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Archive for Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Woodling: Football schedule not kind to Kansas

June 15, 2004

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Not too long ago, the Big 12 Conference released its composite football schedule with the caveat that dates and times were subject to change.

Well, we knew that. Television determines most kickoff times and, to a lesser extent, dates. What TV doesn't control, however, are opponents. Those are cut in stone ... unfortunately for Kansas University.

Everybody loves teams that go from worst to first -- those lovable Cinderella clubs that capture the public's fancy. But there is one worst-to-first category coaches hope to avoid like a fumble inside the five-yard-line -- strength-of-schedule rankings.

Guess who has climbed from worst to first in the Big 12 Conference in that category? You guessed it, the Jayhawks.

Kansas was the Big 12's surprise football team last season, rebounding from a dismal 2-10 campaign in 2002 to win six games and earn an unexpected berth in the Tangerine Bowl.

The lone preseason pundit who picked Kansas to produce a postseason appearance -- shhh, it was me -- quickly was labeled a Pollyanna. However, the naysayers failed to take the strength-of-schedule factor into consideration. In other words, in most instances it isn't so much HOW you play as WHO you play.

Sure enough, after the 2003 Big 12 football season had concluded, the numbers were crunched, and Kansas was accorded the league's easiest schedule. Of the 117 Division One schools, the NCAA ranked Kansas 92nd. Only two dozen schools had easier schedules, the NCAA opined.

Texas A&M had the league's toughest schedule, according to the NCAA. The Aggies ranked No. 4. Iowa State and Kansas State also were in the Top 10 at No. 6 and No. 8 respectively. That's right. Kansas State. Although KSU coach Bill Snyder generally is regarded as the King of the Marshmallow Schedule-Makers, he now has concrete evidence to offer a rebuttal.

Attention Big 12 football beat writers: Do not ask Snyder that standard question at the conference's July media session in Kansas City, Mo., or he may legitimately stuff it down your throats.

At the same time, don't ask KU coach Mark Mangino about his 2004 schedule, either. He won't break down and cry, but his schedule already has been ranked the fourth toughest in the country -- behind Arkansas, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech -- by ESPN.com.

If ever a coach has a right to moan about his team being behind the eight-ball, it's Mangino. Kansas will be facing eight teams that appeared in bowl games after last season and eight teams that won eight or more games in 2003.

The eight-or-more game winners on KU's slate are Tulsa (8-5), Toledo (8-4), Texas Tech (8-5), Nebraska (10-3), Kansas State (11-4), Oklahoma (12-2) and Texas (10-3). The other three Kansas foes are Northwestern (6-7), Iowa State (2-10) and Colorado (5-7), and KU lost to Colorado and Northwestern last season. Average number of victories for KU's 11 opponents this fall: 8.2.

As you may know, the main reason for this upgrading is the two-year cycle in Big 12 schedules. Kansas plays only half the teams in the league's southern division every year and Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech have replaced Texas A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State for a two-year run.

In Big 12 football circles, the only thing worse than losing Baylor from your schedule is not being able to mail in your score to the Big 12 office when you have to play at Oklahoma. Or at Texas. Or at Nebraska. Or at Kansas State.

All in all, Mangino deserved credit last season for putting the Jayhawks in position to win the games they had a chance to win. He went 6-of-7 in that regard. The only blemish was the season-opening 28-20 loss to Northwestern in a Labor Day weekend monsoon at Memorial Stadium.

Now with the schedule shortened from 12 to 11 games and with no Division I-AA team on the slate, a six-win season for Kansas would be more than enough to make me vote Mangino coach of the year.

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