Kansas University football fans started the season just hoping for some improvement over last year's dismal 2-10 record.
Now they're heading to the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
That has Jayhawks, especially the thousands in the Orlando area, salivating about seeing KU in its first postseason game in eight years.
"We're excited about finally getting to go to a bowl game for the first time since 1995," said Chris Branaman, referring to KU's last postseason appearance in the Aloha Bowl. "It makes it a lot nicer and easier for me to go and watch with them coming down here."
Tony Adamopoulos is just as excited to watch KU play in this year's bowl as he was for the last two he watched when he was an undergraduate student. The 32-year-old is now a psychology graduate student, but has always been a dedicated fan.
The bowl invitation speaks volumes about KU coach Mark Mangino's coaching ability, Adamopoulos said.
"This really brings him some respect," he said. "It proves he has the ability to turn the team around. When he first came there was talk that he was a clerk at Oklahoma; that he got too much credit for the teams there. But this shows he learned. He's clearly showing he can keep the team organized."
Mangino announced KU's acceptance of the bid during a news conference Saturday afternoon. The Jayhawks will play the Atlantic Coast Conference's North Carolina State University at the 70,000-seat Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. The game, 4:30 p.m. CST Dec. 22, will be televised nationally on ESPN.
"There's no question in our mind that our fans will show up strong for the Mazda Tangerine Bowl," Mangino said. "Playing a bowl game in the state of Florida has been a long time in coming for our program. There's been a certain amount of anticipation among our players and coaches hoping that this opportunity would come."
The Jayhawks finished the regular season 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big 12 conference. North Carolina State went 7-5 overall, 4-4 in the ACC.
It's been eight years since the Jayhawks played in a bowl, but even longer since they played in a bowl on the mainland. The last time that occurred was the 1981 Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.
With an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 KU alumni within easy driving distance of Orlando, KU athletic director Lew Perkins said he expected a strong showing by Jayhawk supporters at the game.
There are about 4,500 alumni in the immediate Orlando area and another 2,000 in Atlanta, said Kirk Cerny, the Kansas Alumni Association's senior vice president for membership.
The association hasn't yet put together its plans for Jayhawk fans making the trip to Orlando, but several events in addition to the actual game will be sponsored by the Tangerine Bowl:
- A scholar-athlete kickoff luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Dec. 19.
- The Tangerine Jam -- the official pep rally for the bowl -- at 6 p.m. Dec. 21.
- "One Cool Tailgate" party beginning at 2:30 p.m. the day of the game.
In addition to bowl-related events, Orlando also is home to Walt Disney World and its affiliated theme parks.
For the game itself, single tickets are available for $45, according to the bowl's Web site (www.fcsports.com). They also can be ordered through the KU Athletic Ticket Office at (800) 34HAWKS.
As for getting to Orlando, a check Saturday of the travel Web site expedia.com showed round-trip air fares available for about $250. For those so inclined, the nearly 1,300-mile drive from Lawrence to Orlando would take upwards of 20 hours.
One Lawrence travel agency, Travellers Inc., already has announced special land or air packages to Orlando for the game. Detailed information can be found at the agency's Web site (www.travellers.vacation.com), or beginning Monday by calling Travellers at 749-0700 or (800) 382-6700. Fans will be staying at the team hotel, The Caribe Royale.
"We hope to take as many people as we can, but space won't be unlimited," said John Novotny, of Travellers.
Travel arrangements also can be made through Anthony Travel Inc., in Orlando, the bowl's tour operator. It can be reached by calling (800) 736-6377 or at its Web site, (anthonytravel.com).
-- Staff writer Katie Nelson contributed to this report.