Don't be surprised if Kansas University's starting quarterback has a lucky rabbit's foot or a four-leaf clover taped under his pads at the beginning of the 2005 season.
It seems that superstition might be the only way he could stay healthy.
For the third consecutive season under coach Mark Mangino, the Jayhawks have suffered a huge blow late in the year, losing their starting field general to injury.
But compared to 2002 and 2003, when Bill Whittemore went down late in the season, the Jayhawks know what they're getting in this year's spot starter, junior-college transfer Jason Swanson. And that could be a good thing.
"The backups now get a chance, and that's just how you have to look at it," junior receiver Mark Simmons said. "It's hard losing a starting quarterback for three straight years, but it's just going to show how much character we have on this team and how much we want to win, if we can fight through adversity, come out victorious and go to a bowl game."
In each of the last two seasons, the Jayhawks have been forced to turn to inexperienced backups. Junior Brian Luke and sophomore Adam Barmann made their first career starts as injury fill-ins. Swanson gives the Jayhawks comfort in the fact that he has seen big-game action this season, including in KU's 31-28 victory over Kansas State on Oct. 9 where he threw a clutch 31-yard touchdown pass to Simmons in the fourth quarter.
Production from the quarterback position, however, is not what most concerns Swanson's teammates. After the Jayhawks' 13-7 slip Saturday in Ames, Iowa, they now must win their last three contests to become bowl-eligible. It will be no easy stretch, facing Colorado, Texas and Missouri. The only thing on the minds of the Jayhawks is winning games, even if it comes ugly.
Including the Kansas State game when Whittemore went down last year, the Jayhawks dropped four straight contests after losing their senior quarterback, only to claim their sixth victory in his first game back against Iowa State in the season finale. Both Barmann and Luke had their moments filling in, but neither produced a victory.
"Last year when Bill went down, I think the team kind of went down," Simmons said. "I guess you can say it's our heart, because we want to win, so we're not gonna let this get us down. We've worked over a year to get back to this point so we can get back to another bowl game."
Besides experience this season, Swanson has many factors working in his favor beginning with Colorado on Saturday. Aside from being aided by a slew of talented wideouts, the Jayhawks are facing one of the conference's weakest defenses. Colorado allowed 397 yards in a 31-7 loss to Texas on Saturday, which was the least yards the Buffs have allowed in a single game all year. They allow an average of 441.8 yards a game.
Also, as opposed to last year's games without Whittemore, Swanson will be helped by one of the Big 12's most improved defenses. Last season, in the 15 quarters KU played without Whittemore leading the offense, the Jayhawks' opponents scored 148 points. The Jayhawks in 2004 have allowed 23.4 points per game, and in conference play, Colorado has only scored an average of 15 per contest.
Swanson's starting wide receivers -- Simmons and senior Brandon Rideau -- are convinced that producing points won't be an issue. The duo has combined for 69 catches, 761 yards and eight scores this year, but Rideau thinks Swanson's mobility and ability to improvise could equal more opportunities for big plays against the patchy Buffaloes secondary.
"I feel like he's gotten more comfortable so that's allowed him to open up his game," Rideau said. "When a quarterback is able to scramble and get away from pressure, it makes the defense react to him, and if the defense reacts to him, it could leave two guys wide open downfield."