The Sunflower State's high school football season is three weeks old, which makes now a good time to offer some initial evaluations about how things are shaking out on the gridiron in Lawrence and some of the surrounding communities.
Thanks to the quirky schedule that calls for just six games before the onset of district play - in essence, the opening three weeks of the state playoffs - teams are already halfway through their regular-season tune-up.
Like the college game, that means some teams have already faced stiff tests and shown their true colors, some have run roughshod over cream puffs, and some have followed in Kansas University's footsteps and failed in their quest to accomplish the latter.
Here's one sports writer's random pigskin thoughts as Week 4 beckons:
¢ In some respects, Free State High is beginning to live up to the hype. The Firebirds, one of three unbeaten teams in the Sunflower League, showed against Leavenworth they can bury a team they're supposed to and answered their first big test with an impressive win in Week 2 against Olathe East.
The Murphy twins are taking care of the ball on offense and keeping defensive coordinators up at night, and apparently they've finally found the right combination of Gatorade, bananas and pickle juice to keep their muscles working.
Oh, but there is a flip side. Free State was dull as a dime-store steak knife last Friday against Shawnee Mission North and let the Indians hang around far too deep in the contest. Penalties, dropped passes and receivers running free in the Firebirds' defensive backfield looked much too similar to the Firebirds' 2005 edition.
Maybe a midseason struggle is just what coach Bob Lisher needed to keep his troops from buying into the notion it's easy being green.
¢ All those Lawrence High fans ready to jump off the Kaw River bridge in the wake of the Lions' 0-2 start can step back off the ledge. With no returning starters and arguably the toughest schedule in the Sunflower League - including its first two games against teams that reached the Elite Eight of last fall's Class 6A playoffs - it's no surprise LHS stumbled early.
However, coach Dirk Wedd's troops rediscovered the running game in a Week 3 victory against Shawnee Mission South and, with the exception of an Oct. 5 date at high-powered Shawnee Mission West and the pick 'em game against Free State two weeks later, will be favored to win the four remaining contests on the schedule.
That means a worst-case scenario of a 5-4 mark, a spot in this year's playoff field, and, like the New York Yankees, the opportunity to again call on the ghosts of glory past at the most important time of the season.
¢ Several great storylines are developing on the area scene. Six teams are 3-0, setting up some must-see contests as the postseason nears. This week alone, unbeatens Perry-Lecompton and Santa Fe Trail will battle in Carbondale, while likewise spotless Mill Valley travels to unblemished Tonganoxie. That's four Kaw Valley League teams who will help shape the battle for league supremacy come Friday night.
Eudora and De Soto are also 3-0, keeping alive a possible battle of unbeatens Oct. 13 in the first week of district play.
Then again, all those gaudy marks in Class 4A (Mill Valley is 5A) won't mean a thing until someone figures out how to knock off powerful Topeka Hayden come November.