Archive for Sunday, September 12, 2004

Woodling: Have Jayhawks closed gap with Kansas State?

September 12, 2004


Three years ago, the scores would have been reversed.

I'm talking about Saturday's college football games in Lawrence and Manhattan.

No one would have believed in 2001 that Kansas State would be walloped in KSU Stadium and that Kansas would run up more than 60 points. Against anybody.

Kansas State's 45-21 home loss to Fresno State was as stunning as the Jayhawks' manhandling of a Toledo team that had won eight games last season and returned its top offensive weapons in quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and wide receiver Lance Moore.

Exactly three years after a day of infamy that none of us ever will forget, the football worm appears to have turned in the Sunflower State.

Only time will tell, however, if Saturday was a fluke, or if the balance of power among the state's two major-college football teams has really moved closer to center.

How good is Toledo? All we know is that the Rockets' defense is consistent. It surrendered 63 points to Minnesota last week and 63 points again on Saturday. There is a difference, though. Minnesota is ranked in the top 25. Kansas is not, and has not been in this century.

If long-downtrodden KU can score the same number of points as a ranked team against the same opponent just a week apart, shouldn't Kansas be ranked, too?

The system doesn't work that way. It's much more difficult to reach the top 25 than it is to fall out. And it's doubly difficult to achieve a ranking when the national perception of a program is virtual invisibility.

The Jayhawks' Brandon Rideau (84) hauls in a first-half touchdown
pass. Rideau had six catches for 53 yards against Toledo.

The Jayhawks' Brandon Rideau (84) hauls in a first-half touchdown pass. Rideau had six catches for 53 yards against Toledo.

Putting it another way, the only people who have noticed that Kansas is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 1997 are KU fans, players and coaches. In order to regain national attention, the Jayhawks will have to do something to force the nation to notice -- like win four or five in a row, and/or knock off a team they haven't defeated in years (like Kansas State).

Like any good coach, KU's Mark Mangino is using the Jayhawks' lack of recognition as an emotional tool. After Saturday's 63-14 victory over Toledo -- surprising by its lopsidedness because the Jayhawks were only three-point favorites -- Mangino mentioned how his players read all summer "how lousy they are."

That's not exactly true. Sure, everybody wrote -- including me -- that the Jayhawks' defense had to make a quantum leap, but the biggest difficulty facing the Jayhawks always has been their schedule. On paper, it's brutal. At least one publication has judged KU's schedule the most difficult in the country.

Still, much of that degree of difficulty was based on having Tulsa and Toledo as nonconference foes because each won eight games last season. Northwestern wasn't a slouch, either. Bottom line was KU didn't appear to have a single breather with the possible exception of Iowa State, last year's Big 12 tail-ender.

Now it would appear the Cyclones aren't the punching bag they were last year -- at least if Saturday's one-TD loss at Iowa is any indication. If Iowa State has become competitive again, then the Jayhawks don't have a single gimme on their schedule.

Nevertheless, here we are two weeks into the season and -- based on the 9-11-04 happenings in Lawrence and Manhattan -- KU fans can't help but speculate that this could be the first time in more than a decade that Kansas has a legitimate chance to knock off the Wildcats.

The KU-KSU game will be in Lawrence. It will be homecoming. On the flip side, the Sunflower State showdown is four weeks away -- an eternity, really. Who knows if the worm will change uniforms between now and then?

"We've played just two games," Mangino said. "We have nine left, and the toughest part is coming."

The toughest part starts Saturday at Northwestern, where the Jayhawks now have to prove they can win on the road -- a feat they've accomplished over the years about as often as a Kansan sells oceanfront property.

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