggest game of our life this year," KU offensive guard Cleve Roberts said. "If we don't beat Iowa State in Ames, we might as well pack it up."
KU coach Glen Mason is of the same mind.
"That's a very, very big game for us," Mason said. "We haven't been playing well. It's hard to measure performance, if you're getting better or not, when you play a team like Nebraska."
NU's vaunted defense lived up to its billing, limiting KU to 209 total yards and 21 rushing yards.
And the Husker offense scored on seven straight possessions.
But NU is no ISU.
"We'll dig deep to get our confidence back," KU senior quarterback Ben Rutz said. "We'll get some things together and get our confidence back. There's still some year left."
Who knows how much action Rutz will see in the year that remains? A projected starter before he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during the spring, Rutz fell to backup status behind Johner, and he's stayed their all season.
The two have split time over the past few games, though Rutz had his longest outing yet on Saturday in part because Johner was knocked dizzy on the first possession of the second half and was told not to return.
"I was excited to get in," said Rutz, who started his college career with two seasons at Nebraska. "But it wasn't a shock for me to get in. I've been getting more reps, and I expected to get in."
Johner completed five of nine passes for 94 yards and KU's lone TD, a 77-yard toss to Isaac Byrd. Rutz finished 9-for-18 for 94 yards and two interceptions. Johner was sacked three times; Rutz was not sacked.
"I thought Ben did a good job," KU coach Glen Mason said. "He did some nice things, and he made some mistakes."
Byrd, meanwhile, drew specific praise from his coach.
"Byrd has really emerged as a top-notch receiver," Mason said of the game's leading receiver (four catches, 111 yards). "He's really doing a nice job."
Kickoff for KU-ISU is 1 p.m. Saturday at Cyclone Stadium.