To kick off the college football season, USA Today has compiled a list of what it considers “golden years” for all 120 programs in the NCAA’s Bowl Subdivision. Kansas, of course, is nowhere near the Valhalla level of Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska but it gets short-changed by the USA-T choice of the KU high point.
The listing for KU is “2007-present: Mark Mangino has led the Jayhawks to back-to-back bowls (including the Orange Bowl) for the first time in school history.” A tongue-in-cheek Mangino once joshed about KU’s erratic program: “Anybody can have a bad century.” Thorough rascal that he is, Mark knows like a lot of us that there were substantial moments of glory long before began his seven-year tenure. His record entering the ’09 season is a rather pedestrian 45-42 despite the 20-6 showing since ’07.
KU floundered through the final year of the Glen Mason tenure (4-7) and the 20-33 stretch under Terry Allen. Inheriting a bare talent cupboard, Mangino couldn’t post a winning record until that 7-5 mark in 2005, which included an uplifting season-ender over Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl.
Though 2006 brought a modest 6-6 record, the pump was primed for that delightful 12-1 in 2007, capped off by an Orange Bowl upset of Virginia Tech. Last year’s 8-5 featured a 42-21 romp past Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. But USA-T does KU an injustice by insinuating “2007-present” represents any peak for “golden years.”
Those yuppie picayunes whose concept of history goes no deeper than five years will grimace, predictably, but my notion of glory years for Kansas football in the modern era were from 1946 through 1952. Some of the best teams the Jayhawks ever put on the field ran up a 48-20-3 record in that seven-year span and for the first time got KU a bowl game — then the prestigious Orange.
The 1946 and 1947 Kansans tied mighty Oklahoma with Jack Mitchell, Darrell Royal and similar superstars for the Big Six title, and without a bad call on a goal-line ball theft by Georgia Tech, would have won at Miami. Between ’46 and ’52, Kansas had teams with records as good as 7-2-1, 8-1-2, 7-3, 8-2 and 7-3. Mangino has had one year to top any of those.
As for bowls, during the 1948-53 tenure of J.V. Sikes, four KU teams would have gone to bowl games in the current format for postseason berths. But the Big Seven then allowed only one team to lengthen its season and that inevitably was Oklahoma under Bud Wilkinson.
For my money, the greatest coaching plaudits in our locale belong to Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne at Nebraska, Bill Snyder (first 17 years) at Kansas State and Wilkinson at Oklahoma. Bud gets my No. 1 vote. He scored 145 victories, 12 straight league titles, three national championships and his Sooners once had a 47-game victory streak.
Now Kansas, with soaring hopes for a Big 12 North championship, has the players, the attitude and the leadership to add to those “golden years” that USA-T says began only in ’07. Can these Jayhawks squeeze out 10 victories and play OU or Texas for the league title?
The Mangino record would still fall short of KU’s 1946-52 run. Just don’t want anyone to get so zizzed about ’09 that they overlook my older heroes.