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Archive for Monday, October 9, 2006

Wood: Close games vex KU

Jayhawks must find way to win thrillers to earn bowl berth

October 9, 2006

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Whatever it is - luck, stamina, heart, pride or poise - Kansas University's football team better find a quick remedy. And fix it quicker than anything has been fixed.

Close games have never reflected well on KU in coach Mark Mangino's five seasons in Lawrence - especially in Big 12 Conference play. The Jayhawks are 3-8 in league games that are decided by one score. Of those eight losses, Kansas had a lead in the final five minutes of six of them.

Saturday's 21-18 loss to Texas A&M was another one that got away just in time. KU's 39-32 loss to Nebraska the week before that - though a great game defined by clutch moments instead of poor ones down the stretch - still shows a team that doesn't put its foot on the throat when it's time to determine a winner.

If there's anything Kansas has to get better at this season, it's finishing out these games. Why? Because the rest of the schedule shows that more close games are coming.

Many more.

The Big 12 is a league of parity this season, at least in teams three through 12. And the best and second-best squads - probably Texas and Oklahoma - aren't on KU's schedule.

Here's a rough ranking of the conference's 12 teams halfway through the regular season:

1. Texas

2. Oklahoma

3. Missouri

4. Nebraska

5. Texas Tech

6. Texas A&M

7. Kansas

8. Baylor

9. Iowa State

10. Kansas State

11. Oklahoma State

12. Colorado

Now, the rest of KU's schedule: Oklahoma State, at Baylor, Colorado, at Iowa State, Kansas State, at Missouri.

The good news for the Jayhawks is that a bowl berth is definitely attainable simply by taking care of their own turf. Look closer at KU's remaining schedule: Five of the six games are against teams 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 in those rankings. Furthermore, 10, 11 and 12 all play the Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium.

Only one game remains with any team in the top six - at undefeated Missouri on Nov. 25, a squad Kansas has beaten each year Mangino has fielded a competitive team.

The bad news for the Jayhawks? They aren't good enough to have gimmes in any of these final six contests. None of the final six is a chip shot, and certainly no road game KU plays is a sure victory, either. The Baylor and Iowa State games probably are coin flips, with the edge going to the home team. That's not Kansas.

There's a great chance that all six of these games could be determined late in the fourth quarter. That makes for exciting football.

But until Kansas proves it can pull it out against fellow Big 12 schools, it could be equally as excruciating for Kansas fans dreaming of someplace warm to travel for bowl season.

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