Archive for Wednesday, December 17, 2003

KU doesn’t mind underdog role in Tangerine

December 17, 2003


Once the Jayhawks arrive today in Orlando, Fla., plenty of surprises will await a Kansas University football squad that hasn't played a bowl game on the mainland since 1981.

But one thing that will remain the same is KU again will be an underdog against North Carolina State in the Tangerine Bowl at 4:30 p.m. Monday on ESPN (Sunflower Broadband Channel 48).

"We're happy to be here in the position we are, and excited for the game," KU junior center Joe Vaughn said. "We've been underdogs all year. We like it, you know, prove people wrong."

The Jayhawks (6-6) will have another strong test if they are to sway prognosticators' popular sentiment, because N.C. State (7-5) enters the game as an 11-point favorite.

That's OK, the Jayhawks say, because they actually have taken quite a liking to the role of David in their season-long battles against Goliaths.

"We've been the underdog in darn near all our games," said running back Clark Green. "But we just go out there and feed off that."

The Jayhawks must have had quite the appetite this season, considering only twice (Baylor and Iowa State) in 12 games has Kansas been the favorite.

Actually Kansas would have been heavily favored in its blowout victory against Jacksonville State early in the season, but Las Vegas oddsmakers don't set spreads for games involving Division II schools.

Nevertheless, even if the bookies are correct and Kansas is squashed in the Tangerine Bowl, few KU fans would probably argue such a setback would detract from Kansas' best season since 1995.

But that's definitely not a message Kansas coach Mark Mangino is allowing his team to think about now that the actual bowl week has arrived.

"We have a bunch of kids that are really excited to have the opportunity to play in a bowl game, but they're not going to be happy just about the opportunity to play," said Mangino, who participated in nine straight bowl games as an assistant coach with Kansas State and Oklahoma before becoming KU's head coach last season.

"They want to go down there and win."

Senior quarterback Bill Whittemore said Mangino's message was heard loud and clear.

"He makes sure to make that point every time he talks to us," Whittemore said, of the Jayhawks possibly having a "happy-to-just-be-there" mentality.

"He wants us to have a great time and the coaches are excited for us to get this opportunity, because nobody that's been here has had this chance. He's really excited for us, but he's going to make sure that he's going to drive that point that we're going down there for one reason and that's to win."

In doing that, the Jayhawks could cherish the role of spoiler one last time.

"It's a little more high-spirited now that we're in a bowl game," Green said. "It's a chance to show what you can do on national TV."

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