Kerry Meier knows what's up.
Just minutes after Kansas University's football team defeated No. 3 Virginia Tech, 24-21, to win the Orange Bowl, KU's sophomore utility man was asked to put the present aside for a second and think about the future.
It was hard work to get here, Meier answered. It will be even harder to stay.
"We've got a lot of big hurdles to climb in the winter," Meier said, "to keep the success of the Jayhawks going."
He's correct. But Kansas is fortunate, because the hurdle of attrition isn't all that tall.
Of the 22 players who started on offense and defense in the Orange Bowl on Thursday, Kansas can expect at least 15 to be back for the 2008 season.
Five starters on offense and defense - right tackle Cesar Rodriguez, tight end Derek Fine, wide receiver Marcus Henry, running back Brandon McAnderson and defensive tackle James McClinton - were seniors who played their final game at Dolphin Stadium. Kicker Scott Webb and punter Kyle Tucker also are seniors.
In addition, two juniors - left tackle Anthony Collins and cornerback Aqib Talib - are considering leaving for the NFL and are expected to announce their decisions early next week.
Even if both leave, there's a lot coming back for 2008. Those 15 starters don't include Meier or running back Jake Sharp on offense. It also doesn't include a number of defensive players who played plenty throughout the Jayhawks' 12-1 season, like cornerback Kendrick Harper, safety Patrick Resby and defensive linemen Todd Haselhorst, Jake Laptad, Jeff Wheeler and Maxwell Onyegbule.
The slow building process - agonizingly slow for some KU fans - started in 2002 with long-term success in mind. The 2008 season might be the first hint if the construction was sound.
"We don't see it as a destination," Mangino said of the Orange Bowl. "Our plan is that this is just the beginning. That's the way we view it."
If Talib decides to leave as many expect, it would mean the Jayhawks lose their top playmaker. But Kansas is stacked defensively heading into 2008 anyway, including the return of all three linebackers, both safeties, two of the top three cornerbacks and three of the four starting defensive linemen.
"I see it continuing," linebacker Mike Rivera said. "We've been building for the past four or five years."
In addition, KU's main offensive piece is back: quarterback Todd Reesing. The junior-to-be passed for 3,486 yards and 33 touchdowns in '07, showing brilliance in conducting KU's high-powered offense.
He will be joined, at least, by Sharp, receivers Meier, Dexton Fields and Dezmon Briscoe and the interior of the offensive line.
But what's returning doesn't even take into account what's developing deeper down KU's depth chart. The Jayhawks' recruiting classes continue to improve by the season, and some rarely used players could surface and keep depth at most positions comfortable.
Behind Sharp at running back is Angus Quigley and Carmon Boyd-Anderson. Ian Wolfe could be a nice replacement for who's lost on the offensive line. Or maybe red-shirt freshman Jeff Spikes. Or junior-college transfer Nathan D'Cunha.
Really, there isn't a sense of gloom at KU that Thursday's Orange Bowl victory - as big as it was - was merely a flash in the fire.
"We feel like we deserve respect," cornerback Chris Harris said. "We feel like we should end up in the top five."
They might. And thanks to a slew of players coming back, they could start the 2008 season somewhere close to that, too.